Peace Corps Writers
At First Light (page 2)
At First Light
page 1
page 2

     Putting down her iron on a raised metal plate, the taller one came to the front of the cafe and stood by my table. She was younger than I expected, her face flushed from the ironing. A long strand of deeply black hair clung to her damp forehead.
     “Senor, que’ quiere?” What do you want?
     I answered in my best Spanish, delivering a wonderful order, offering it with great humility and politeness, my pronunciation cautious and precise. Feeling my confidence building, I asked for a favor: might she bring my coffee first.
     A gringo who spoke Spanish and was mannerly. Already I was an ambassador of good will, ordering with ease and deference. I could do this.
     The woman looked at me for a long moment, her eyes large and brown, absently touching her cheek with the back of her wrist. She wore a small gold cross on a delicate chain around her neck.
     She turned and walked to the back, pausing near the other woman, and I heard them talking. They both glanced in my direction and I smiled and they smiled in return. A faint, cooling breeze came off the ocean redolent of salt and drying seaweed, and just beyond the trees and buildings, in the distance, I could see the milky blue water of the Caribbean and a narrow stretch of beach. Scalloped fishnets hung on vertical poles, and a wooden dinghy lay on its side at the water’s edge.
     I pulled out my paperback, Franny and Zooey, and tried to read, waiting for the coffee.
     After a time, the woman returned carrying a large porcelain cup of steaming coffee, setting it on the table first, then a plate of eggs and bread. In her apron pocket she had a knife and fork wrapped in a cloth napkin and a shaker of salt. She placed all in front of me and left.
     The eggs were tender, the portion generous, the bread warm, the steaming coffee strong and very good. People passed on the sidewalk now, but no one entered the cafe and I sat alone at my table, taking my time with the meal, watching the street gradually fill with early morning traffic. On a corner, a man in a white tropical suit stood fanning himself with a folded newspaper, turning to look up at the sun. His suit was deeply creased at the arms and across his lap and his narrow black tie was already loosened.
     Drinking the last of my coffee, I looked around for the women, but they were gone, the cafe empty. I waited and when they didn’t reappear, I stood, uncertain, then walked to the back of the café noticing piles of folded laundry stacked neatly on a long wooden table. An old sewing machine, the name Singer written in ornate gold script, stood against one wall. Behind a curtain of beads I could make out a small room with two narrow cots and in one corner a sink and pan for washing dishes. Spools of thread and remnants of material were piled neatly on a chair. “Senoras,” I called out. No one answered.
     Walking back to my table, I left twenty pesos under the coffee cup, hoping it was enough. Out on the street I looked back at the cafe and the sign above the door. Vista Del Mar, it said. View of the Sea. Indeed.
     I returned to my hotel and walked across the lobby. Already it was warm, the heat gauze-like, the sun throwing shafts of bright light through the high arching windows. The concierge, standing at the front desk, asked me if I had enjoyed my breakfast.
     “Very well,” I said. “The food was excellent and the coffee especially good.”
     “Indeed. Where did you take your breakfast?” he asked, looking at me with interest.
     “Just down the street. A small place, the cafe with the yellow and green sign,” I said, hesitating, searching for the Spanish word for sign.
     “Yellow and green…” said the concierge. “Ah, yes. Did the sign say, ‘Vista Del Mar’?”
     “Si. Si, senor.”
     “Really. And you took your breakfast there?”
     “Yes. A place very agreeable.”
     The concierge looked at me for a moment, then asked, “And who served you your breakfast?”
     “A young woman, tall, one of two.”
     “Very good, sir,” he said, a smile working at the corners of his mouth, pressing the bridge of his nose with his forefinger and thumb, “but before you return for another breakfast, you should know that this is a place where one takes ones laundry to be washed and ironed. The two women are the owners and they live in the back. They also sew and mend.”
     I stared at the concierge for a long moment, thinking back on the morning, the two women ironing, the meal brought to me, spools of thread and squares of folded cloth on the table and chairs, and, of course, the sewing machine.
     Over the concierge’s shoulder I noticed four old men sitting in large chairs in the lobby, one reading a newspaper, smoking a cigar, the others sipping coffee from small white cups, saying little, and in the park the fountain sent up a shimmering, luminescent spray.
     The park was empty except for a small boy and a girl. They walked to a bench and sat down. The boy had a toy airplane in his hand and he sat quietly on the bench, apart from the girl. He held the plane by the fuselage at eye level, flying it back and forth in tight circles, pausing in flight to spin its propeller.
     I looked at the concierge, weighing carefully what he had told me, finally saying that it was a great lastima, a great shame, for I had never had a better cup of coffee.
     When I glanced back toward the park, I saw that the girl and boy were gone and for a brief moment a rainbow appeared in the fountain’s rising mist, then disappeared.
  

Finn Honore’ lives in Ashland, Oregon where he works as a free lance journalist.

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