The Sign

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Photo: Nicolas Peña Ortiz

Monday morning. 9am. He sat in the plaza of the not so bustling town square staring at the balcony. Any minute now she would be stepping out. Barefoot. Tousled damp hair. Cigarette in hand. She would look at it. Like she does every morning. Contemplating whether or not she would light it. Every morning. Without fail. Sometimes she would glance at the sky. He liked to imagine she was looking for some sign from above willing her to put it down. He liked looking for signs himself. It was, after all, what had led him to her.

It was about a year ago. He had never intended to come back to this town. There were too many ghosts lurking on the cracked sidewalks, in the dimly lit pubs reeking of beer and sweat, behind the abandoned buildings with shattered windows, under the seemingly sturdy roofs that trembled when disappointed wives shouted at beaten down husbands. He was happy to have escaped so many moons ago. To have made it big. By the town’s standards at least.

But then he met a girl. She was nothing spectacular. In fact, everything about her was rather ordinary. From her practical brown loafers with the shining penny, to the dab of Vaseline she smudged on her lips five or six times a day, to her mousy brown hair and pear-shaped figure. But time crept along and he got used to having her around. In fact, he had become quite complacent about everything. So when she one day announced that she wanted to see where he was from, his resistance to returning was all but worn down. He agreed.

He started getting anxious as they neared the border. It was an emotional lifetime ago that he had last set foot there. Would he recognize anyone? Would they recognize him? Every mile closer brought with it a nagging feeling. Why had life led him to an ordinary woman who was leading him back to this forgotten ordinary world? He felt a flicker of something. Resentment? No. It was lighter. Like nervous anticipation, maybe even a twinge of excitement. He closed his eyes and sank into the emotions. The sun shining through the passenger side window created an orangey-yellow glow behind his eyelids. He started daydreaming about being sprawled out on a sandy white beach with the waves licking his toes. So deep in his reverie was he that he missed the moment his ordinary girlfriend crossed the border into his old and ordinary life.

When he opened his eyes again, he saw her. She was standing on the balcony of a brick house painted eggshell. Her hands were gripping the wrought iron railing. He had never seen her before. Nor had he ever seen the house. It was his old town. But as if by magic this house had appeared. And the woman in it. And with their arrival, he had been transported. Gone were the faded dreams and the despairing abyss. It was as if the long road he had traveled to bring him back here had taken him to the other side of a rainbow where the twin version of his old home was waiting, radiating with the gleam of promise and desire.

The flick of her cigarette brought him back. As he grabbed his paper bag and stood up, he cast one more glance towards her. A light breeze had sent her nightgown, an old white T-shirt of his, aflutter. As she beckoned him with a gentle curl of her fingers he watched his shirt ripple against her bare legs. So ordinarily extraordinary.

In an almost identical adjoining house, in that same dilapidated town sat a woman. It was 9am. She kept her lights off as she peered out her window. Hidden by the reflections of the outside world against it. She looked down at the plaza below. There he was. Every morning she would wake up to watch him watching her. Even though she knew he wasn’t watching her. But she liked to pretend. She liked to imagine that serendipity had brought him back to this town to find her. To rescue her. She liked to fantasize that he was waking up every morning to buy her fresh rolls at the bakery. She dreamed that he was sitting in the plaza, sipping his espresso gazing up with adoration for her in his eyes. She watched. He got up and walked towards her house. Towards her. She counted his steps. It was always twelve. Then he would be out of sight. And she would hold her breath waiting for the click of her front door opening.