The Bag Lady
She walks on a lonely city sidewalk. It is five o’clock in the morning on a cold and windy day. The streets and sidewalks have been recently washed; they glow with the reflection of the city lights. She hears the sounds of a city rapidly waking up. There is a smell of freshly perked coffee in the air. A truck from the Sanitation Department passes by collecting garbage. Several men arrange the morning newspapers on the corner stands. Her bent and crooked form prevents her from walking too fast. Her lingering steps slowly take her to her destination—a magnificent and grand hotel. She walks with a mixture of resignation and excitement. Will they turn her away?
Her arthritic form finally arrives at the hotel. She evades the exasperated looks from the morning porter at the entrance. He has seen her many times in the past. His forehead cringes as he debates whether to throw her out once again. She smiles at him and his heart seems to warm for an instant. He pretends that he has not seen her and lets her go by.
Entering the lobby, she immediately looks up to the ceiling. She loves the hotel chandelier and stares at the thousands of tiny crystals glistening like flames. The lobby is furnished with beautiful antique furniture, shiny gold-rimmed mirrors, and a plush red and gold carpet. Freshly arranged flowers grace the exquisite rosewood coffee tables. A grand marbled staircase leads up to the mezzanine. The lobby is deserted at this time except for the front desk clerk, busy sorting out the new arrivals. She listens to the shuffling of reservation cards and sways to the soothing music as she finally enters her haven.
Decorated with a pink floral print, a lovely green carpet, a radiant gold oval-shaped mirror, the ladies room never fails to amaze her. The washbowls are made of shiny white marble adorned with sparkling brass faucets. Searching through her bag of treasures, she begins her awkward routine. She rubs her old, bristled toothbrush against a brand new bar of soap and proceeds to brush her teeth. She clumsily grabs one of her most valued possessions: an Avon make-up kit that she found two years ago. Carefully scraping the dried-out rouge from the container, she makes an effort to rub it on to her wrinkled lips and cheeks. She uses worn-out eyeliner to make exaggerated very dark eyebrows over her creased and tired eyes and appraises her image in the mirror. Smiling with proud satisfaction, she does not see an odd, disheveled appearance. Instead, her white dirty hair appears golden and silky. She feels young and carefree, if only for an instant as she sees past her scrubby black coat, her soiled black dress, her smelly gray socks, and her hole-infested Throw Mama From The Train brown hefty shoes.
“Mrs. Alvarez…Mrs. Ramona Alvarez!”
Ramona Alvarez hears the receptionist call her name from across the room and is instantly brought out of her reverie. She rises and walks to the reception desk as the smiling receptionist returns her insurance card and hands her a form to sign.
“You seemed preoccupied earlier. Deep in thought,” the young girl comments behind the counter. “Please sign below.”
“Yes, I was plotting my next story. It is about a bag lady. No one loves her. Her daughter deserted her,” Ramona replies as her shaky fingers sign on the line indicated. “I’ve written many novels you know. Usually I write romances, caliente romances, but this time I was thinking of writing a drama.”
Ramona notices the slight twitch of laughter and the incredulous look on the receptionist’s face. The girl seems taken aback for a second, probably thinking that Ramona is off her rocker, not believing that a little old lady of eighty-six, who has buried three husbands and has one foot in the grave, can actually think about romance much less write hot ones.
She is dying for the receptionist to ask her about the books she wrote under the nom de plume of Rosalinda Beauvoir, but the foolish girl is too occupied with incoming calls, paperwork, and lack of interest. Oh rudeness—thy name is an office receptionist!
Quickly dismissing her, the girl turns to her computer and calls out another patient’s name. Next time, Ramona will bring proof, she vows silently. She has plenty of paperbacks at home. Maybe her much acclaimed Besos de Amor Trilogy consisting of Amor Dulce, Amor Ardiente, and Amor Sensual, all translated into English as Mornings Of Lust, Afternoons Of Love and Nights Of Desire, will teach this discourteous pup a thing or two!
Ramona reclaims her seat which she had stacked with a variety of old shopping bags holding her essentials—essentials that one needs in order to keep entertained in a doctor’s waiting room.
Opening up her Sears & Roebuck shopping bag, she takes out her sweater and her Hola magazine. She does not appreciate the boring reading material in Dr. Blanco’s office and always comes prepared. Turning the pages of the magazine, Ramona enjoys the photographs of the King and Queen of Spain as she tries not to think of her own family.
This morning was a bad one. She argued with her middle-aged daughter once again about her weekly doctor visits. Poor Angela! She belonged to the “The Sandwich Generation”—sandwiched between the elderly and the problems of her grown-up children. Ramona knows that her daughter is a busy woman. She works real estate and has grandchildren to take care of. Her only daughter doesn’t have the time to waste sitting hours in a doctor’s office—especially when Ramona is in perfect health. Angela dropped her off and will pick her up in three hours. Three hours! Si, this is the usual time that it takes Dr. Blanco to see her.
Turning to the elderly couple sitting beside her, Ramona exclaims, “I think that there is abuse of Medicare in this office! Since the government pays for it…this Dr. Blanco wants to see me once a month to check my heart. I have so many doctors I can’t count. Dr. Blanco for the heart, Dr. Ruiz for the bones, Dr. Aragon for the skin. And I have nothing! I have buried two husbands…no…three husbands…I forgot about Reynaldo and I am in perfect health.”
Putting aside her Hola, Ramona searches through another bag and finds the large, three-window, wooden picture frame holding the pictures of her late husbands. “The glass broke. I’m hoping my daughter, Angela, takes me later to the frame shop to get it fixed. No doubt she will get exasperated, but what are daughters for?”
“Three husbands?” the woman sitting beside her asks with distaste as she unwraps a guava pastry from a brown paper bag and takes a bite. She turns to the decrepit man at her side. “You want one, Manuel?”
“No, Estela. You know the doctor say this is bad for us.”
“Que nonsense,” Estela scoffs. “You only live once.”
Manuel coughs. “I have been married for sixty years to this woman. I could never walk down the aisle with anyone else. Never again. One marriage is enough suffering for one lifetime.”
“Manuel, portate bien!” Estela objects. “Behave yourself! What will our doctor’s office friends think? Remember, we have to see them once a month.” She opens another brown paper bag and takes out a large foam container and begins to pour hot coffee into tiny plastic cups. “Does anyone want Café Cubano? It is still hot.”
A fat old woman sitting across the room put down her magazine and walks over to them. Taking the miniature cup, she gulps it down with one swig. “My husband was a saint. He could never be replaced. Never again.”
Ramona laughs. Returning the broken frame to her bag, she searches through another, smaller bag and finds her tuna sandwich. “Si, never again,” she says, taking a few bites.
“The sandwich looks good,” Manuel says in a flirtatious tone. “Delicious like the lovely woman who bites it.”
“Manuel!” Estela huffs.
“Don’t worry, Estela,” Ramona says between bites. “There are many still who want to court me, but I no longer have the strength or the appetite to engage. I have croquettas. Is anyone interested? My friend at La Carreta Restaurante told me they are chicken. I love the chicken ones. The ham ones are bad for my stomach.”
A dapper white-haired gentleman enters the office and walks to the reception area. Ramona quickly puts the food away. How distinguished—how handsome! Must be in his late eighties like myself, she thinks. She breaths lightly between her parted lips as she tries to discreetly change her Throw Mama From The Train bulky shoes for her dainty, white slippers, which she brought in an elegant Ann Taylor shopping bag. They’ll have to do.
The man sits across from her and she shifts positions, pretending to pick up some nondescript article from the floor, all the while, her keen eyes checking him out.
Que bueno! She happily thinks as she reclines against her chair. He is not wearing a wedding ring. Smiling coquettishly at him, she adjusts her skirts over her knees, glad that La Divorcida—that saucy divorcée, Violeta Gomez, is not here today to steal her man.
“Mr. Bustamante—Pedro. You left your keys on the counter,” the receptionist called out and the handsome man stood to retrieve them.
Mr. Pedro Bustamante! Ramona knew that he looked familiar. She had not seen him in years. Pedro, wonderful, Pedro—that hot third grader she’d had a crush on when she attended the Ave Maria School in Pinal Del Rios way back when in Cuba!
“Pedro,” she purrs. “Do you not remember me? Ramona from the Ave Maria School? You used to pull my pigtails, you Diablo!”
The man of her dreams smiles back at her. “Señora, I am sorry, but I don’t recall.”
“Ramona Alvarez,” the receptionist calls out her name. “Dr. Blanco will see you in Room Two.”
Not Ramona Alvarez! Mrs. Bustamante to you, little fool! Ramona corrects silently as her heart skips a beat. “You will be here when I get out, Pedro. Let’s have lunch. We will catch up then. Are you married?”
Before Pedro can answer, the receptionist calls her name again and she stands to go. “Lunch it is. I’m starved,” she lies, to the disbelief of all the others in the room who saw her wolf down her tuna sandwich.
“Si, Ramona. I remember now. We go to Versailles Restaurante to reminisce.”
Estela gushes. “He is not married. He wears no wedding ring. Hurry, I will keep a vigil on your bags while you are in with the doctor.”
Smiling slyly, Ramona passes the receptionist desk and enters Room Two with the nurse. Quickly undressing, she puts on a white, paper robe as she waits for Dr. Blanco to enter the compartment. Sitting on top of the leather examining couch, she feels cold, very cold. No matter! She hopes that her bags are safe with Estela and that the doctor will give her a clean bill of health. She is going to need it. After lunch with Pedro, Angela will take her to the photo frame store. She will not bother to fix her frame. Instead she will pick out a new one with four windows instead of three.
It was never too late for love.
To read more about author, Maggie Dove, visit her website.