“Next week, you should come back and read to me again.”
He was a joyful man, showing teeth stained by smoke like varnish on rough wood between lips cracked by ungracious extremes of weather, or perhaps he just smiled too much. I met Mr. Espada while working as a patient care assistant at the Palliative Care Unit of Bethesda Hospital. Walking those quiet hallways, which smelled like strawberry cheese cake would be for desert, joy intermingled with solace. People came here to recover not just from their physical wounds but from the hurts of their hearts.
I went into his room as I did every other, saying, “Hello, Mr. Espada, how are you today? My name is Lorenzo, and I am a volunteer here. I just wanted to ask if there is anything I could do for you?”
The man was old but no decrepit, lying on his back at a slight angle, propped up by two smooth white pillows, as if enthroned at last in his own kingdom. His nostrils filled with oxygen from the transparent tubes; they hid well among his vast mane of grey and graying black hair, but, the marks of illness are not so easily obscured. “Do you speak Spanish?” He looked at me, no doubt wondering at my name, the name of those strong men of his motherland, not of young boys born in places south of the equator.
“Si, señor, un poco. Estudiaba en la escuela segundaria.” I knew my Spanish was bad, but perhaps I could make sense to him in some way.
“Me sorprendió, pero contento. Hace muchos años que no hablaste con una persona en español. En esto país no hay personas que háblala. Comprendes tu que me dijo?”
I told him that I understood, and we went along this way, him speaking quickly in Spanish, with me trailing along, asking him to repeat what he said many times. Mr. Espada was a son of Spain himself, born in times when black and white pictures were worth a fortune. He showed me what it looked like in Malaga before World War II; he was child, with those same hazel eyes, less bloodshot then but still contained of such animation as to be in motion even in silence. After Sunday mass, he would hold his father’s forearm and his mothers wrist and stroll out into the central square, watching people, stopping for a flavored piece of ice, and enjoying small wonders we now take for granted like the taste of Cola and the feel of his mother’s silk gown against his hand.