A Tale of Two Shirts


      Eres un diablito, Luis. Un nino el diablo.” My grandfather’s bony fingers rapped my head. “How many times have I told you not to chew gum. Spit is out, en este momento.”
     Phoooey. It flew in the air, headed for the yellow plastic bin.
     It missed.
      Whaack. He wrung his hands together. “Go pick it up. Don’t they teach you to not litter in school.”
“–But Abuelo everyone else–” I covered the back of my head and shrunk.
       Pain seared through my fingers.
      My brother jumped in between us. “That green bus will go to Guadalajara, Abuelo.” He flicked his wrist behind his back, urging me to go pick up the gum.
       “Guadalajara?” My grandfather leaned on his walking stick.

       “To our boarding school, Abuelo.” My brother draped a shawl over Abuelo’s shoulders.
       “Yes, I forgot. Yes. Let us go.” He took a few painful steps towards the bus. “Your mom and dad were so good at taking care of you. I can’t even control just your brother.”
        I jumped onto the aluminum steps of the bus. “El dictador, but you love me.”
       “El diablito. Surely the devil.” He coughed out.
       The bus lurched and stalled and sputtered forward and he began telling the story of our mother and father. How they met and how they glowed when my brother was born. His bony callused hands patted my brother’s head. “Mi pichón, go to sleep.” He hummed a phlegmy tune.
      “Look Abuelo, he’s drooling on your shawl.” I nudged.
       He encompassed me in his frail arms. “Let your brother sleep.”
The smell of jasmine made me cringe. “Uuuugh Abuelo, you used Abuela’s parfum again? Your bottle is in the right hand cabinet.”
      “I forget, Mi Gauchito.” He squinted his eyes to reach some hazy corner of his brain.
      “I’m a gaucho not a gauchito.” I pouted. “I’m big enough to take care of you.” I splayed all five fingers of my right hand and two on my left hand.
       He clasped all my fingers and kissed them. His bristly chin and long grey moustache ticked my hands. “The only thing I never forget for a moment in my life are your ages, mi Corazon. Seven and Ten.” He looked out into the sunset and sighed.
      Click click click. The bus conductor snapped his ticket cutters. “Tickets please?”
      “Three tickets for…” he lost eyes stared into mine.
       “Guajjara.” I managed.
       “OK Three for Guadalajara. That would be eighty one pesos.”
        He stuck his arthritic fingers into his shirt pocket. “Madre de Dios!” he looked around.
      “Is there a problem, Señor?” The conductor held Abuelo’s shoulder.
      “I forgot to bring money.” He patted his shirt pocket.
       “Maybe you dropped it.” The conductor bent down and looked around the seat. I put my head under the seat and ran my fingers through some dust bunnies. I retrieved an orange colored half sucked piece of candy covered with lint. “Abuelo, can I eat–”
        He held his head in his hands. His woolen monkey cap was partially off his bald head. “My brain. Oh my brain. I forget such simple things. How will I ever show you the path, my boys?” He sniffed.
       My brother stuck his hand into his pocket and held out three coins. “Don’t cry Abuelo, I have three Pesos.”
      “And I have orange candy,” I wiped it off my shirt and offered it to the conductor.
      The conductor sat down next to him. “Don’t worry about it, Señor. You don’t have to pay.” Abuelo lifted his face. The conductor’s eyes lit up. “I know you. You’re that famous contractor. My Papi worked for you for thirty years.” He touched Abuelo’s knee. “What happened to you? You’re the millionaire that employed half of our–”
       Tears had pooled by the rim of Abuelo’s thick glasses. “These are my assets now.” He ruffled our hair with each hand. “Other than that my brain is so weak that I keep forgetting to do things, to carry things.”
       I took the slimy piece of candy out of my mouth and held it in a pinch. “He’s my dictador abuelo. The doctor says he’s got –umm — err…”
       “–He’s fine,” my brother hugged my grandfather. “I don’t think he forgets. I think he remembers too much.”
       I chuckled and put the candy back in my mouth.
       His vice like grip clasped my cheeks. My lips protruded out like a fish. He stuck his gritty finger in my mouth, hooked it and flicked out the candy.
       I reached out for the glistening orange candy lying on the bus floor.
       I stumbled and fell, held my cheek with one hand and the candy in the other. “Daddy had taught me about the three second rule.”
      “Out of all he taught you, this is what you remember?”
       “At least I don’t forget to bring money.”
        Soc. My brothers small fist made contact with my shoulder.
        Abuelo pinched the bridge of his nose under his glasses.
        My brother buried his head in Abuelos chest. “He’s a silly boy, Abuelo. Don’t mind him. You don’t forget. You never forget anything about us. You remember our birthdays, our school fees and the parent teacher meetings.” He twirled the topmost button of Abuelo’s spotless white shirt. “You just have a lot to remember.” He twisted the button round and round. “You just remember too much because you care too much.”
         Abuelo’s ivory colored button broke off. His white shirt’s opened up.
My brother peeled back his shirt and looked up at him with brown saucer like eyes. “Look Abuelo, I told you that you remember too much. Here’s your money.”
         Beneath his shirt was another identical white button down shirt.




6 thoughts on “A Tale of Two Shirts

  1. I love this one. Our elders getting older, forgetting, struggling and trying so very hard to hold it together is a common theme in many families. You bring this to light with such poignancy and sensitivity…it felt particularly familiar as my Father is “abuelo” to my nieces and nephews. I absolutely loved it.

    • All this happened in India…and I’m not mexican but It was fun giving my story a mexican twist. Emotions and relationships and the feeling of love- specially from family remains the same. Its a universal language. I hope I captured the essense of small boys in mexico dealing with their abuelo and an old man dealing with the loss of his son and daughter in law and raising two grandkids with the intensity I intended….
      Much appreciated

  2. Thank you for this nostalgic read…for me, it reminded me of my grandfather, a harsh, sometimes cruel man yet becoming unseemly gentle as his senility took over. I am just now willing and able to recall the few fond memories of being around him during this time…mostly funny. This story speaks of this complexity. Thanks, again.

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