When I go to visit my mother at the assisted living facility in Orange County, I brace myself upon entry and try to find the bright side. This time, the bright side was Jaime.
Several of the ladies on the second floor, my mother included, had been gathered together and escorted downstairs for a stroll around the block, but the weather was deemed too chilly for the elderly. (This is California, after all.) They were instead seated at a round table in an area called The Bistro. It’s really just an alcove by the elevator, with snacks, coffee, water, and juice set out on a counter.
My mother looked up at the sign and asked, “What’s a bistro?”
I explained (in writing, because she’s deaf) that a bistro is a small restaurant or café. And I do appreciate what management is going for, but calling this a bistro is a bit of a stretch. Even my mother looked dubious.
One woman asked, “So what are we waiting for? Why are we here?” This particular woman, I’ve noticed, is one who speaks her mind bluntly, and it’s often edged with a wee bit of nasty, though in this case I could sort of see her point.
“We’re just sitting in the bistro,” said the caregiver cheerily, serving little cups of pink yogurt from a tray. “It’s too cold to go outside, but it’s nice to have a change of scenery.”
“There’s nothing nice about it at all,” said the blunt woman. “It’s really very ordinary. If we’re not going outside, I’d rather go back upstairs.” She leaned back with a sour expression.
That’s when Jaime came wheeling along on a deluxe-looking mobility scooter, as red and shiny as a new sports car. He stopped to say hello in his courtly way and chat with us. He’s the type of gentleman who would tip his hat if he were wearing one, or take a bow and kiss a lady’s hand.
Instead he told us stories. I wish I could recount all the details, but I missed passages because I don’t always understand his accent. Occasionally he spoke in Spanish to the caregiver and she explained. But even when I only catch fragments, I find that Jaime’s tales and demeanor invariably touch my heart.
There was one story called My Mercedes that he himself had written long ago. It won a prize and appeared in print, and it wasn’t about a woman or a car, but a typewriter. A Mercedes, Jaime told us, was in his day the very best typewriter you could own. The story was about his relationship with this beautiful machine, the words they wrote together, the bond they shared, and finally, their irreparable break-up. “It was mechanical,” he said.
He also told us about his wife, who knew how to pilot a small airplane, and how terrified he was when he flew with her once. And he told us a legend about a powerful Ecuadorean condor, soaring over the Andes, its huge wings spread out horizontally, then diving head-on into the earth. The condor was blind and ended up dead and I missed an awful lot here, but in the course of the telling Jaime held out his arms like wings in flight and was for a moment a condor himself, then he motioned with his hand to show the great bird’s plunge from sky to earth.
And I thought about the tales we each carry, from our cultures and our lives, and their compelling need to fly. They’re in the air, if we’re willing to hear, and if one of them finds a nest within a heart, it lives a little longer.
Meanwhile, the blunt woman was getting fidgety and expressed her opinion that it was time to move along. The caregiver cleared the empty cups, and shepherded the group back to the elevator, and Jaime took off on his sporty red scooter. My mother looked to me for further instruction, mostly just pleased that I was there with her. We sat for a little while longer, then vacated the bistro.