It’s a bright Sunday morning and I am sitting in the shade on the fringes of a pedestrian thoroughfare engrossed in the sordid Parisian world of Henry Miller’s ‘Tropic of Cancer’.

I raise my gaze to see Sunday strollers meander by.  Parishioners stream from the colonial era church, momentarily coagulating the flow of passers-by.

A three generational family are part of the throng.  Grandfather and grandmother.  Son and daughter-in-law.  They blink in the glare whilst the teenage grandaughter seemingly questions the goodness of a God that asks her  to forgo her dominical freedom.

Soon enough they position themselves nearby to unwrap tortillas and uncap tupperware.  Hardboiled albumen and yolk  nourish their bodies, renew the receptacles of their recently purified souls.

Lunching concludes and a few creaky shuffles place the corporeal transitory vessel of the octogenarian grandfather within my arms reach.  I could reach out and touch his leathered hide – creased like the neck of a sea turtle, his face cured and corroded, seasoned and salted.

Then his spectacled visage draws nearer and an intent steely gaze of grey emanates from deep within to create a tangible veneer of expectation.  A brief moment of silence passes and then he croaks:

‘Usted no es, por casualidad, el hijo de Hernandez?’

‘You (polite form) are not, by any chance, the son of Hernandez?’

I respond that, to the best of my knowledge, I am not descended from, do not share lineage with, am not of the stock, breed or blood of the Hernandez clan.

He accepts this, grace contorted by disappointment, and half-steps off into the approaching noon.

A hobble behind, his great wife -perhaps of sixty long years, leans on her cobbled and crooked stick.  She tilts her head in my direction and with a wry smile on her equally leathered face says:

‘Deberías haberle dicho que sí.  Lleva muchos años buscándo el joven Hernandez.’

‘You should have told him that you were.  He’s been looking for young Hernandez for years.’

If only I did.  What might have been?

Peter W Davies

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