by Pat Hall
One joyful late afternoon a year ago here in San Miguel, my husband and I were sitting in a favourite rooftop restaurant of ours, at our second favourite table. We couldn’t get our favourite table because it was already reserved. I didn’t care. From the table we had I could still watch the pigeons on the roof across the street in their nest fussing with their newborns or taking turns sitting on eggs about to hatch.
The restaurant is only a half block from the Jardín. There, at our second favourite table, we could still lean out beyond the wall and watch passers-by on the street below. The day was perfect, just the right temperature, sunny, but not too hot.
One of our favourites things about this restaurant is its view of the Parroquia. Another, of course, is the food. The waiters are also top-rank and very friendly. After many years of eating there, the waiters love to tell us jokes and laugh with us. They know we’re Canadian and try to speak a little French. I haven’t had the heart to tell them that we’re not from Quebec.
That afternoon the waiters were bustling about. From our corner table we could see them very enthusiastically preparing for the guests who were destined for our favourite table. One waiter excitedly sprinkled handfuls of red rose petals over the table top. He looked at us and said, “¡Qué romántico!” At this point our curiosity was aroused and we asked what was happening, who would be arriving to sit at that table.
The waiters told us that a couple, who had just got engaged were coming to have a celebratory dinner. We waited in anticipation with the waiters. Finally a very handsome couple in their late twenties arrived. They were escorted to their table. The woman was Mexican and the man, blonde-haired, was foreign. We guessed he was American or Canadian. What a delightful intercultural couple they seemed! They appeared to be tourists visiting San Miguel.
The woman, very fashionably dressed, had an air about her. She walked as if certain that she was the sexiest woman in the world. When I lived in Cholula I shopped for clothes in Mexico City for many years. I know the look. She dressed and walked as only a woman from Mexico City can. Her partner followed along behind her, looking very proud of his attractive companion. She kept adjusting her extremely low neckline to better draw attention to the cleavage it showed. She was wearing a huge diamond ring and kept glancing at it very consciously, favouring that hand.
They perused the menu and ordered. After which they waited, seemingly content, except that the gentleman was trying unsuccessfully to hold the woman’s hand. She didn’t want to hold hands. Finally, to avoid his groping hand on hers, she pulled out her cell phone and sat there playing with it. He looked quite discouraged. He kept trying to get her attention, but she was thoroughly engrossed in her phone. She seemed to have forgotten that he was even there, saying not a word in spite of his constant chatter.
If this was the engagement, I felt certain that there were bad times ahead. Watching what appeared to be a disastrous beginning, I wondered if they would make it together. So many times the relationship painfully endures with neither of the partners happy for the rest of their lives. Other times there is an eruption, an explosion and the couple parts company abruptly.
He looked quite sad, but was still trying to involve her in conversation. Their food arrived. She started to eat with one hand, never losing sight of the apparently fascinating material on her phone. He didn’t eat. Instead he continued to talk to her, trying to get a response.
Suddenly there was loud music from the street. The blonde man at our favourite table was surprised to hear music coming from the street. I stood up to look over the wall. He did the same. All the while, he was talking to her, coaxing her to come and look over the wall. She paid no attention. He was amazed to see the wedding parade on the street below and asked me what it was. He was even more astonished when I told him it was a wedding callejoneada, pointing out the bride and groom, the two mojigangas dressed as a giant bride and groom and the wedding guests. Of course, the donkey, wearing sunglasses and garlands of brightly-coloured flowers, and the mariachi band spoke for themselves.
I sat down again and became interested in my food. I could hear the poor blonde man describing the parade to his stoney beauty. It was so romantic. Wouldn’t it be a good idea for them to have such a wedding? She appeared not to hear him.
I had been concentrating on my meal for some time when I heard someone sobbing. Without looking up I knew that the sobbing was coming from our favourite table. Without looking up I knew the tears were his. Lifting my eyes I saw his shoulders shaking. The poor man was crying his heart out, loudly. She completely ignored him, still thoroughly absorbed in her phone. As I watched, he pulled out a large handkerchief and mopped his face and eyes. The pathetic scene continued for some time; his tears and her consuming interest in her phone. He tried to talk to her, but, because he was crying so hard, had trouble speaking. I lost my appetite.
I had an almost overwhelming urge to rush over to their table and tell the blonde man to pull the engagement ring from her finger and run away as fast as he could. I wanted to protest that he couldn’t possibly settle for such an existence, but I restrained myself.
It occurred to me, looking out towards the other roof, that pigeons have much better relationships. They are a lot happier than the ill-fated couple sitting at our favourite table. Pigeons are said to mate for life. I sat there, my inactive fork in hand, and mused on the fidelity of the pigeons compared to the fickleness of modern human love. I sure appreciate the fact that my husband and I have lived our lives like those old-fashioned pigeons.
She finished her meal and called for the bill, apparently never noticing that he had not eaten a bite. He paid the bill. They left, her holding her phone high, keeping it in view as she strutted out. He was still wiping his eyes as they left. I felt so sorry for him. Was it worth all the anguish just to have such a sexpot on your arm? We ordered dessert.
I was on the lookout for that couple all over town, but I never saw them again. A year later, I’m still on the lookout, even though in these times of COVID, it’s difficult to tell who’s behind the mask. I will always wonder what finally happened, but I think that I don’t really want to know.
Pat Hall is a retired Canadian who has been visiting San Miguel for the past 22 years. Many years ago Pat worked in the library at the Universidad de las Américas in Cholula, Puebla for three years where she also studied Spanish. In Canada, she worked as a librarian, library science instructor, and language teacher (French, Spanish, German, Latin, and English as a Second Language). The last 8 years of her working life were spent as a translator, translating official documents from Spanish to English and from English to Spanish. She has recently published a book, Speak To Me: Travels and Exploits of a Language Lover, available on Amazon, about her adventures traveling and pursuing her passion for languages.