Life Alone

A short fiction story of 1047 words.

Juan Hernandez had never wanted to leave home. He missed the Sunday dinners with his family: brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, lots of cousins sitting around the long wooden table, laughing while they ate tamales and pambazos. He missed the street corner vendors who sell tacos and quesadillas. He missed hanging out with his friends in the evenings after work, playing soccer in the empty field down by the school.

Then the drug gangs moved into the neighborhood. They brought guns and then people began disappearing. When they came to him, asking him to work for them, of course he refused. He loved his job working in construction. But they would not take no for answer; they worked their influence to get him fired. When he continued to refuse their offer, the shootings began.

That’s when his family called the meeting—over fifty people crowded into his uncle’s house. After much heated discussion, the decision was made. Someone would have to move to the States and get established, then arrange for the rest of them to follow. The journey would be too dangerous for those who had children and his uncles were getting older now. The family had chosen him. How could he let them down?

The trip north was not as difficult as he had imagined it would be. He hitch-hiked most of the time and made it in only two weeks. Even getting across the border was not difficult, even if it did take all the money his family had sent with him. Living on the streets of San Diego, that was the hard part.

He spent days walking the streets looking for work and nights sleeping in back alleys. The construction companies gave him only short jobs—two or three days at a time, paid him three dollars an hour. He had to swallow his pride while he stood in soup kitchen lines and washed his clothes in the dollar store bath room sink.

*****

Robert Miller learned early that if he wanted something bad enough, he could make it happen. First there was that new bike when he was twelve. He took a paper route and earned more than he needed in only three months. Next it was high school valedictorian. In his freshman year he made up his mind that he would graduate with that top honor. Four years of studying clinched it. It hadn’t even been difficult. Studying came easy to him. Then it was a degree in economics as well as a position as one of the city’s top financial advisors.

He had just purchased a new luxury home and furnished it with the upscale pieces that would let everyone know how successful he was. Now it was time to get serious about finding just the right girl to ride around with him in his red Mercedes-Benz GT convertible and to show off at the corporate parties around town.

*****

One afternoon Juan was walking the sidewalks looking for any work he could find. It had been a week since he had worked last. He stepped around trash on the sidewalk. Juan heard a car approaching close to him from behind. A red Mercedes-Benz GT convertible drove up. The blonde haired, blue eyed man shouted at him, “Get a job!” Then he laughed and drove away. Another day Juan would have been angry, but today he was just too tired.

A few minutes later he passed a store front; he watched as a large, burly man placed a Now Hiring card in the window. Juan looked up at the sign above the door—Sam’s Pizza Parlor. Juan stepped inside and pointed to the card in the window. The man smiled broadly and motioned Juan to the kitchen. Through broken English and lots of gestures Juan learned how to make a great pizza. Sam was a generous man. He paid minimum wage and gave Juan all the hours he wanted.

Sam helped Juan find a small, basement apartment nearby. It was dark and smelled of mildew but it was big enough for a few more of his family to stay in when they eventually arrived. Juan worked every day, eating leftovers from the pizza parlor, and saving every penny he could. He made a few friends at the restaurant and started smiling again.

*****

The first news Robert heard of the market crash was Monday morning blaring from the car radio on his way to work. No, that’s not true. He had seen the signs. Everyone had been talking about them for over a year now.

If he had only taken precautions.

He could have diversified.

Instead, he lost everything.

His company cut jobs, and they started with him.

First, the bank came to take the car. He borrowed his mother’s 1971 mud-colored sedan. Then, they came for the house. He had tried to sell it, but it was too late. When they foreclosed, he slept in the sedan. The consignment store was willing to take his furniture and his many fancy suits, but it didn’t help. No one was buying.

As soon as he ran out of gas money, he took to walking the streets at night, just to keep moving, just to keep from going crazy.

*****

Juan had just finished cleaning up at the end of a long Friday night. He said good-night to Sam and stepped out the back door and into the alley. He carried a box that held a cold, unclaimed pepperoni and mushroom pizza.

At the corner Juan saw a disheveled man sitting with his back against the dirty brick building. He had a week’s growth of beard and grime spread across his face. Juan approached him.

“Are you okay?” Juan asked.

The man did not look up. Instead, he turned away. “Yeah,” he answered.

Juan was pretty sure this guy wasn’t drunk. “Hungry?” Juan motioned to the pizza box. “Need a bed? Come.” Juan pulled the man up by his arm. “Come. I give you food and bed.”

Without speaking a word, the man followed Juan the four blocks to his apartment.  It would take a full year for Robert to get his job back, and by then he was a new man. He was a humble and compassionate man.  

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