4242 Manzanilla Road. Turn left at the Allsup´s gas station and go about one and a half miles down the road. Look for a small adobe house with a brightly painted turquoise door.
These were the directions given to Manuel. Manuel had worked as a plumber for seventeen years and figured he had visited every house in Las Brisas once or twice at least, but he strangely had never received a call for this house. He also knew little of who lived there, but it didn't matter. Manuel rarely turned a customer down. He had received a call from his boss Anthony early in the morning before the sun had even fully risen that morning to send warm light across the foothills and the small New Mexico town that Manuel and about 2,000 others called home. Anthony and Manuel had gone to high school together and both had left Las Brisas right after high school swearing never to return but the little town on the mesa always had a way of drawing her people home.
Manuel drove a light green Ford pickup, a green that had been faded by the intense rays of the high desert sun. It was the same pickup his father had driven before he died. Manuel could still sense the sweet smell of his dad’s chewing tobacco and aftershave even though he had passed over three years ago. The dusty tires of the pickup rotated slowly down the dirt road as Manuel sipped coffee from his mug and listened to how the world was supposedly about to end because of a strange respiratory virus. He paid little attention to the news. Those things normally faded by the time they reached Las Brisas. The thin air and bright sun tended to do that to the scary headlines from back east. It seemed like the social storms that hit the coasts with force always seemed to lose their luster before they made it to the mesa. Manuel wasn’t worried about it. He was however worried about losing a potential new customer. The resident of 4242 Manzanilla had requested help with a clogged sink at 6:45 that morning and it was almost 2:15 in the afternoon. Manuel grabbed his tools and his worn boots hit the ground with swiftness.
Manuel walked down a worn path to an ancient metal gate that stood slightly ajar. The yard was unkempt but he could see at one corner of the small brown house a large rose bush. It was covered with bright blooms of crimson. The roses were beautiful and reminded him of a rose garden he had visited once on Galisteo Road in Santa Fe. It was a park across the street from a small church and he and Elizabeth had visited it once when they were still young, when dreams were still fresh and close and sweet. But this was not Santa Fe and Elizabeth was not here. He walked to the door of the house which was not as bright as had been described but could be described as having once been bright and once turquoise. He leaned towards the roses just for a brief moment and inhaled their tender scent and remembered a girl with long raven hair before he knocked and called out, “Hello, I’m Manuel from Bueno Plumbing!”.
He stood at that faded blue door and waited for quite a while. He knew older customers often took a while to get to the door so he was used to waiting. He checked his phone for any new messages from Anthony or his other buddies but there was nothing. The only thing on his phone were news updates one from the New York Times and the other from the Washington Post. He scrolled through the doomsday articles as he waited. When the old woman finally arrived, Manuel regarded a small woman with dark black eyes and silver hair pulled back into a tight bun. She had on a black skirt, black shirt and a black wrap across her shoulders. The only color she wore was that of a glimmering silver ring on one hand and a gold cross and chain hanging from her neck. Her weathered hands reached the wooden door and she smiled slightly.
“Thank you for coming on such short notice, Manuelito”. Her familiar way of addressing threw Manuel off guard but he dutifully followed the woman through a small living room and into an even smaller kitchen where the offending sink most surely resided. As they made their way over to the sink he couldn’t help but look above the door at the opposite end of the kitchen that led out to the backyard. Above the door in place of the traditional horseshoe or plate, was a diminutive but intricate painting of two small hummingbirds drinking from one single curious flower shaped like a bell green at its base, yellow in the middle and red at the end.
The old woman smiled knowingly at the hummingbird lovers and softly muttered, “Allí está mi querido viejo.” more to herself than to Manuel. She turned to him then and said, “The sink is clogged and my husband used to fix those things”. She wasn’t sad when she said these words but she was almost happy as though the mention of him were a sweet candy that brings small children glowing joy. This was the second time this house made Manuel think of Elizabeth and so it was the second time this house made Manuel’s heart hurt and long at the same time. Was this a magical house, here at the edge of a mostly forgotten town at the edge of a forgotten mesa? Who was this viejita anyway, this woman who spoke to him like she was his abuelita?
Manuel got down on his knees, opened the lonely wooden doors that led to the underbelly of this lady’s kitchen sink and began the same protocol he had performed so many times and in so many homes. As he worked he mostly forgot about the rose bush, the woman who thought she was his grandmother, and the two tiny birds kissing the same exotic flower. It wasn’t until the woman’s voice calling out that Manuel remembered where he was, in a small adobe house with a faded blue door at 4242 Manzanilla Road. “Are you almost done, mijo? I have tea ready if you want some”. Manuel was pretty much done with the sink, it was a standard clog easily fixed by loosening, cleaning, and tightening. He stood up and dusted his hands off on his pants and reached over to turn on the faucet and make sure he had indeed saved the leaky day. The water turned on and began to run into the sink and into the drain, all seemed to be in fine working order. As Manuel was more of a coffee kind of a guy, or Red Bull if he was particularly tired, he had already decided to politely turn down this strange woman’s offer for tea. Yet as he stood his eyes drifted back to the small birds still blissfully suspended over the frame of the kitchen door taking an eternal sweet sip together.
The woman smiled once more and handed Manuel an envelope, presumably with a check, and then laughed softly, “you are still looking at my colibris aren’t you?” “Ma’am?”, questioned Manuel. “Los dos colibríes que estás viendo, tú sabes, my hummingbirds”.
“Sentate un ratito and I´ll tell you about those little pajaritos if you'd like”.
Érase una vez, once upon a time, many years ago when the hearts of ranchers were still wild and free like the mustangs they tamed, a young cowboy named Alfaro who was known all over the county. In this town there was also a young woman who lived on a small farm where her family tried to grow corn, squash and beans. Her name was Rosario but everyone knew her as Charito. Alfaro won Charito´s heart one summer night under the desert moonlight as he serenaded her with songs of conquest, love and adventure. Alfaro and Charito built this house together. They farmed together, ranched together and raised three children together right here. Those two birds above that door are Alfaro and Charito… Manuel smiled, now glad he had sat down to humor an old woman and listen to her stories. It was a bright spot in an otherwise vanilla day. Now he knew why the house reminded him so much of his own love from so long ago. It was as though Elizabeth was sitting with him right here at this abuela's table sipping hot tea and holding his hand. This was a house surely filled with love that still lingered and one could smell it in the rose bush and see it in the birds above the door.
“Así que Ud. es Doña Charito seguramente and your husband was Alfaro. Thank you for sharing your story with an old plumber”.
The woman smiled once more and responded, “No es así, mijo. I am not Charito. My husband was Victor. He worked with your grandpa. Our families know each other very well.”
At this Manuel was confused, “How is it that Rosario and Alfaro raised their children here and you too lived here in this house with your husband?” The woman patted his hand gingerly only in the way a grandmother can do.
“No mijo, tú no sabes what they say? The old people, people older than me, used to say that God uses hummingbirds to send us greetings from our loved ones we have lost. One day many, many years ago when my children were all grown and gone, I found my Victor up on a ladder painting those two hummingbirds. I asked him what he was doing and I was so angry with him. You see he had missed my parents funeral that day. Well, resulta que my Victor was so sad for my loss he could not bear to see me mourn the loss of my mother and father. So he spent the day painting those two little hummingbirds in honor of my mother and father, Alfaro and Rosario. You see this is the house I grew up in and the house I raised my own children in. Every morning when I rise and drink my coffee I look out that window onto the mesa and I see the same sun my parents and grandparents looked at, and I see those two hummingbirds and I think of my mother and father. And I think of my sweet Victor and how he never painted a thing before that day and how he never painted a day after that. And I think about love and family and time and life and I smile and I drink my chamomile tea, mi mate de manzanilla.”
Manuel could not blink away the teardrop that pooled in his own lonely eye as he silently wished he could once again reach out his hands and touch the face of his sweet love Elizabeth once again. Why had he been so stupid to think she would wait for him while he sowed his wild oats in Denver so many years ago. She was beautiful, sweet and kind. Of course she wouldn't have waited for him. And the worst part was that he never heard from her again. Some people said that she moved to Dallas and married a rich oilman. Others said she became a politician´s wife in Santa Fe. Most people just figured she had left Las Brisas like so many others and wanted to leave the little town on the mesa squarely in her past. As though she could peer into Manuel´s mind and read it like a newspaper, the woman slowly but firmly remarked, “You know, true love never leaves us. It is always with us, like the roses planted by Charito, like the house Alfaro built, like the colibries my Victor painted, like the manzanilla we now drink.” At that moment four things happened that Manuel would never forget. First his phone pinged with one more pesky news headline saying that Governor Lujan had just issued a shelter in place order with strict penalties for anyone out without permission. Second, there was a knock at the faded turquoise door. Third, a woman was at the door with a strangely familiar face with long black and gray hair who smelled of roses and had a letter to be delivered to 4242 Manzanilla Road. And fourth, when that woman curiously accepted Manuel's invitation to chamomile tea, the two found themselves completely alone at a table in a small kitchen looking out onto the same timeless mesa and sunset that generations before them had stared at as well.