The sea can unleash turbulent waters, but deep down his heart lives. It is only necessary to know how to reach it.
Mateo was born in California, a man in his late twenties. He worked as a bricklayer, so he was never short of jobs in a city like New York, a metropolis where new skyscrapers are always under constant construction. It was very difficult for him to achieve anything else with the little education he had, but he enjoyed his job. His salary was enough to pay for a daily meal and the rent that he shared with two roommates. He had no family or children, which gave him a great economic advantage.
Not only that, but he was also a rather simple and unrefined man with no expensive tastes. His daily schedule was as simple as him: get out of bed, have breakfast, prepare lunch, go to work, eat, work some more, finish, go home and sleep. Everything happened routinely until the tragic day he fell from the third floor of the building on Seventh Avenue.
“Help me! I need help!” –Mateo screamed in pain.
All his coworkers rushed to his aid. The fall was not the worst problem as the steel bar that his right leg had hit was. From that moment on, life took a radical turn for him. He was in serious condition for almost eight weeks in the hospital. Doctors told him that they might have to amputate his leg. Luckily, they did not. Later, they warned him that he would not walk on two feet again, and he would only be able to sit on a wheelchair. Fortunately, that did not happen either.
He would have to take a year of physical therapy in order to strengthen the muscle of his disabled leg. One day he finally got up and walked on both legs: taking one step with his left leg and falling hard, while the right one crawled up to join the other and got ready to try again. His limp would stay with him forever.
He could never work in construction again, but the determination that always characterized him and a bit of luck helped him find a new job: guardian of a junkyard in the suburbs of the great metropolis. In addition to the fact that the job did not demand a lot of physical strength, the old owner of the place offered him a small room to live in. By doing this, he will not pay rent and commute to go to work.
His new little cabin had a narrow bed, a small refrigerator, a two-grill electric stove, and a television where he could watch the movies from Hollywood's golden age that he liked so much. The bathroom was comfortable enough for his special needs, but the best part was the porch with two rocking chairs. He loved to sit on a different one every night. From there, he guarded the place so that gang members did not enter to loot what little value was left among the scrap. He also enjoyed sunsets and full moons.
So he settled and after agreeing with the kind owner to let him go to therapy, he started a new daily routine. He woke up, had breakfast, walked to the bus stop, and entertained himself by watching the big city life through the window. He was in therapy for two hours, went to the bus stop and return home to eat and spend the rest of the day guarding the junkyard. When the sun disappeared, he bathed, drank a glass of milk and slept. He only woke up at night if he heard a suspicious noise. When this happened, he went out to the porch and looked around to see if there was a criminal prowling around.
The first three months were the most difficult because, being a strong man in the past, he needed to accept himself as disabled member of the population. Often, suicide flashed through his mind, so he tried to think about the worst thing that could have happened: losing a leg or not being able to walk anymore. He convinced himself that he was a privileged person and thanked all the catholic saints that his parents made him believe in since he was a child.
Starting in the fourth month, he began to adapt to the difficulties and, as he slowly walked to the bus stop, he had more time to reflect about the movies he watched. When he returned to the junkyard, he felt he had arrived at home. Mateo felt calm, yet deeply alone.
It was in the sixth month of therapy when, in front of the bus stop near the hospital, a new men's clothing store for the middle class opened. Unfortunately, it had unattainable prices for him but the man entertained himself by looking at the window display and imagining that he was wearing those fine pants, shirts, jackets and ties. A few days later, he saw an elegant gentleman sitting in one of the windows of the place looking out. At first, the two men only exchanged glances, but after a week, that mysterious man dared to speak to Mateo.
“Excuse me sir, do you have a cigarette you could give me? -he said with a haughty tone-, they neglect me a bit in this place, despite the fact that my contract states that they are obliged to grant all of my requests”.
“Sorry man, I don´t smoke, so I never buy cigarettes. But even if I had one, I find it difficult for you to smoke”-Mateo replied.
“I do not understand why you say that, kind man, but I appreciate that at least you have answered me. There are people to whom I speak and they see me as a strange man. Often, they seem scared and run away from me. Nice to meet you, my name is Benjamin, but you can call me Ben.”
Ben was 20 years old, and was born in Brooklyn, in Lifestyle Inc., one of the largest mannequin industries in the United States. Like all the human reproductions of this factory, he wasn't created from a mold. His body and face were sculpted in fiberglass with great care by a craftsman, giving him a perfect morphology and the bearing of a 19th century English lord. His sitting position reflected that he was a relaxed man with no financial concerns. A person with a luxurious life, and a self-centered and conceited personality.
Ben felt he was above others and he really couldn't understand why he had ended up in a middle class clothing store. As he had heard while shaping him, he hoped to model Alexander Wang, Moschino, DKNY or Gucci garments in the windows of the most exclusive Fifth Avenue stores. What he didn't know is that when his creator applied papier-mâché inside him, he sneezed so hard that the brush he used scratched the handsome man's plastic skin. Unable to sell him in a fancy place, the factory auctioned off him and he ended up in the store he complained about so much.
“I am here temporarily only, filling a vacancy. Although, I really do not understand why they sent me here. I hope that my shift ends soon and they move me to where my kind belongs: at least Sak's Fifth Avenue or another similar place” -Ben expressed with annoyance to his unconditional listener.
It was already a custom for the two men to establish communication when Mateo returned from therapy and waited for the bus home. There were even times when he missed the first one that passed and continued talking until the next one arrived. It wasn't a conversation, since Ben and his huge ego were the only ones who spoke. Still, Mateo enjoyed their chats and deep down he admired Ben for his self-esteem and his tireless dream of getting what he believed he deserved. But the really important thing is that his stiff friend's talks made him completely forget the idea of suicide.
At the same time, Ben found what he was looking for: someone who did not say a word and simply listened to him. He could complain about everything and everyone, be haughty and conceited, and Mateo was glad to listen to him. Sometimes he imagined that he was Ben, with the bearing of a polite lord and fine clothes, and that amused him and made him naively happy. Ben noticed and enjoyed when the man looked at him with admiration. In addition, both agreed on something: they only had one friend, and when they were together their feeling of loneliness disappeared.
Mateos’ recovery was better than the doctors diagnosed: while he would limp forever, the muscle in his injured leg had grown stronger. Friendship with Ben had played an important role and had definitely contributed to his improvement. Mateo felt it, although the handsome model had no idea because he never asked about his friend‘s life. However, Ben did esteem the man, and deep down he wanted to walk like him, even if it was unevenly. But he would never do it, his condition always kept him in one position.
The confidence with which Ben spoke and claimed that he would soon leave that store, made Mateo believe that he would stop seeing him before finishing his therapy. Yet, he did not. Mateo's last day arrived at the hospital and when he nostalgically approached the bus stop to say goodbye to his stiff friend, he heard a desperate cry.
“Help me! I need help!” –Ben screamed in pain.
Mateo recognized his friend´s voice and tried to run as fast as possible. Like magic, his healthy leg propelled him as if he were going to fly. He began taking long jumps that made him quickly arrive at the front of the store. The garbage truck was carrying Ben's body in pieces in its grippers, his face full of wounds and his gaze fixed on Mateo as his last hope of survival. Mateo begged the employees to sell him that shattered mannequin.
“Sell it to you? Of course not! That ugly and broken doll is useless. We give it to you as a present, ha ha ha. Take it!” -an employee answered. At the same time that he pulled him roughly to free him from his oppression and threw the fragments of him to the ground. Mateo picked them up lovingly and hugged them while Ben cried.
“What happened to you my friend, what happened?” -Mateo said sobbing when he saw the pain of his friend after being humiliated, broken into pieces and with a destroyed ego.
“The cleaning man of the store accidentally hit me with the broom, and I fell and broke. I thought they would run worriedly to pick me up and restore me, but the manager said they would just get rid of me –Ben said with a trembling voice- But I know the truth! Everyone in the store envies me for being the most handsome, the most elegant man and for always refusing to lower myself to his level”.
“You are right Ben! They threw you away out of sheer envy. But you are not alone, you will go with me and I do not envy you, I admire you” –replied the disabled man.
A young woman working at the store witnessed the scene and gave Mateo a large plastic bag so that he could put the pieces in and transport them. As best he could and with great efforts, Mateo got the package onto the bus and then, trudging and resting constantly, he dragged Ben from the bus stop to the junkyard.
It took him a few days, but he finally rebuilt Ben and tried to restore his dignity. Mateo managed to unite the fragments of him, repaint his hair and fix his wounds, although he never managed to hide them completely and when they healed, they had become part of Ben’s personality.
When his eyes could see clearly and he noticed his new condition and home, Ben wanted to thank his friend. He couldn´t utter a word because he realized that he didn´t even know his name and understood that he had never been interested in the life of the man who saved his life. Mateo guessed Ben's expressions of confusion and guilt, and he hastily replied:
“My name is Mateo, but you can call me Mat. I talked to the owner of this place and I got you a job. I will be the guardian during the day while you sleep and you will watch over the place at night. You can sit on one of the rocking chairs on the porch. When they see your figure, even only your dark shape, criminals will not dare to enter and loot. I know that this job doesn´t correspond to your personal glamor or your social class, but here no one will envy you and you will live in peace” -Mat honestly told Ben.
“The work seems wonderful to me! I will be able to see the stars every night, something that never would happen in the luxuries stores of Manhattan” -Ben said, trying to hide his feelings of gratitude and happiness as required by the rules of the higher class’ social behavior. “This will be my best job. Thank you Mat”.
Like every night before bed, Mat drank a mint tea and Ben a strong coffee in front of the garbage. Ben was still lean and erect from the waist up, he had no canes or wrinkles, but his multiple scars betrayed his years and the wounds of his life. Mat’s hair, however, was now completely white. He had a face that looked like a labyrinth of furrows and his limp was already causing him much more fatigue than years ago. They both rocked in the chairs on the porch while they sipped their drinks and chatted amiably, as always, since the time that Mat saved Ben, and Ben saved Mat.
“Have a good working night Ben.”
“Good night Mat, rest well.”
Co-author: Carlos Abraham