Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Ernesto's House


I met Ernesto at the Blissville Deli. His was the first face I saw behind the counter. There were days when I came in elated, and others when I entered weeping. Through it all, Ernesto never wavered in his kindness.

That was back when Mohammad owned the deli. Mohammad was from Kabul, an engineer lucky enough to leave before the Russians invaded.

Mohammad taught Ernesto everything he knew about the business. They became friends in the way an employee and owner can. Only Ernesto believed his friend should retire. He worried Mohammad would have another heart attack.

Ernesto is from Puebla. He lived in the house next to the deli with his wife and her four children. One year Ernesto and his wife had a baby together. At dusk on summer nights I would see him cradling her in his arms up and down the street.

If Mohammad could have, he would have sold the deli to Ernesto. But Ernesto had no money or saving.

Mohammad spent a year with prospective buyers before he sold it to David.

David didn't want to pay Ernesto the same wages. He didn't like the idea of Ernesto handling the money at the cash register. Or any of the others whom Mohammad had hired. One by one he let them go, keeping only Ernesto. But he reduced Ernesto's salary until finally he was forced to leave. And then year later, David sold the deli. He couldn't figure how to make it work.

And Ernesto? He found work at a deli elsewhere in Blissville, further away. He moved to a less expensive apartment on a busier street.

It's been four years now, and I still miss him.

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