Esperanza arrived in Puerto Vallarta early on Easter Sunday. It was a long and miserable bus ride. While most people slept, she lay awake in the dark, wondering if what she had done was justified.
As soon as she disembarked, Esperanza checked the departures for a bus line that had Barra de Navidad on the schedule. There was only one, Tres Estrellas, but it didn’t leave until the next day. She bought a ticket, caught a taxi, and headed downtown. As she walked through the streets, shops began to open. The morning sun and fresh ocean breeze invited her to do something she hadn’t done in years, sunbathe on the beach. After checking into a hotel and dropping off her bags, she began shopping for a bathing suit.
She fell in love with a white crocheted two-piece that seemed more ornamental than practical. As beautiful as it was, it was overpriced and so delicately made that no sensible person would ever think of paying so much for it. It was something a rich woman would buy for sitting by the pool with a cocktail, not to actually wear into the water. Esperanza bought it nonetheless. She didn’t even take it off after she tried it on. “My God,” the lady working the store said. “Only a woman as beautiful as you could ever wear that.” Esperanza left the store wearing her new bathing suit under her blouse and skirt and headed to the beach.
Using her skirt as a blanket and placing her folded-up blouse under her head, Esperanza lay in front of the breaking waves taking in the sun. After a few minutes, something seemed to ignite at both the top of her head and the soles of her feet. If one were to observe what was happening to Esperanza, one could say she looked like a fuse that had been lit at both ends. The red heat and the crackling sounds of sparks burned, working their way across her body to meet in the middle. Like the controlled burn of a cornfield where fires are lit to prepare the field for a new crop, the stalks and weeds of Esperanza’s past burned away, leaving a rich and fertile soil for a new life to grow. After a few hours, she felt rejuvenated and wasn’t the least bit burnt, as one would expect from spending so much time in the sun. It was as if her body was doing some much-needed catching up after years of being away from the beach.
On her way back to her hotel, Esperanza entertained herself by walking through all the shops that had opened since she first walked through earlier that day. When she passed by the store where she bought her bathing suit, the same lady saw her and said, “I can’t believe it, Señorita. You are even more beautiful now than you were a few hours ago.”
In her hotel room, Esperanza took an unexpected cold shower. She spent several minutes trying to figure out which of the faucet handles was for hot water and which was for cold, but eventually gave up. She washed the sand and sweat from her hair as well as from her clothes and hung everything up to dry. Lying naked on the bed, she let the ceiling fan finish drying her off. Just before sunset, she put on her clean, dry blouse and turquoise skirt, and went off to have dinner. After some mediocre ceviche, shrimp cocktail, and two beers, she returned to her hotel and went to bed. By the next afternoon, she would be in Barra de Navidad.
With the whole village watching her, Esperanza easily found Doña Luz’s old bakery. Though she had retired years before, the shop’s sign still hung out in front. The faded sign read, “Bueno — Panadería y Pastelería” accompanied by a cartoon Mexican man wearing a serape and sombrero. Before she could even knock, Doña Luz opened the massive doors and said, “Welcome, Esperanza. Come in. I’ve been waiting for you. Lupita has told me so much about you.”
Certain that Doña Luz must have been mistaken, she was curious that she had used that name, of all the possibilities. “You mean, Evangelina? Don’t you? Doña Eva?”
“No,” the old woman said. “Doña Eva didn’t give much detail at all in her letter. I would have responded in the negative had it not been for Lupita.”
Doña Luz could see the look of confusion on Esperanza’s face and said for clarification, “Your wet nurse.”
“Señora, Lupita has been dead nearly twenty years.”
“Yes, I know,” the Doña responded as if talking to the dead was as common as gossiping with a neighbor.
Esperanza stood there, shocked, not knowing what to think. But as Doña Luz continued to talk, she understood that there was only one way Doña Luz could know the things that she knew.
“Come in. Come in. Let’s eat something,” Doña Luz encouraged. “You must be hungry from your travels.” She escorted Esperanza up to a small kitchen just past the bakery, where she had a pot of something keeping warm on the stove. Esperanza took note of the aroma coming from it.
As Doña Luz turned and lit the burner under the comal, she continued talking. “Lupita told me all about your travels and how you worked in that bar in Puerto Escondido. If I were as beautiful as you, I would have done the same. No shame in using what the Lord gave you. It is a pity things didn’t work out with you and that young man. She told me how you studied under Don Miguel. You plan to make your chocolates here I assume? That’s why you brought a bag full of cocoa pods? Anyway, just this morning she told me what you did the other night in Guanajuato. Good for you! He deserved it. It’s not often a woman gets to exact revenge like that. Flour or corn?”
Esperanza just sat there completely shocked, with her mouth opened. No one in the world could know all of those events. Yes, there were a few that could maybe put two of them together, but no one knew them all, especially not a woman she had just met a few minutes before. Trying to figure how it was possible, she remembered Lupita’s last words, “I’ll be looking after you the whole time. I promise.”
“Flour or corn, mija?” Doña Luz asked again.
“Huh?” Esperanza said, coming out of her daze.
“Tortillas. Would you like flour or corn?”
“What are we having?” Esperanza said with a warm smile.
“Caldo de camarón,” the Doña answered.
Esperanza took great comfort in Doña Luz’s soup, as well as in knowing that Lupita had been watching over her all these years, though the soup was easier to believe.
She finished a bowl, and Doña Luz refilled it without asking. Esperanza consumed the second as eagerly as she did the first, alternating spoonfuls of soup with bites of rolled tortilla wrapped around salted pieces of avocado.
While still working on her first bowl, Doña Luz started to discuss the terms of their arrangement. “Lupita said it will take you a while to come up with the money, so I’ll accept installments until you do.”
“I’m sorry?” Esperanza said. “The money for what?”
“To buy this place, of course. What do I need it for, anyway? I might as well do some traveling before I die.”
It never occurred to Esperanza to put down roots somewhere. Maybe it was time. She could have her own shop and make a good living for herself. Though she’d never have children of her own, maybe someday she could adopt a child. And why not do it all here, in Barra de Navidad?
For the next couple weeks, Esperanza worked in the shop, cleaning it up and getting it ready to reopen for business. She worked all morning, and after siesta, she would head to the beach to take in the sun. Each night she had a late dinner with Doña Luz, and some nights they shared a beer.
When Esperanza started to make headway on the shop, she left work a little early to head out and sell some of the chocolates she’d brought with her from Guanajuato. She was a bit timid about selling her special treats but thought she had better get to work if she was going to buy Doña Luz’s bakery anytime soon.
She walked around town with a basketful of chocolates but found that people seemed to avoid her. On her first attempt, she wasn’t even successful at getting eye contact with anyone. That night at supper, she confided in Doña Luz.
“They are all intimidated by you,” the old woman confessed. “You are too beautiful.”
“What should I do then?” Esperanza asked with a mouth full of meatball.
“Be more aggressive. Time will prove that you are not here to steal their husbands. But, for now, assert yourself when it comes to selling your chocolates.” The Doña put a portion of a meatball in her mouth and began to chew it. “And charge a premium. They’ll pay it when they learn of its powers.”
The next day Esperanza went out determined to sell some chocolates. She walked up to the first pair of villagers she saw, two middle-aged women walking down the street. She didn’t wait for them to make eye contact, but instead stood in front of them and said, “Chocolates, Señoras?”
The ladies seemed stunned to be so abruptly halted by the stranger.
“I made them myself.”
“How much?” asked one of the ladies.
“One hundred pesos,” Esperanza told her.
Both ladies gasped. “Do we look crazy?” asked the woman who had spoken before. “I could buy two chocolates for ten pesos right there.” She pointed to a little store across the street.
“Those chocolates won’t give you the best orgasm of your life!”
The other woman who had yet to say a word dug into her brassiere and pulled out a neatly folded wad of pesos, and gave it to Esperanza without counting it. Esperanza took the money and handed over two chocolates wrapped together in cellophane and a little piece of red ribbon.
“Eat them both just before making love, and if they don’t do as I say, I’ll give you your money back,” Esperanza instructed.
With a big grin that exposed her gold caps, the woman took the chocolates and finally spoke. “I’ll tell you if they work tomorrow when we have coffee,” she said to her friend.
Jealous, as if the conversation over coffee had already happened, the other woman also reached into her brassiere and pulled out a neatly folded wad of money equaling one hundred pesos, and gave them to Esperanza. Esperanza wondered if every woman in Barra kept a hundred pesos down in her bosom, as she handed over another pair of chocolates.
“Enjoy yourselves, ladies,” Esperanza said as she held up the two bundles of money. “These will be waiting for you tomorrow if you are not satisfied.” She gave them a wink and walked off back to the shop, feeling as though she had conducted enough business for one day.
The next day, when she headed out to sell some chocolates, it was she who was abruptly halted by two different women this time. “We would like to buy some chocolates,” they said in unison as they each handed over one hundred pesos.
Realizing that her customer base was going to grow quickly, Esperanza made haste in getting the shop ready. She ordered a sign and made arrangements with a produce vendor to keep the cocoa pods coming in. Within no time, Chocolates Diamanté was up and running.
Over the next seven years, Esperanza made chocolates in the morning, sold them in the afternoon, and spent the early evenings sunbathing and walking on the beach. As a result of her chocolates, the population of the little fishing village doubled. The town even built a new school to accommodate the influx of children.
Within the first two years, Esperanza was able to buy the shop from Doña Luz. Upon receiving payment in full, Doña Luz set off to do some traveling before she died. Her last words to Esperanza before she got on the bus were, “Enjoy the bedroom that overlooks the beach while you can. In due time, you will find that it will be well suited as a nursery.”
Esperanza blew the old woman’s comment off, thinking that she may have forgotten about Esperanza’s dilemma. For the next five years, she didn’t even look at a man with the faint hint of desire. Until the day she opened the doors of her shop and saw the tall, handsome stranger in green fatigues, wearing a black beret, standing across the street.