By the time Pierre made the trek from the bus station to the front of Esperanza’s shop, everyone in Barra de Navidad was aware of the big, handsome stranger in town. His looks were on par with only one other person’s in the village, Esperanza. Everyone felt, without a doubt, that he was there for her. Everyone except Esperanza—and Pierre himself.
When he happened in front of Chocolates Diamanté, he stopped to look at the crowd of women gathered in front of the shop, who all happened to be staring at him. At that moment, the clock struck two, and there was the sound of a metal bolt sliding, followed by the opening of the heavy double doors. When Pierre saw who had opened the doors, he could not believe his eyes. Years later he would claim that that was the moment he fell in love with Esperanza.
Though he had traveled for months not knowing exactly why his destination was Barra de Navidad, he was sure of it now. It was for the most beautiful women he had ever seen.
The opening of the tall doors snapped the women out of their trance. Their attention turned to Esperanza, who was now in a trance herself. Her eyes were locked with those of the giant man on the opposite side of the street. It wasn’t until one of the ladies cleared her throat that Esperanza was able to look away and say, “Pásanle, mujeres. There are plenty of chocolates for everyone.”
Pierre was nearly two meters tall and easily weighed that of two men. Thick as a barrel, his body contained little, if any, fat. Everything about the man was dark. His skin, his hair, and his eyes. He wore the green fatigues of a soldier, but there was no rank or flag anywhere on them. The only decorations he wore were the sweat stains under his arms and down his back, recently awarded to him by the heat and humidity of the Pacific Coast. His top was tucked in, with several buttons unbuttoned, exposing his hairy, tan chest. His leather combat boots were worn and now brown, as all the black dye had long faded. On top of his head was a black wool beret that had to be baking his head in the heat. He was so handsome that it would be easy for a man to think Pierre could steal his wife, if that man thought his wife was worth stealing.
Being the good-looking world traveler that he was, Pierre had known and bedded hundreds of beautiful women, but none compared with the owner of this chocolate shop. He knew she was his destiny, and he was not going to wait to meet her. He bought a young coconut from a street vendor and cut a hole into it with his knife. He drank the cool water in the shade, until the crowd of women in the shop dwindled to nothing. It turned out his destiny could wait a little while, especially if it involved the chance of being embarrassed in front of a group of townswomen.
When the coco was empty, he tossed it back to the vendor, who would no doubt cut it into chunks and sell the white pulp. With his duffel bag in tow, Pierre headed over to Esperanza. As he approached the shop, Esperanza’s last customer walked out. It was two-thirty. She nearly slammed the doors in his face, but he stopped her with his free hand. “Disculpe!”
“Yes?” Esperanza answered, opening the doors just enough to expose her face. Even though he was standing on the sidewalk and she was at the elevation one had to ascend in order to enter the shop (which was just one step), she still found herself looking up at the stranger.
“What kind of shop is this?” Pierre asked.
“It’s a chocolate shop,” she responded and attempted to close the doors again.
Again Pierre stopped the doors with his hand. “In that case, Señ — or…” he drew the word out as long as he could, hoping for help.
“Señorita,” she said.
Destiny, he thought. “In that case, Señorita, I would like to buy some chocolates.”
“I’m sold out!” she announced, once again attempting to close the doors.
He stopped her again, but this time without his hand. “Ah, ah, ah. Then I will come back tomorrow.”
“I will be sold out tomorrow too.”
“Then I will come the following day.”
“You do not want these chocolates, Señor. They are dangerous.”
“Danger is something I am accustomed to, Señorita.”
Taking a different approach, Esperanza said, “Didn’t you notice who my customers were? These chocolates are only for women. It helps with their menstruation.” She was partially lying.
Realizing the chocolates were a dead end, Pierre quickly thought of another reason to come back. “I can fix your door.”
This caught Esperanza’s attention. In seven years, there was not one repair made to her shop. There were plenty of handymen in the village, but if they were bachelors, they were too intimidated by her beauty to enter the shop, and if they were married, they were not allowed.
“I see that at least two of your hinges are loose. If I can acquire some tools by tomorrow, I can fix this in just a few minutes.”
“How much do you charge?”
“I will do it for the pleasure of your company during the time it takes me to complete the task.”
“I will pay you twenty pesos an hour.”
“If you insist, Señorita.”
“Be here at two-thirty,” Esperanza said. “I will have all the tools you need.” This time she met no resistance as she closed the doors.
“I’ll be here,” Pierre shouted through the closed doors. Before he walked away, he shouted again, “Señorita?”
“What is your name?”
“Esperanza,” the door said. “Esperanza Diamanté.”
“Esperanza Diamanté, I am Pierre Bernal de los Campos. Mucho gusto.”
“Mucho gusto, Pierre,” Esperanza said quietly through to door, her lips nearly touching the ancient wood. She stood there until she could no longer feel his presence.