His size alone was enough, but add the look someone gets after decades of combat, and Pierre was an intimidating-looking beast of a man. The men in Barra avoided eye contact with him out of fear. The children, though, they couldn’t care less. They were drawn to the giant.
The afternoon Pierre was to repair Esperanza’s door hinges, he made his way to her shop with his head down looking for something. Along the way, he periodically stopped to turn and growl at the children closely following him. They’d turn and scream and run out of reach, giggling. Pierre would then resume his walk, searching the ground for something, until the children got their confidence back and got close enough to him to be just beyond his grasp. “Grrr,” the sound came from between his teeth as he chased the children away again, laughing and smiling the whole time.
Pierre preferred the company of younglings over adults. Partly because he was an overgrown child himself, but mainly because no child had ever tried to kill him. It was the only time he could let his guard down.
Just before getting to Chocolates Diamanté, Pierre spotted what he was looking for, a useless, discarded piece of wood that had probably been lying in the street undetected for weeks. He picked it up and put it in the back pocket of his green pants and continued to Esperanza’s.
When he got to the open doors of the shop, he stopped and turned around and gave one last growl, scattering the children.
“Are those your kids?” Esperanza asked as she appeared in the doorway.
Still looking at the scurrying children, Pierre answered, “I don’t think so.”
He meant it as a joke and turned to look at Esperanza, hoping for a laugh or at least a giggle. What he got instead was a spark that lit a fire deep inside him in a place that had been dark for a long time. Even though this was not the first time he saw her, her beauty stunned him. He looked into her eyes as if trying to tell her he loved her without words. She looked back at him as if to say, I know.
Esperanza broke their gaze to look down at Doña Luz’s husband’s wooden toolbox as she slid it towards him with her foot. The sound of the wood scraping against the tile floor caused Pierre to finally look away from her.
“I have some tools here,” she said. “If there is something else you need, let me know. I might have it.” With the purchase of the bakery came everything that Doña Luz didn’t take with her when she left, including her dead husband’s belongings.
“Ah,” he said. “I already see what I need.” Pierre bent down to take a screwdriver out of the toolbox revealing the small group of children that had gathered behind him.
“You kids go play,” Esperanza shouted, waving the towel in her hand. “This man has work to do. You can come back and harass him later when he is done.”
Pierre got to work on the door. He removed two of the screws from one of the top hinges with his fingers and the third with the screwdriver. He then took the piece of wood from his back pocket and, with his knife, split it in half over and over until he had many thin slivers. He packed the three screw holes tightly with as many pieces of wood as he could, and with a swipe of his knife, he cut off the excess, making the slivers flush with the wooden door frame. He then put the hinge back in place and began tightening the three screws. In the end, the hinge was as secure as it had been the day the door was originally installed, however many decades before.
He did the same to the other door and had completed the job in fifteen minutes, including picking up the tiny pieces of wood splinters off the floor.
“All done…” Pierre hesitated.
“Esperanza,” she said. “Did you forget my name already?”
“No, of course not. How could I? It’s just, I didn’t know if we would speak to each other informally or not.”
“Is it okay with you if we do, Señor De Los Campos?” Esperanza asked.
“Yes,” Pierre said. “I would like that very much, Esperanza.”
“Well then, Pierre, come in, and let’s figure out how else to put you to work. Don’t expect to be paid for a full hour after doing only a quarter hour’s worth of work.”
As Pierre crossed the threshold of Esperanza’s shop, the whole village turned to one another and grinned as to say, See, he is here for her.
Esperanza was curious as to the way Pierre entered the shop. He turned to the side and ducked his head as if the door was narrower and shorter than it was.
“Why are you doing that?” Esperanza asked.
“Doing what?” he said as he straightened up, feeling safe that he’d cleared the door.
“Go back outside,” Esperanza ordered.
Following her orders, he turned back around, and again turned to the side and ducked his head until he was outside. Confused, Pierre turned around to face Esperanza, shrugging his shoulders and turning up his hands.
“Now, come back in,” she said.
Pierre again began to walk through the entry like he had every other door in his adult life, and was immediately interrupted by Esperanza, “Ah, ah, ah! Stand up straight.” He did. “Face me!” He did this as well. “Now, take a step!”
Pierre smiled when he realized what she was trying to do. Even though he had been working on the massive doors, it hadn’t sunk in how big they were. As he walked through the door like a normal-sized person would, he felt it fitting that the home of this beautiful woman had doors that seemed to be custom-built just for him.
“Some coffee,” Esperanza offered.
“Only if you join me,” Pierre returned.
“Well, I was already going to have some, so it will be you who are joining me. Have a seat. I’ll be right back.”
Pierre looked at the small table and pair of wood-and-wicker chairs. They looked more like decoration than actual furniture. When Esperanza returned, she found him leaning against the high counter she stood behind when the shop was open for business.
“You don’t want to sit?” Esperanza asked.
“Those chairs look un-repairable.”
“What are you talking about? They are not broken.”
“They would be if I were to sit in them.”
Esperanza understood and set the tray with the coffee on the counter. “We’ll stand then.” After setting the tray down, she quickly lifted an unfolded napkin as if performing a magic trick. “For you,” she said.
Underneath the napkin was a dish of Esperanza’s chocolates. Pierre looked at them as if they were pellets of rat poison. “Uhh,” Pierre said, not taking his eyes off the candy. “I am not having problems with my menstruation.”
“Don’t worry. I made those just for you, without my secret ingredient.”
Somewhat relieved, Pierre picked up a chocolate to examine it. “What is your secret ingredient?” he asked.
Esperanza responded without hesitation, “My blood.”
She could not believe that she let that out, though felt good to finally tell someone. She had kept this secret for so long. Doña Luz knew of course, but it was Lupita’s ghost that spilled the beans to her. This was the first time that Esperanza had told anyone. Why she chose to disclose it to Pierre, she did not understand.
Pierre was indifferent to the whole revelation and just shrugged his shoulders and popped a chocolate into his mouth.
Esperanza, eager to change the subject, asked, “What else can you fix?”
“I can fix everything,” Pierre told her.
Pierre was a talented and gifted warrior, but over the years he had developed some exceptional skills as a handyman. It wasn’t that he wanted to be a tradesman. It was just that he was so large that he often broke things and found himself responsible for returning what he damaged to good-as-new conditions.
He would have to fix things like a chair he’d broken just by sitting in it, doors that were damaged because he didn’t know they were locked when he tried to open them, ceiling fans that hit him in the head, and countless walls, support beams, and furniture that he would break just by leaning against or bumping into them.
Over coffee that afternoon, Esperanza decided to employ Pierre to get the entire shop in good-as-new condition, and for the next several weeks, Pierre reported to the shop at two-thirty every day. While doing his repairs or over a coffee break, which Esperanza ensured took place, the two became acquainted with each other.
One afternoon, while Pierre was painting the interior walls of the shop, he paused long enough to ask Esperanza to dinner. “There are so many places on the beach; we should dine together this evening and watch the sunset,” he said.
Esperanza was scrubbing some dishes when he asked. Caught off guard by his request, she paused for a while to figure out the best way to answer him. “You want to pay tourist prices for mediocre food?” she said.
“I just thought it would be something nice to do.”
“The best view of the sunset in the entire village is from my roof.”
Feeling a bit defeated Pierre said, “It was just a thought.”
“It just seems like such a waste not to watch the sunset from there.”
“Yes, I suppose you are right.”
“Plus, the best food in the village is made right here in my kitchen.”
Pierre, already having resumed his painting, just nodded in agreement with Esperanza.
“So, why don’t we have dinner here, then?” Esperanza said.
Pierre kept painting and nodding his head. He seemed to be pouting over what he thought was her rejection, not realizing that it was an invitation.
“Hey!” Esperanza shouted, throwing a towel at him, to get his attention. Pierre turned, stunned as if the towel had been someone’s hand. “I am saying, why don’t we have dinner here instead?”
Pierre didn’t answer. He didn’t have to. His smile was enough to let Esperanza know that he was in favor of the idea. Realizing she now had a meal to prepare, Esperanza removed her apron. “I have to do some shopping,” she said. “If I am not back before you leave, be back here just before sunset.”
Everything was ready by the time Pierre reappeared that evening. He showed up for dinner wearing his green fatigues, as they were the only clothes he had. He did bathe and changed into a clean set, though. He chose to leave his beret in his back pocket, deciding that his un-frazzled, slicked-back hair was more appropriate for his date.
As Esperanza started to carry a tray of covered pots to the table she’d set on the roof, Pierre offered to take the platter for her. But she told him to take up a chair instead. The chair did not match the set, but it was made of metal and was much more capable of supporting the weight of her oversized dinner guest.
As the sun began its departure, Pierre and Esperanza dined on chicken mole, beans, and rice. The mole sauce and flour tortillas made the meal. Esperanza made both from scratch. She had grilled a whole chicken over a small wood fire before allowing it to simmer in the sauce and get tender. She realized that she had made a mistake by only buying one chicken. It never occurred to her that Pierre’s appetite would match his stature.
In the time it took Esperanza to eat one of the two breast pieces and a little beans and rice, Pierre had devoured every other piece of the chicken and most of the beans and rice at the table. They both drank their share of red wine, and when Pierre admitted that he was still hungry, she served him what the rest of the beans, rice, and tortillas from the kitchen. While Pierre finished off the food, she returned most of the dirty dishes downstairs and put on the water for coffee.
With the sun long gone, the cool of the night made the warmth of the kitchen more inviting. Pierre helped her with the rest of the dishes, and when everything was clean, Esperanza poured them each a cup of coffee and brought out a platter of sugar cookies she was able to make before dinner.
The pleasure of their meal was a bit of a distraction; it wasn’t until now that they found themselves in a position to engage in conversation.
“Why are you here, Pierre?”
“You invited me,” he said. “For dinner, remember?”
“No. I mean, why are you in Barra?”
“To marry you, I think.”
Flattered, Esperanza didn’t let it show. “You came here to marry me? Did you know I was here when you headed this way?”
“No, I didn’t know anything about this place.”
“Then what possessed you to come?”
“A lady came to me in my dreams. She told me to come here. I ignored her at first, but then the occasional visit turned into a nightly one. Eventually, she even started haunting my afternoon naps. I finally deserted the army I was serving in and began my journey here so that she would leave me alone and I could get a peaceful night’s sleep.”
Briefly distracted, Esperanza asked, “Why did you have to desert? Why couldn’t you just leave or wait till your time was up?”
“In that war, the only way out was death or peace, and for me, that meant I would serve an eternity.”
“What war was this?” Esperanza asked.
“A meaningless one in the Congo.”
“Africa! You came here from Africa because a woman in your dreams told you to?”
“She was very convincing,” Pierre assured Esperanza.
“And now that you’re here, you think you are supposed to marry me? Why is that?”
“She told me I would find something that would bring me happiness for the rest of my days. I feel that is you. And after tonight’s meal, I am almost sure of it.”
“Almost?” Esperanza asked as if offended.
“Well, we are not lovers, so how can I know for certain,” Pierre grinned. “What if you are a bad lover? That would certainly not make me happy for the rest of my days.”
Esperanza huffed and threw a half-eaten cookie at Pierre. “How could you say such a thing?”
Pierre put his hand up to defend himself from any more incoming cookies and laughed. “If it’s any consolation, I find it very hard to believe that you would be anything but a passionate lover.”
Esperanza had no idea if she was a good lover or not. She never got any feedback from the lovers she did have. Well, except for the fact that each one had died. All of a sudden, it hit her that she shouldn’t even be talking about making love.
“Well, you’ll never know,” she told him.
“Really? But I’ve come all this way,” Pierre said with a tinge of confidence as he put his coffee down and made his way over to her. His conviction wasn’t unwarranted. Esperanza was attracted to him. He had known this for weeks, but it had never been more evident than it was on this night. The sexual tension was so intense that it gave off an odor that Pierre could smell.
“Well, I’m sorry to disappoint you. But it’s your own fault for listening to some crazy lady in your dreams telling you to travel halfway around the world.”
“I never said Lupita was crazy,” he said as if the woman in his dreams was a real person. “I said she was very convincing.” He was even closer to Esperanza now.
“Lupita!” She couldn’t believe what she heard. “Did you say Lupita?”
“Yes. She said she was from Guanajuato and that she had been looking for me for years.” His hands were now on her waist.
Esperanza’s mind was rapidly filling with thoughts. Could it have been her wet nurse? Did she send Pierre? Why? Why would she send such a desirable man to her, knowing her situation, knowing she couldn’t be intimate with a man? Deep in thought, the questions abruptly came to a halt when she felt Pierre’s lips against hers.
She kissed him back, but only briefly, and then slapped him across his face and stepped away. She was breathing heavily as if she had been walking the hills of Guanajuato. “This can’t happen,” she said. “It’s impossible.”
“I think it is supposed to happen.”
“It can’t!” Tears were forming in her eyes.
“Why do you say this?”
“Because I have made love four times in my life! Four times! With four different men, and every one of them died as soon as they climaxed. If you make love to me, you will die, Pierre, and that I cannot bear.”
Despite the somber mood, Pierre erupted into laughter.
“What is so funny?” Esperanza asked, crying, confused as to how he could find what she’d just told him funny.
“What’s funny?” Pierre asked as he ripped open his shirt exposing his bare chest and stomach and his many battle scars. “I am immortal. That’s what’s funny.”