The Beggar

Permit me to introduce myself.

Steven W.

Audio version read by George Atherton – Right-click to download

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My name is Manuel Jesús Maria Cordoba y Herrera. I was born in this beautiful city of Zacatecas in 1919. I have not always been as you see me. When I was a young man, I was strong and handsome and thinner than now. I wore this hat you see in my hands. I had a woman whose beauty reminded me of the stars. But all that has passed now. Now, there is only this corner, the feet of the people passing, and my hat.

Before, with Ana Rosa, it was different.

We married in April 1941. She was 18; I was 22. Her father gave us a rooster and six hens as a wedding present. We lived in an apartment in a green house on a callejón near the mine in those days. We spent many happy years there, Ana Rosa and I. It was not perfect, but we had one another and we were content.

A couple years after we married, no baby had come. Not that year nor the next or the next. At first, I thought nothing about it, because I was so happy with Ana Rosa; we loved each other, and if the Lord did not send us children, we at least had one another.

In those days, I worked in the mine. Ana Rosa raised chickens and flowers and took care of the house. Her flowers were like her: beautiful and colorful and full of joy and life. She sold eggs and flowers in the market each day. One day, I came home from work and found her crying. She told me that she wanted a baby, but God had not permitted it. I took her to the same basilica where we had married years before, and we prayed. The following year, I took her to a doctor, who told us that she would never have a baby.

After dinner that night, Ana Rosa told me that she was finished crying. "Even though God has not blessed us with a child, I will be happy anyway," she told me. And she was as good as her word. I never came home to find her crying again.

We had many happy years together. I cared little whether we had children or not, as long as I had my beautiful flower, Ana Rosa. Over the years, we lost our parents one by one until finally it was just the two of us, alone in the world.

One day in 1990, the boss at the mine called me to his office and told me that I was too old to work as a miner. I had never done anything else. I had spent 50 years bringing silver out of the earth and giving it to the jefe. I was without a way to live. Now I would begin spending my days with Ana Rosa, the hens and the flowers. That was when she gave me this hat.

For 50 years, I never saw the day; I worked in the earth, digging silver. Now I was to spend my days with my Ana Rosa in the garden. At first the light blinded me then, little by little, my eyes adjusted. All that mattered was that I was with my flower.

Each morning, she got up early and passed through the streets to the basilica to pray. After mass, she returned home to make tortillas of fine corn for me. We ate breakfast together, then she gathered the eggs and flowers and we carried them to market. In the evening, we came home together.

She took care of the hens and the flowers and me. I helped her sometimes with her work, but a man who spends his life robbing the earth has no idea how to coax life out of it, how to grow flowers or make chickens thrive. My precious Ana Rosa never scolded me for my clumsiness. She only ever showed me how much she loved me. And we spent years together this way, in happiness.

Last year, or perhaps two years ago, I don't remember, my Ana Rosa, the flower of my life, passed away. She is with God now, but I am alone. I will never have enough tears to express my grief, my loss. Each day I miss her. Each day I weep.

The hens died. I did not know how to take care of them, and dogs carried them off in the night. The flowers died as well, for I could not look at them without thinking of her. So today, like all days until the Lord takes me home to see her, I wake up early and walk through the streets. I do not go to mass, for God and I are not speaking. I go to the market and buy a cake that tastes like dust to me, and then I come here to this corner. I take off my hat, I look at the people's feet passing by, and I beg.

Ann Weaver Hart lives and writes in Bryan, Texas. She and her husband Howard enjoy their two dogs and three (mostly) grown children.