Tag Archives: quest

Growing Up George: Ch. 3 The Navigator

When I was seven, I remember a strange man came to pick me up from school once. He was wearing a gray suit with a red striped tie. We had parent-teacher conferences that week and I was supposed to get out early. He had a stubble beard and the librarian looked for me to tell me my uncle was there to get me.

I didn’t know I had an uncle. But if I did, I didn’t want to ruin my one chance to meet him by saying I didn’t have none. So I just asked what his name was. And I forgot what the first name was but I remember our last names were the same.

He had a really nice black ride, shiny like a mirror, with automatic windows and leather seats. It still smelled new. Back then I was barely getting into all that so I want to say it was a BMW but not a hundred percent sure. It was like an M3 Coupe and it was playing real loud Santana. I think he said his name was Jesús or José or Juan. It started with a “J.”

He asked what my favorite food was and took me to the best spaghetti joint in town. I ordered like three desserts that day- everything Aunt Matty couldn’t afford for me. He asked me if I was happy living with my tía, if I had my own bedroom, when was the last time we went shopping for clothes… pretty personal stuff, now that I think about it.

I didn’t have my own bedroom at the time because my grandma had come to visit for six months from Mexico, but I didn’t want to get my aunt in trouble, so I just told my “uncle” everything was as good as it gets. I told him I had my own bike (that was true) and we were setting up a game room with a 120″ television and a Play Station.

“You know how to swim?” he asked over a tall glass of beer.

“Yeah I took classes last year and this year we’re gonna build our own pool. With a water slide. We have a big yard, you know? It’s bigger than the kinder playground at school. I think we’ll get a trampoline too.”

He told me to order something else. Whatever I wanted. I wanted to order something for Aunt Matty but couldn’t decide whether I should lie and tell him it was for me and then give it to her. I didn’t want to order for my grandma though cause she was mean and would’ve just said she didn’t like it. Probably would have fed it to our dog Sancho, and he was fat enough.

(Sancho was an old dog we used to have. He had short brown fur on the bottom with black on top. We had him since before I was born but he died when I was twelve. Now Aunt Matty says she can’t afford to get a new dog).

So this man in the suit, he drove me home without asking me any other questions, not even my address. When we arrived, he parked on the street and asked if I had any questions for him.

I asked him for help on my math project but he admitted he sucked at math. He asked if my aunt was home and said he’d get out to see her.

I ran up the long dirt path to the front door to try to warn Aunt Matty that this really nice impostor was invading her territory. But she was already standing at the doorway when I got there.

Tía there’s a man here. He says he’s my uncle. He gave me spaghetti but he sucks at math. Do you know him?”

She hit me on the head with the weekly coupons newsletter and told me to get inside and stop asking so many questions. I hid under the desk behind a chair so I could listen in.

“Matilde. I brought you Strawberry Crepes. Are they still your favorite?” the man asked as he came up the porch. My aunt took the bag he handed her.

“NO. What are you doing here?”

“You told me to cover the conference for you.”

“It was just the conference, Menso. Why you gotta go taking the boy from me?”

“We just had lunch. That’s all. He’s home now.”

There was a long silence after that and I really wished I could see from under the desk.

“Well won’t you come in?”

The man sat on the sofa and my aunt pulled out the chair from under the desk. I covered my head with both my arms, expecting the worst.

Ah que chinga-” My aunt stopped mid cursing and turned to look at the man, rolling her eyes. “Very funny George. Get outta there. We’re trying to have an adult conversation here. Go to your room.”

She meant Grandma’s room. I obeyed. Grandma was sitting in my old bed reading a book. I told her in broken Spanish there was a strange man visiting and she went out to check up on it. I crawled out the window, went around the house, and crept under the living room window. The three of them were arguing in Spanish. Something about the boy- whom I assumed was me- and not having a father. Something about money. Grandma was cursing and someone shut the window.

A little while later, I watched from behind the corn patch as the man drove off in his shiny black car.

I don’t remember ever seeing him again until nine years later, after soccer tryouts. He was leaning against the fence, drinking a Gatorade like one of the coaches. Same stubble face. Same red tie/ gray suit. I wondered how long he’d been standing there, if he was going to say anything or if I should just walk past him and pretend I didn’t know him.

Well, a good lunch was a good lunch and I’m pretty sure I never thanked him back in the day so I directly approached him. “Hey man, what’s going on? My aunt call you?”

“George Ballesteros. You remember me.”

I did a 180°. Pointed at the back of my jersey.

“George Lara. My bad. Hey listen I’ve got meetings all day and have to run but there’s an issue I need to tell you about and I was writing you a letter but figured you’d think I was a coward if I didn’t deliver the news in person.”

The field was clearing out. Everyone was heading back to the locker room. The head coach yelled out he’d post the list on the gym door the next day.

My “uncle” handed me a Gatorade.

“Hey man, no offense, I don’t even know who you are. You took me to lunch way back when. Thanks for that. But as far as I know, you’re a distant relative. My aunt wasn’t happy to see you last time either. She won’t be happy if she knows you came out here today.”

“I understand.” The man pulled out his phone and checked the calendar. “A ‘distant relative’ has passed away and I think you ought to go to the funeral.”

“Who was he?”

“My brother.”

“Who are you?”

“I gotta run. I’ll call your aunt with the details. I’ll leave her a message. She never picks up.”

“Wait up, wait up, just call me.” I had managed to afford one of those prepaid smart phones from helping neighbors clean out their yards all summer.

The man stalled. “I legally have to run this by your aunt. But yeah give me your number and I’ll text you the details.”

As he saved my contact to his phone, walking backwards toward the parking lot, his SUV beeped open. Shiny black Navigator. But what was that prep’s name?

 

 

 

 

 

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The Day with No Sun

Once upon a time there was a girl trying to write a story about anything, really, but her wild imagination had once again ran dry.

Then she looked out the window and saw it was still dark outside.
It was late morning but the sun still hadn’t risen.

She wondered what could be taking it so long.
So she packed up a lunch, flashlight and two water bottles in her Hello Kitty backpack and set out on what would be the quest of a lifetime.

As she passed the dark village that was her hometown, she sat under a cypress to eat a snack, for although only five minutes had passed, she was already hungry.

A giant cat sniffed her yummy bread and crept up behind her, purring heavily.

“Good morning Mr. Meowskers, are you very hungry today?”
The giant cat did not understand English entirely well and it thought she was telling it to eat her bread.
So it ate it.

“I am on a journey to find the sun.
Do you care to come with me?”

The cat thought she was inviting it to go fishing and nodded it’s big fat spotted head.
It bent down so she could climb on its back.
Ten minutes later, the brush in the forest path grew thicker.
Mr. Meowskers grew tired and started to growl.
He found a mossy boulder and decided to roll around and around in it.

The girl took the hint and went on her way.
Almost immediately she ran into her younger brother.
“What are you doing out here all by yourself?
Come and help me look for the sun.”

“Gee I would but I am going to shoot some arrows with our cousin.
Good luck Sis!”
He grabbed one of her water bottles from her backpack and sped away on his bike.

She walked through a dark canyon and at the other end ran into two of her girlfriends.
They were wearing gym clothes.
“I am off to look for the sun.
Won’t you join me?”

“Now that you mention it, it has been rather dark today.
I gotta do zumba after this and then yoga though.”

“Yeah,” added the other one, “and I gotta finish a paper on natural disasters for my Ecology class.
But have fun!”

The girl skipped some stones to cross a creek and was about to slip when her fiance just barely caught her.
“Wow! Aren’t you a sight for sore eyes?” she asked with a dumb giant smile on her face.
“Babe! What’re you doing this far out from town?
It’s dark and you’re by yourself!”

“That is precisely why I’m out here- to figure out where the sun went.
But now I won’t have to be by myself because you can join me.”

Awkward silence.
Then they both started to giggle uncomfortably.

“What’s so funny?” she asked as she crossed her arms.

“Remember that boat race I’ve been telling you about?”

“Speak no further,” said the girl, holding her palm up.
“Be on your way. I can figure this out on my own.”

“Really? Aww thanks Babe. This is why I decided to marry you. You get me.”

The girl marched off into the thickening forest with her head pointing forward before her body.

The young man called out, “You’re not mad are you?”

A couple hours passed and the girl passed a bee meadow, a volcano, a labyrinth in a tall garden, and a cave.
She was entirely unaware of the time and thought it might be a good idea to set up camp at the cave.
She ate one of her sandwiches and fell asleep for 12 hours.

She woke up around midnight with a blanket over her body and a masked person stirring up a fire.

“Are you gonna eat me?” she asked under her breath.

“The nymph awakens. You may exit my cave now and I shall not press charges.”

The masked person had a youthful voice that could either belong to a man or a woman.

“I am on a quest to find the sun.
If you join me I will pay you.”

You are on a quest to find the sun?
If the sun were hiding it wouldn’t want to be found by a simple-minded creature such as yourself, no offense.”

The girl opened her eyes wide, bringing the pitch of her voice up.
Well then, all the more reason to join me.”

“I shall join you, but not for money.
There is one thing only that I request- that is your honesty.”

“Huh?”

“You mustn’t lie to me, not once.”

“That’s easy.”

“Very well then, it is agreed.
If you lie to me just once I will unjoin you and you will be left to your own devices.”

“Very well. Can we go now? All this talking’s made me hungry.”

She started to unzip her backpack when the mystery person picked it up, lit a torch and led her out of the cave.

For several months they traveled together like that, always in an uphill direction.
As they advanced, the darkness became less grey and more of a foggy yellow.
The girl was tired of always having to share her water bottle with this mystery person and wondered if this yellowing of the environment meant the sun was near.
The hill they were climbing kept getting steeper and steeper.
Pretty soon it’d be as vertical as a wall.

“This hill is getting too steep for me.
Perhaps we should find a way around it.”
The mystery person kept climbing forward as if she’d said nothing.
A few minutes passed.
The mystery person stopped climbing and just stood there blocking her view.
She spoke louder.
“I said, THIS HILL IS GETTING-”

“SHHH! Listen.”

Something sounded like it was moving in a nearby tree.
The girl lifted up the mystery person’s arm and stuck her head under it.
She gasped.

“It’s the sun!” she whispered excited.
“It’s stuck on the branch of that cypress tree!
Here sun! Here koochy-koochy!”

“What are you doing?
It’s the sun, not a cat.”

“It looks so helpless, dangling there all hurt n stuff.
How should we get it down?”

“You’re looking at the situation erroneously.
The question is, how should we get it up?”

The girl thought for a while.
She tried to creep up closer to the astro king but nearly tripped.
The mystery person picked her up and landed her in a head stand position.

“I think it’s working.
I can see the sun starting to come up.”

The mystery person also did a head stand.
“Ah yes. I am a genius.”

“To think this whole time the problem was us.
I feel so much lighter all of a sudden.
Like I was carrying the weight of the world on my shoulders.”

As she admired the sunrise, the mystery person was half way gone.

“Wait! Where are you going?”

The mystery person turned around but kept walking backwards.
“We had a deal, remember?
You weren’t supposed to lie.”

“What are you talking about?
I didn’t lie! You’re crazy!”

“Remember the time you said you didn’t even know what my name was..?”
The mystery person tossed the girl’s backpack to her, then turned around and kept walking with a fading voice.
“You’ve known who I am all along!”

“Wait!”
The girl ran after the mystery person but the earth seemed to be moving in an opposite direction beneath her.
“I just wanna…
I just wanted- your mask! Off!”
She broke down crying.
“I just wanted to thank you.”

She spent the night there crouched up and crying, thinking about what a lonesome long journey lay before her and how she had no idea which way home was, upset at herself for not even bringing an umbrella, even though there were no rain clouds.
She looked at the moon and fancied it snickering at her, so she threw her water bottle at it.
That proved pointless.
Finally when the morning came, she got up, dusted her clothes off, picked up her water bottle and her backpack and walked on.

She was just as surprised as I was when five minutes later she strolled into her village, an unsung heroine.
And of course, it was a typical sunny day.