This story was written for the DP weekly writing challenge. “Write a story behind the picture provided.”
This was my take.
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I took the picture. Hell, I took several- he just wouldn’t let go. My stomach was churning. I took note of an aluminum streetcar and pointed my Nikon in its direction and snapped away. It reminded me of a futuristic homage to better days.
A rounded man in a striped shirt struggled up the stiff and shiny cobbled steps. He reached out with his left arm and latched on to his wife’s, who seemed to have a little more vigor in her step. They were most likely going home for an afternoon siesta. Siesta: that’s all it seemed people did around here.
We were walking down a narrow sloped hill with beautifully crumbling buildings on each side, separated only by those challenging staccato cobbled stone steps, and by tram lines going up the middle of the ‘street.’ I took a moment to soak it all in- I finally felt like I was in South America.
“Did you get it? Did you get the shot?” It was Michael. They had finally stopped hugging.
“Yeah, I got it.”
“How did it turn out?” he asked.
“Just fine,” I replied. I looked at Anna who gave me a half-hearted glance and looked away. She was wearing her red floral sundress. The one that always lifted ever so slightly with the breeze and made me wonder whether her little frame would one day blow away altogether.
“Good,” said Michael with a big grin. “It’s just down the steps and to the left. You guys are going to love it.”
I stopped holding my camera and let it hang around my neck and adjusted the straps of my little backpack. Michael was already three steps down while Anna still hadn’t moved.
“Come on, what are you guys waiting for?” I could see her looking at me from the corner of her eye. She continued down the steps and so did I behind her. When she reached Michael he took her hand.
“You tired, Tony?” he asked.
“You look a little tired or something. Doesn’t he look tired, Anne?” She looked up at me, still holding his hand.
“No, I don’t think so,” she said, producing the faintest of smiles.
“Are you jet lagged? You can’t still be jet lagged?”
“No, I’m not jet lagged Mike. I’m fine.”
“Alright, alright! Sorry, man. I’m just excited. I want everyone to have a good time. The tequila will help! Come on.” He pulled Anna down with him and like always I followed behind.
He was living here. Walking the cobbled steps and riding trams up city streets built on burning rolling hills. Michael moved here from Ohio for med school. He couldn’t get in anywhere stateside and heard about the school from one of his father’s colleagues. This was the first time we were seeing him in three months. Anna and I flew in together the night before.
Descending the steps and out of the shade into the testing sun, a fuller woman stood in black pants, white sleeveless collar, with her arms crossed, seemingly bored and completely unbothered by the scorching heat; presumably waiting for patrons to arrive.
“Ola,” said Michael, with his American accent. The woman rolled her eyes and responded with an, Ola senior.
We walked through a tight blue door and I gave the broad woman a nervous smile that resulted in more eye rolling.
The bar was a dimly lit hole in the wall. There was lively ethnic music on in the background and a soccer match played in the corner above a wooden bar and dusty bottles on an ancient TV.
“Didn’t I tell you,” said Michael. “Didn’t I tell you it was authentic? We come here at least once a week to get away from studying. There’s a guy Ernesto here who’s the-” and before he could finish his sentence a white swinging door opened revealing, “Ernesto!” shouted Michael, and he and the man embraced. I smiled and looked over at Anna who smiled too.
“Ernesto, they’re here! They made it. This is my best friend Anthony,” said Michael, grabbing me by the shoulders. Ernesto and I shook hands. “And this Ernesto- this is my beautiful girlfriend, the love of my life, Anna.” My stomach churned. Ernesto took a moment and looked her up and down and then pulled her in for a hug and kissed her twice on both cheeks.
We sat at the wooden bar and pounded back tequila and rum and cokes. Ernesto laughed at the sun burn developing on my nose and forehead, and complemented Anna’s already beautifully sun kissed skin.
“To the three amigos,” cheersed Michael. We drank.
“To my best friend Tony boy coming all this way to see me,” cheersed Michael. We drank.
“To my beautiful and loyal girlfriend Anne, who I miss so much. Salud!” We drank.
“Excuse me,” said Anna and stepped outside through the blue door, a burst of light sobering through.
“I should go check on her,” I said. As I stood, Michael pulled me back down.
“You been taking care of her like I asked?”
There was a long pause.
“Good boy,” he said. “I have to piss.” And he left for the bathroom.
Outside and a little bit further down the slope I found Anna crossed armed, her one leg bent behind her, leaning against a stores façade. There were trails on her soft cheeks fading away. I nearly stumbled past her down those damn steps and she caught me with a hug.
“Are you ok?” I asked.
“I don’t know how I’m going to do this,” she replied.
“It’ll be alright.”
“He’s good, he really is. But he’s absolutely clueless.”
“We bought the tickets before any of this even happened.” I hiccuped and she laughed.
“I’m drunk,” I said.
“I know. Me too, a little.”
“I like your dress.”
“Thank you.” She nestled her head against my chest and I kissed her sandy hair.
“We still have five more days to tell him.”