16 SPRING 2014 PHI KAPPA PHI FORUM
felt a little closer to the church. Oswaldo excused himself, as he was not so confident in
his plan to go quite so near to God with it.
Sr. O took up residence the next day at Rosa
Laura’s restaurant. He ordered dinner for breakfast, then returned in the evening to request breakfast for dinner, along with Coca-Cola both times.
There was meat in his dinner order, noticed
Gabriela, the straight-A student and high school
senior class president, interrupting her birthday
celebration, but nobody was listening because
her little brother Ulises, the primary school
clown in sixth grade, wanted to do the same
thing as Oswaldo, and because their father, Sr.
Torres, the garbage man, told both his children
to stop it. Then the cake came out and they forgot about Oswaldo’s supper. Especially
since Sr. Torres couldn’t eat even one of the
layers because he had given up desserts for
Lent — meaning more for Ulises, the chubby child chirped. But not until blowing out
the candles, Gabriela insisted in her know-it-all voice, causing Sr. Torres to tell his children to stop it again because their beloved
dead mother Fernanda wouldn’t like this,
and the other customers nodded their heads
and said quietly to each other that this was
too sad to talk about, but what a caring doctor, and the mortician did such lifelike
work, and the priest’s words touched them
still, and Oswaldo agreed, to himself.
At church on that Sunday, Sr. O felt better about things, and braver, having had the
opportunity to digest his thoughts. During
the service, Oswaldo took a deep breath.
And then he did it. He prayed to be rich.
When no thunder struck, when no walls
came tumbling down, Sr. O added: To be
rich rich rich rich.
Oswaldo knew he should run this by
Padre Nacho, just like the pretzel, and perhaps would. In time. Meanwhile, people
began to look at Sr. O. They could see his
smile kept getting bigger, even as theirs kept
getting smaller. Oswaldo became not a man
in a circus, but a circus of a man: himself
the thing. He was the dancing bear and the
clown on stilts, the strongman with the mustache
and the bearded lady, the jugglers and the acrobats, the motorcyclist in a cage and the human
cannonball. Sr. O was everything, but nothing
Then he wore his one suit to work, which on
that day was cleaning out sludge from the alley
behind all the stores on Obregón Street, and the
sight of him dumbfounded Don Noé, the beset
butcher with few customers. The next evening,
Oswaldo strolled around the perimeter of the
town while reciting the sole poem he knew,
which was only partially, much to the consternation of Sr. Jaramillo, the mortician, who
changed his mind to a degree when it dawned
on him that he had another example of bad
manners to complain about. During siestas, Oswaldo engaged in calisthenics, a regimen Dr.
Bartolomeo found out about when giving him a
physical and didn’t know what to do about
because regular exercise was a good thing.
This all soon became a show to the children,
a fascination to the adults, and a story to the
newspaper, though one it could not publish, said
Sr. Velez, the editor, on the phone from the city,
whenever townspeople would call from the com-
munity phone at the mercado, because who
would believe such things? So, even when peo-
ple talked about what Sr. O did, and no matter
how hard he tried, Oswaldo stayed invisible.
“No me digas,” one neighbor would say to the
other after hearing of the latest escapade. “I
don’t believe it!” The person would shake her
head, no. What Oswaldo was doing wasn’t being
done. It was that simple. “Whoever heard of
something like that?” her acquaintance would
echo, both shaking their heads, no. That moment was bigger than a judge ruling in a court.
If people talking across their backyards decided
something, or if the consensus at Don Chuy’s
barbershop did, that was it. Whatever the news-
paper or the mayor — who gave up campaign-
ing for Lent, except when he didn’t — or any
other official said was irrelevant, no matter how
long they talked or how big their words were.
“Perhaps someone should ask Padre Nacho
about this,” neighbors inevitably said, since this
could be a matter for a higher authority, but
without volunteering to bring it up to him.
Besides, it was already too late. The next
week something else started to happen, like an
earthquake. It was a quiet tremor, to be sure, because this was a nice town, but there it was.
People began to help Oswaldo in his giving up
of giving up things — not by stripping him of possessions or otherwise making him poorer. The exact
opposite. They heaped upon him their temptations.
People did it perhaps out of generosity — if
they could not indulge, at least someone could,
and they could watch. Or they were afraid that
he had seen them lapse, even though they pretended not to notice his watching, and hoped
the gesture meant that he would not tell on
them. Maybe they were just considerate. Or
maybe this was a sign of their reverence, each
gift, each item they left him, a kind of prayer.
They could have been spiting God, too, but only
a little since it was a good town.
Regardless of why, it simply happened. And
the more it happened, the more it happened
Things began slowly. Somebody slipped him
a Coke, and then another, and another —
though from the third onward, Oswaldo asked
for an orange Fanta instead. He started to find
cookies on his doorstep. Next, chocolates
stacked by the door at lunch, then a vari-
ety of meats at dinner, including, by the
end of the week, goat, beef, quails, and
what smelled — Oh, his face said — like
Just about none of the townspeople
could afford much, and no one owned a
television yet, not even the doctor or law-
yer or mayor, so what each brought him
was small. But a lot of people bringing
even a little adds up. And with so many
people knowing, or suspecting, that Sr. O
had seen how they had twisted Lent, they
brought him not just one small thing, but
a small thing a day. Except, of course, for
Padre Nacho, who felt he had nothing to
give and wanted no part in this anyway,
and a very few other important people like
the doctor, who needed his possessions,
and didn’t believe in what he called non-
sense, though he said it quietly, sometimes
pointing his index finger, to be sure, be-
cause he could not help it, but at the same
moment remembering his dead mother.
Soon Oswaldo had many more of
things than he could eat or use: rabbits
and salsas and sweet jamaica, shovels and
umbrellas and fancy hats. A purse, worn
but still nice. He wasn’t good at smoking
but if he wanted to look like Pedro Infante or
Jorge Negrete in the movies that the townspeo-
ple occasionally went to in the city, some need-
ing to hitch rides with others, Sr. O now had cig-
arettes and cigarette holders. Also at Oswaldo’s
disposal: a pair of binoculars, several radios, a
plaster Virgin of Guadalupe, and red lipstick.
Of course, he did not complain, even with the
work of taking care of everything becoming his
job then, for Oswaldo was getting rich rich rich
rich, by the town’s standards anyway. Though he
did wish he were a twin since there was so much
to partake in. Or that he were a bookkeeper like
his father had been for there were so many en-tries to keep track of. The bicycle was handy,
and the flashlight worked. The sheep needed to
be fed, but there was food enough among the offerings. Some things came in pairs: dice and
cards; shirt and pants; crutches. The stockpile
was a sight to behold, though at night much of
this was a nuisance, and made an occasional