I saw him for the first time when I began to frequent the bakery in the neighborhood that I used to go to in the morning to buy bread and enjoy a cup of espresso, and there I used to see him sitting at the small table, alone, always alone and taciturn.
I knew from the owner that the man’s name was Lucio. He came every morning, always alone, and bought a coffee with milk and a small sweet bread bun; always the same, to the point that he did not even speak to ask for it, the employees brought his usual menu to the same table in the sun that he occupied every day without fail at 9 o’clock in the morning.
Among the neighbors, there were many versions about him, but what was true is that he recently had lost his wife hastily, that he lived in the apartment that he always shared with her and her daughter, who was not his daughter.
It was said in the vicinity that Lucio and his wife were not very sociable, they merely interacted as indispensable as not to be ill-educated, they were always so quiet, so suspiciously silent, a mystery to the neighbors. They were almost always together, the three of them, they went to the nearby church in their small car on Sundays, she did the grocery shopping, he went to work every morning, they came and went like everyone else, but they did not frequent hallways, the park or the usual places others residents normally hang around.
According to chatty neighbors, the woman was more hermetic than a vault, and none of them, including Marcella, the gossiping queen, could not never know those tasty details that are so enjoyed in the neighborhoods. In short, he was the subject of local gossip.
A few weeks after the death of the wife, the daughter also left. One morning she left with her suitcases in a taxi, and nobody else ever saw her. So those four months, Lucio had stopped going to work, and he sat there every morning with his heavy solitude. They say he had lost weight, they wondered what would he do for a living, because he left early in the morning, did some shopping, always in the neighborhood or very close, and then to the bakery, and at lunchtime, he paid for his coffees, and he was not seen again until the next day.
Many times, people, myself included, sent him another coffee or any soft drink, another sweet bread bun to go, which he always accepted and thanked with a gesture of his huge hand, or a nod. Sometimes we left his bill paid.
There was always the one who tries to chat with him, more interested in gossiping than in the genuine interest or concern, who sat by his side and let go the familiar line:
— good morning Don Lucio, how are you today?
And he always answered with his thin voice a simple:
— I am well, thank you
And immediately afterward he went back to stare at the table, or his hands or the newspaper he was reading, leaving the nosy with no other alternatives but to get up and go to his own affairs.
I remember one Monday, at 9 in the morning, Lucio’s table was empty, he had not come that day as usual. Neither was the next day, nor the next. Already for Wednesday, neighbors worried about not having seen him those days went to his apartment. They rang the bell and knocked the door insistently but there was no answer. No one in the building or neighborhood seemed to know anything about the man, and it was logical, Lucio never made friends.
The mysterious disappearance of Lucio gave reason to all kinds of theories and gossips in the neighborhood for two weeks.
Until suddenly one day, very early in the morning, the stepdaughter appeared. She arrived with many suitcases, a new car and a cat. All the week the neighbors murmured and witnessed how they took out Lucio’s modest belongings and were replaced by new, shiny and modern furniture after the renovations. So easy and fast, the same gang and two trucks replaced the past.
The only one who knew the story from the stepdaughter´s own mouth was Juanita, the janitor, to the envy of Marcella. The stepdaughter had told her that Lucio had gotten very ill with diabetes, and had gone to a relative’s house to recover, Carla, that was the name of the stepdaughter, had canceled all pending expenses and was the new owner of the apartment. Of course, the story rolled through all the corridors, shops, the neighborhood square and beyond. Carla, avoided any attempt of conversation suspicious of an investigation by the neighbors, she, like her parents, was limited to the basic rules of courtesy, with that malicious air of triumph felt by those who inspire the gossip but do not give more clues.
I do not know when the neighborhood stopped talking about him, feeling sorry for that sad man. His table was always unoccupied as if they were waiting for him to come back at any moment. I guess the neighborhoods have a short memory, but I kept remembering that sadness, so noticeable in such a voluminous body, so overwhelming. And I kept remembering it because I had a photo, a photo that I had secretly taken, a photo to document that sadness, a photo to satisfy my ego as an amateur photographer.
All of a sudden Lucio was no longer the topic of conversation, nor the enigma of the neighborhood, his stepdaughter was, and all the theories about her possible means of life had erased him from the collective memory.