Two Belts

Felipe is our caretaker or, in Spanish, our velador. He is a simple man with very little formal education. He is not sure when his birthday is and he cannot read or write. When I came to live in Vinorama, Felipe was quiet and did not drink much. Tony had hired him to feed his dogs when he is away. Felipe was an excellent choice because, unlike many living in this area, he really cares for animals. In fact, animals are his best friends. Despite being relatively tall and very strong, he is painfully shy and speaks quietly, avoiding eye contact. It is clear to us that he has been treated very badly and has a very low opinion of himself. So, as is often the case with such individuals, he has a special bond with our dogs.

Recently, when Felipe’s regular job ended with the departure of the local contractor from our lovely little community (made even lovelier by his departure), we decided we were ready to start a large project putting pavers around the house and on the driveway, which was just sand and dirt. A condition of hiring Antonio and Juan to do the project was that they also hire their former co-worker Felipe. When they hired Felipe, we told him that the first Monday he didn’t show up to work because he was still drunk, we would forever after hold on to his money and allow him to use it only for non-alcoholic purchases. The first payday came and went without incident, but it was only the second payday when he fell off the wagon with a thud and was drunk all day Monday and Tuesday. He would not get a second chance and we hold his salary for him from now on. Antonio told us that when he asked Felipe about the new arrangement that Felipe said he was pleased because he didn’t want to get drunk.

Yesterday I got angry with Felipe for the first time. Getting angry at Felipe is a lot like kicking a dog, not something that I do as a rule. I’ve always been gentle with him and tried to show him that I cared about his well-being. I reasoned that in time he might come to learn that he was worthy of my caring and develop some self-esteem. This time though, I decided I had to be the “bad cop” for his own good.

It was a Monday and he was working away on the property, making himself busy because Antonio and Juan had not returned from their weekend in the city. Mid-morning he stopped me as I drove off the property to ask me for some of his money. He said it was for two belts and a pair of pants that he would purchase from the traveling vendor. I counted out 500 pesos and told him if the items he needed were more expensive than that, that he should wait and I would arrange to get him some that were more economical. He agreed.

I returned from my errand and at 2pm Antonio and Juan finally arrived. A couple of hours later, I noticed Antonio and Juan working away, but where was Felipe? Antonio told me he was watering plants at the neighbor’s house. I told Antonio that when Felipe said he was watering at Latini’s, he was actually at the local watering hole getting wasted. Antonio smirked knowingly.

As chance would have it, I had to check in with a neighbor who coincidentally lives behind Mr. Latini’s house. As predicted, Felipe was not at Latini’s, so I decided to take action.

On my way home, I turned in to the local restaurant/bar. As I pulled up on my ATV, it appeared to be completely empty, but as the bar came into sight, I saw that the sole patron was indeed our lost caretaker. Hearing the noise of my moto, he looked up, saw me and hung his head in shame. This was it. I was angry and I was going to let him know it.

I marched up to him and began to castigate him for his poor behavior and then, seeing that he had both a beer and a glass of something else in front of him I picked up the drink to discover it was rum. This really incensed me, so I threw the drink out into the desert. “Rum Felipe!!? Why are you drinking rum? You are going to kill yourself!! Why are you here?! Why aren’t you working?!! You lied to me about buying the clothes and now you are drinking the money I gave you!!” I held up the quart sized beer bottle, which was 4/5ths empty and dumped the contents out on the ground. “No more! No more beer! No more rum!” and noticing he had a plate of food in front of him, “Eat your food and come home Felipe!”

The whole time I was standing there yelling, I was only slightly aware that there were two restaurant employees standing behind me. When I turned and noticed them, the one I knew named Abraham began to make excuses and claimed no responsibility for Felipe’s state. “He arrived here drunk Senora. Those are the only two drinks he’s ordered here.” Greeting both employees politely, they seemed to relax and Abraham said “why don’t you take him home with you senora?” to which I replied “because I’m on an ATV and he will surely fall off before I get home.” They both nodded in appreciation of the obvious and Abraham said he would bring him home. I thanked him and turned back to Felipe to repeat my instructions that he was to eat and come home.

I spent the rest of the evening at a friend’s house. I have no idea if Abraham did in fact bring Felipe home, but the lights in his casita told me he was there when I returned. I wondered if he had managed to get more booze and if he’d be in any shape to work the next day. And I marveled at how a man who once did not know what a lie was had learned how to weave a web of deception.

This morning I rode up to his house to ask him to come to my house so we could talk with Antonio. He was standing outside by his makeshift table, a knife in one hand and a belt in the other. I wondered if maybe he had in fact bought a belt yesterday and it just needed a new hole to adjust it to fit his small waist. I asked him “what are you doing Felipe?” and he replied that he was trying to fix his broken belt and that the truck with the clothes for sale had not come yesterday. “So,” I thought, “he did at least intend to buy himself a couple of belts.” When the truck didn’t arrive, he must have figured “Two belts at the restaurant are just as good!”

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