HE LIVED IN the original part of town, which is to say the neighborhood the conquistadors created after landing their boats on the beach. But that happened a long time ago.
His home was on the second floor, which is actually the third floor the way the Spanish say it, and it was nothing to write home about as if he could write home, which was right there where he lived with a French bulldog named Sebastian or Sammy for short.
Once happily married, she had died 10 years back, and he’d sold that big home where they had lived and bought this apartment on Calle Mango downtown. There was a balcony overlooking the street. He’d paid extra for that, something he regretted due to the noise. It faced the second story of the building that housed the restaurant across the street, a ground-floor spot whose specialty was chicken and rice.
The restaurant was called El Pollo Gordo, and he ate there once a week, sometimes more, and he always ordered chicken and rice because he liked it, and he was a man of hard habits. If there were leftovers, he returned home across the street with a greasy paper bag which made Sammy smile. The dog liked chicken but not rice.
The old man’s days did not vary. He awoke at 7 without a clock, drank black coffee with honey and nibbled toast on the balcony because it was still quiet at that hour. Sammy ate dog food from a can. It never took long to make the bed and tidy the place — he was a neat man — and noon arrived soon enough and the need for lunch, which sometimes was chicken and rice, as mentioned, but often pork tortas he purchased on the street.
After the death of his wife, he’d taken to smoking again, cigarettes, cigars, a stained Meerschaum pipe he’d bought from a Swedish seaman who was short on cash four years back. The old man would sit in a coffee shop on Calle Calypso most afternoons, re-reading novels, biographies and histories he’d brought from the big house after his wife had died 10 years ago, as previously mentioned.
Sammy liked the coffee shop, so he sat at the old man’s feet. Sometimes he slept and snored. Other times, he watched the people, which is also what the old man did in those moments he looked up from a book to order another coffee or to rest his eyes.
About 8 or so, the two would walk the three blocks back to the apartment and climb the wooden steps and into the sitting room where they would listen to radio music from the Dominican Republic. The old man would think of “the old days,” and Sammy would think or not. Who knows what French bulldogs have in their heads?
This routine never varied. One warm morning, the old man did not get up for black coffee with honey and dry toast. He did not sit on the balcony, which no one noticed, and he did not open a can of dog food for Sammy. The old man had died in the night.
And Sammy was on his own.