Looking for Lorenzo

Visiting my hometown for 3 weeks this past summer, I stayed
with my youngest daughter in a hotel whose name made me think
of a famous poet from Santiago de Chuco. Built in 1909,
much of the architecture was still the same—

slate-colored shingles angled as if on purpose against weeks
of pouring rain; dark wooden interiors, thin, uninsulated walls
that barely kept out the cold. I had to ask for an extra blanket
at the front desk, and the girl on duty said shyly, Extra

30, Ma’am. I asked Dollars? per day? At which
she shook her head— No, pesos, 30 only one time, Ma’am.
Then later, knocked softly to bring a thin blanket that felt
like Military wool. I thought mostly of my grandfather Lorenzo,

who mother says came to work here as a cook when he was only 19,
and stayed 5 years. This was during Peacetime, before WWII.
I don’t know how old Lorenzo was when my mother was born
in the city, but I do know they lived for a time

in Jungletown, parts of which I could glimpse from the windows
of the hotel dining room. Each morning, when we made our way
to breakfast down the graceful curving staircase, I saw
the wait staff quietly going about their business—

buffing the floors, pouring coffee, bringing trays
of bread or mountain rice, platters of eggs and venison
or eggs and local sausages or dried fish. I sent back
the sugar and milk, I asked for bottled water; I asked

for local honey, for finger bowls of onions and fresh
tomatoes, for cup after cup of brewed Benguet coffee—
just to extend the time we could have for small
conversation. One of our regulars, so boyish

in face and slight in the loose grey colonial
porter styled uniform, told us the day before we left
that his name was Choco; he would not see us again,
because his baby was sick and he was taking the next

day off. You have a baby? I would never have guessed,
I said. He smiled and said he was a Communication graduate,
but could not yet find a better job; and had a wife
and child to support. I settled our bill and left

what I hoped was a generous tip. The rain never once
let up during our visit; and I never saw the ghost
of Lorenzo in the musty hallways, never saw hint of the one
white suit he liked to wear, his very own signature.

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