Isabel meets a man
Life had been good to Isabel. More than good, it had showered her with opportunities. But she had made sacrifices, too. At times these weighed on her. As she drove to Puerto Vallarta, she thought about the day ahead and also remembered a day long ago, when a man came to her father’s house in the hills above Puerto Vallarta and he and the man sat drinking small cups of very black coffee while they discussed world conditions.
The man wore a dark suit and fine leather shoes. On his right hand, a ring with a yellow stone caught Isabel’s eye. She thought it very fine, unusual in its shape and design. When he offered it to her, she looked to her Papa and then to her Mamita, who was standing just beyond the door. Then she looked at the floor, ashamed that she had thought to accept it.
The man laughed. The two men resumed their important conversation about things Isabel did not understand. When the man left, the coffee was cold and her Mamita was crying. Her father left the house without saying a word, his eyes fixed on the ground before him.
Isabel was just fourteen then. She was considered a very beautiful girl. Like her Mamita had been, only taller and with darker eyes. And Isabel, it was well established even then, had talent. She made beautiful things that people admired. These the man with the ring wanted. He was a collector of beautiful things. He was well known in the Mexican states of Jalisco and Nayarit. He had traveled widely and collected many beautiful things. In Puerto Vallarta he owned a gallery where he sold sculptures and paintings and other works of art – or so they were called – to the tourists who came from the big ships, with their cameras and their fat bellies and their shopping bags full. He did not sell them anything from his own collection. Those he kept for himself in his rambling villa on the mountain.
One year later, Isabel kneeled in the church of her childhood. She lit a candle and asked the Virgin Mary what to do. The year had been bad for her family. Her father’s business was failing. Her mother was sick. The man who collected beautiful things had offered his help. He would pay Isabel’s father’s debts and set him up in a new business. He would send her mother to a good doctor. He would install Isabel at the finest art school in Mexico City and then send her to study in Florence, Italy. All this he offered to do. And all he said he wanted in return was the right to manage her career, and the ownership of what she produced. For her part, Isabel would have a secure future and would want for nothing. And she would be free to make her art without having to worry about her next meal or her family’s welfare.
In the church, Isabel asked for God’s guidance. In her heart she felt that God had no part in this man’s offer. But she felt pulled in two directions at the same time. And even then, as she kneeled at the altar, the man with the yellow ring and the linen suit waited for her outside on the street, in his big, black car, in the shining sun, while the cruise ships floated in the harbor.