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Author Biography: René Saldaña, Jr., is a former middle school and high school English teacher. He received his Ph.D. at Georgia State University and teaches at the university level.
The Good Samaritan
I know he's in there, I thought. I saw the curtains of his bedroom move, only a little, yes, but they moved.
Yesterday Orlie told me, "Come over tomorrow afternoon. We'll hang out by the pool."
I rang the doorbell again. Then I knocked.
The door creaked open. The afternoon light crept into the dark living room inch by slow inch. Mrs. Sanchez, Orlie's mom, stuck her head through the narrow opening, her body hidden behind the door. "Hi, Rey, how can I help you?"
"Ah, Mrs. Sanchez, is Orlando here?" I tried looking past her but only saw a few pictures hanging on the wall. One of the Sanchez family all dressed up fancy and smiling, standing in front of a gray marble background.
"No, he's not. He went with his father to Mission."
"Oh, because Orlando said he would be here, and told me to come over."
"They won't be back until later tonight," she said. "You can come by tomorrow and see if he's here. You know how it is in the summer. He and his dad are always doing work here and there. Come back tomorrow, but call first."
"It's just that he said I could come by and swim in your pool. Dijo, 'Tomorrow, come over. I'll be here. We'll go swimming.' "
"I'm sorry he told you that, but without him or my husband here, you won't be able to use the pool," me dijo Mrs. Sanchez.
"Okay," I said.
But there was no maybe about it. I wouldn't be coming back. Because I knew that Orlando was in the house, he just didn't want to hang out. Bien codo con su pool. Plain stingy. And tricky. This guy invited me and a few others over all summer to help his dad with some yard work because Mr. Sanchez told us, "If you help clean up theyard, you boys can use the pool any time you want so long as one of us is here." And we cleaned up his yard. On that hot day the water that smelled of chlorine looked delicious to me. And after a hard day's work cleaning his yard, I so looked forward to taking a dip. I'd even worn my trunks under my work clothes. Then Mr. Sanchez said, "Come by tomorrow. I don't want you fellas to track all this dirt into the pool."
"We can go home and shower and be back," said Hernando.
"No, mejor que regresen ma-ana. I'll be here tomorrow and we can swim. After lunch, okay. For sure we'll do it tomorrow," said Mr. Sanchez.
The following day he was there, but he was headed out right after lunch and he didn't feel safe leaving us behind without supervision. "If one of you drowns, your parents will be angry at me and . . ." He didn't say it, but he didn't need to. One of our parents could sue him. And he needed that like I needed another F in my Geometry I class! Or, we figured out later, he could have just said, "I used you saps to do my dirty work. And I lied about the pool, suckers!"
I don't know why we hadn't learned our lesson. Twice before he had gypped us this way of our time and effort. Always dangling the carrot in front of our eyes, then snatching it away last second.
One of those times he promised us soft drinks and snacks if we helped clean up a yard across the street from his house. It wasn't his yard to worry about, but I guess he just didn't like to see the weeds growing as tall as dogs. What if he had company? What would they think? And he was angling for a position on the school board. How could a politico live in such filth!
Well, we did get a soft drink and chips, only it was one two-liter bottle of Coke and one bag of chips for close to ten of us. We had no cups, and the older, stronger boys got dibs on most of the eats. "I didn't know there'd be so many of you," he said. "Well, share. And thanks. You all are good, strong boys."
The next time was real hard labor. He said, "Help me dig these holes here, then we can put up some basketball rims. Once the cement dries on the court itself, you all can come over and play anytime since it's kind of your court too. That is, if you help me dig the holes."
And we did. We dug and dug and dug for close to six hours straight until we got done, passing on the shovel from one of us to the next. But we got it done. We had our court. Mr. Sanchez kept his word. He reminded us we could come over to play anytime, and we took special care not to dunk and grab hold of the rim. Even the shortest kid could practically dunk it because the baskets were so low. But we'd seen the rims all bent down at the different yards at school. And we didn't want that for our court.
One day, we wanted to play a little three on three. After knocking on the different doors several times and getting no answer, we figured the Sanchez family had gone out. We decided that it'd be okay to play. We weren't going to do anything wrong. The court was far enough from the house that we couldn't possibly break a window. And Mr. Sanchez had said we could come over any time we wanted. It was our court, after all. Those were his words exactly.