You First

by Gabriel Urbina


Two men have a conversation, while waiting for a medical clinic to open. They talk about what makes them happy.

On a Monday morning, Andres arrived at the walk-in medical clinic, near where he lived, at about 7:30 AM, but they were not open yet. It opened at 8 o'clock. The parking lot was almost empty; there was only one other person there, and he was waiting listening to music, in his pick-up truck. It was a perfect, beautiful morning. Andres decided to get out of his car, to enjoy the mild sunshine, and the soothing breeze.

A few minutes later, another patient was dropped off by the entrance. The driver was a gorgeous woman, which Andres assumed was the man's wife. He was a friendly guy, and started a conversation.

"Not opened yet, eh?"

"No, they open at 8. I thought it was a 24-hour clinic."

"Yeah, many of them are. They are so many here in Florida. It makes sense, with so many retirees and visitors."

"They are great also for people that need to go to work. Like you and I, right?"

"That's it," said Andres, "you can take care of minor issues, without having to wait very long. I'm here just to get a bunch of immunizations. I'm a school employee."

"I got some insect bites, and a rash to take care of. It itches, too. And besides the discomfort, It wouldn't look good for me scratching at work. I sell cars."

"I hear you."

"So, where are you from originally?"

"You first," said Andres, "my answer is longer than usual. I know your answer will be short."

"I'm from Lima, Ohio."

"OK. I'm American by nationality; Chilean by birth; my ancestry is Jewish on my mother's side; and Basque on my father's side. I was born in the city and seaport of Valparaiso."

"I like your answer. It packs a lot of information. I know a lot about you, and I don't even know your name. I'm Paul Berger by the way."

"I'm Andres Alcala. Nice to meet you."

"Likewise. I suspect if you say Valparaiso, Chile, many people wouldn't even know where it is. Geography is not the forte of many people."

"Exactly. I decided on this long answer after being asked this question thousands of times. Often, with the short answer I got the impression I was being classified automatically as a foreigner. It hurt my sense of belonging."

"I get that. You know, I was a Psychology major in college. I have done some readings related to what you are talking about. I'm sure in some cases you have been confronted with a sort of 'hostile inquisitiveness,' and the implied message is 'you don't belong here,' or 'why are you here', or 'what are you doing here.' In this case, I think your short answer is all they need to know. No further questions necessary. They will never get to know you. The mental doors are closed."

"Good analysis, man. So, is your town named after Lima, Peru?"

"There are two possibilities. One, that it was named that way because quinine was imported from Peru. In the old days, the area around Lima, Ohio was swamp land, and malaria was present. The other one is that some prominent citizen just named it Lima"

"Right. I do know the same name does not mean they are 'sister cities.' Valparaiso, Chile and Valparaiso, Indiana are not."

"Yes. so is the case with my hometown and the city in Peru. I like the concept of sister cities, though. Peace through mutual understanding, mutual respect, and cooperation."

"I think it is an interesting symbolism too. Sisterhood breeds peace. If women were in charge, maybe we would have fewer wars. When it comes to brotherhood, we have to think about war. Men are the ones making war. Brother against brother; cousins against cousins in some cases; Wars between tribes, ethnic groups, religious groups, you name it."

"Amen to that," said Paul.

The clinic door was opened at 8 o,clock sharp. Andres, Paul and several other patients went in. Health matters were taken care of in no time. Paul and Andres left about the same time, and at the parking lot, Andres said, "I can give you a ride to work, if you wish. I saw your wife dropping you off."

Paul replied, "That was my sister Candace. Her car is being fixed, and she's borrowing mine to go to work. And the shuttle van from the dealership is coming to pick me up."

"Do you like selling cars? Isn't there a lot of pressure and stress in this kind of work?"

"I do like my job. It is true that some salespeople are absolutely desperate to make a sell. They need the commissions. Candace and I are blessed. Our grandfather left both of us a 20-year trust, which gives us a regular income every month. Not an enormous amount of money, but it gives us the freedom to do the work we enjoy. Candace works in Admissions, at a hospital; and she looks forward to going to work every morning. We were able to go to college, without incurring in any student loan debt. Another factor is that our parents, not only taught us, but showed us, how to live within our means. This is our recipe for happiness."

Andres smiled and said, "I can totally relate to what you are saying. I joined the Air Force when I was 17. I served for 20 years, and I retired. My retirement pay allowed me to go to college, to study what really interested me. I majored in Comparative Lit, which is more than the study of literature. It is interdisciplinary."

"Yes, I can see how that worked very well for you. If you had gone to college when you were younger, you, like many others, would have chosen something more practical, thinking about your future job prospects."

"Exactly. I was a Personnel Specialist in the Air Force, and not only I enjoyed my military service, but I even got college credits for the training I received."

"So, you work in that field now as a civilian?"

"No, but I found a job I truly enjoy. I am a Teacher Aide, in an English as a Second Language program. I enjoy working with the teacher, and it is meaningful to me to help the kids in the program."

"That's great, man. I believe all we need is a job we enjoy, and a good woman. On the surface that is something simple; but it isn't. Not everybody can have both; frequently is one or the other. It is important that the lady in one's life is on the same wavelength with you. I feel so fortunate to have Amy in my life. We have similar views about what makes us happy."

"I agree with you; but I'm still working on the female element of that plan," said Andres with a smile.

"Here comes the shuttle van to pick me up. Hey, listen, here is my business card with all my phone numbers. You can also pay me a visit at the dealership. I enjoyed our conversation."

Andres called Paul three day later, to ask if he was working on the coming Saturday. The answer was yes. On Saturday they had coffee at the dealership. Paul said he, his girlfriend Amy, (who was an accountant with a small firm, Andres would later find out) and his sister Candace were going out to dinner that evening. Would he liked to join them? Andres said he would be delighted.

Both Amy and Candace had smiles that could illuminate a room. Andres thought, "I have to spend more time with them. These are happy people. I think their secret is that they have a reasonable amount of financial security, and they have jobs they like. I'm in the same situation as them. Oh, mercy. I have to spend some quality time with Candace."

Andres continued to keep company with them, and started dating Candace. He felt his life was finally beginning to make sense.

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