For Fandango’s Flash Fiction Challenge #155, where we write about the painting below, The Guitar Player by José Ferraz de Almeida Júnior.
Santa Isabella was always quiet at this time of day. The cool air of the morning tussled with the heat of the sun, in a battle which, every day, ended in defeat.
“I’ll follow on in a second”, promised Luis, “you go ahead and round the girls up.”
The best part of being the bellboy at the Hotel Real, thought Héctor, was the break they took each morning. These short, twenty-minute intervals allowed the staff to take advantage of the pre-lunch lull, to catch up, and perhaps even to share a folk song or two.
And lately, young Héctor had found another reason to catch up, for Gabriella, the enchanting new chambermaid, the most stunning girl he had ever laid eyes upon, had occasionally joined their troupe. If only Héctor could find a pretext to be alone with her, just for a minute, he thought, he could perhaps overcome his natural shyness and find some way of asking her out.
I hope she comes along today, he tingled with anticipation. The sweet scent of jasmine as she passed him each morning, her long, flowing black tresses… as he removed his ukulele, a recent gift from his parents which still smelled of its cedar origins, from its case in the corner of the staff room.
It promised to be another hot one, he thought, as the sun was already casting strong shadows over the passage outside. Trying to find air which had been cooled by the ornate fountain in the garden at the end, he perched himself on the window ledge and twirled his thin, wispy moustache. From the corner of his eye, he saw a bird flit deftly from the terracotta rooftop opposite to take a thirsty drink from the fountain’s cool supply, and over the pleasant, steady trickle of water not twenty feet away, he called across the passageway to the white annexe which was the hotel’s kitchen.
“Hey, Rosa, you gonna join us today?”
Rosa had been working in the kitchen for the last twenty years, the acknowledged expert in the comings and goings at the hotel. Every member of staff, every rumour, and Rosa knew. And, what’s more, she could sing. The voice of an angel, thought Héctor, as he started to strum an ancient tune.
A head appeared in the doorway opposite.
“Be right over”, she called, adding, “and I have a nice surprise for you today”.
Héctor wondered what she meant as he continued to pick at the tune. He asked Rosa as much when she approached.
“What did you mean? Surprise?”
Teasing, Rosa replied, “Oh, just that a little friend told me that she would be joining us.”
Héctor blushed. Was he that obvious? The woman knew everything. “But don’t worry, young Héctor”, she made an exaggerated wink, “my lips are sealed.”
With that, Rosa winced.
“Just my back. I’m okay. I’ve been bending down all morning. You wait until you’re my age, you’ll have pain in places you never knew existed!”
As Rosa stretched, Gabriella appeared from the kitchen, as if on cue. Her eyes danced as she recognised Héctor’s form. Almost at the same time, from the left appeared Luis, an older man who carried a well-worn flamenco guitar in his hand. Héctor smiled. There seemed to be no instrument the man could not play well, and Héctor was forever begging for tips.
“Sorry I’m late”, Luis apologised, “Shall we get started? Paloma Querida?”
Nods of approval all round. Gabriella adjusted her white blouse around her tiny frame as Luis expertly began to play. Héctor accompanied as well as he was able, but the incredible richness of Rosa’s alto voice soon dominated.
All too soon, their break was over.
“Thank you, boys, I enjoyed that”, Rosa beamed, “but I still need to make some guacamole in time for lunch, so I should return to work”.
“Me, too”, chirped Luis. “Señor Flores said he needed me at eleven. I had better find him.” Flores was the hotel’s General Manager, a middle-aged, officious man with a ferocious temper, and not to be taken lightly.
Héctor sighed wearily, disappointed that their impromptu recital was at an end.
“I suppose I had better see if Señor Flores has plans for me, too”, he uttered, rising reluctantly from the ledge.
“Actually, Héctor”, Gabriella touched him lightly on the arm, “I’m about to start cleaning the pantry, now, and some of those shelves are incredibly tall. I was wondering if you had time to help me?”