The wan autumn sun bounced off the rain-splattered asphalt leading to the large lumber and hardware store entrance. John steered his Toyota pickup down the ramp between the lines of dark-haired, dark-eyed men who positioned themselves as work supplicants, attempting eye contact with the incoming drivers who aimed for parking stalls in the large lot. These workers-in-waiting were not always clean-shaven, but their clothes were clean and their dignity remained intact. Their labor was a commodity in demand for do-it-yourselfers who needed strong backs for their hard labor.
Eva had warned John against starting his garden project so soon after his doctor told him about his heart condition. “No heavy lifting, straining or stressing,” Dr. Osborne had instructed. The instructions also included losing weight and getting more structured exercise, and actually taking the blood thinners he had prescribed. Although he was skeptical about conventional medicine, John knew Eva was right and he promised to take his health more seriously.
“Sure,” he had promised Eva. “I’ll start soon. But I’m also going to start my project in the garden while the weather holds.” What he started was reading and thinking about the meds the doc had prescribed. And all their side effects and how dependent on them he would become. So he decided to wait just a little while before taking them.
The workers’ wait to give an honest day’s labor for an honest wage lasted often over half their workday. But they hoped to get a day or two or even a week of work. That would put food on the table and gas in their old cars. These men chose not to stand on freeway ramps. They carried no signs asking for handouts. Their status caused them to look over their shoulders
John’s white Toyota pickup with a bed liner bore a recent and distinctive sticker his nephew had given him: Tough Mudder. Tough Mudder was a popular extreme obstacle course young folks did who wanted more than just marathons and Iron Man competitions.
As John slowed his descent down the narrow lane into the parking lot, some of the waiting men moved toward the driver’s side.
“Hola, senores,” middle-aged John smiled and waved to the assembled workers, his gray hairline losing out to his naked scalp line. “Hola, senor,” came the response in chorus.
“Yo necesito, uh…” and that was the end of John’s abbreviated Spanish language skills.
“It’s okay, senor, we know some English,” responded one of the men. “And we’re here to help you,” answered another.
“I am called Jesus,” a medium sized man said with a thick mustache to go with his thick dark hair. He pronounced it ‘Haysoos’, so John didn’t connect the name with the Savior. Jesus had been hanging back, but he crowded his way to the front of the waiting men. Pushing through this crowd of men was merely one in a series of obstacles he had overcome since leaving his village in the south of Mexico. Having made it to this driveway was proof that he was a “Tough Mudder.” The difference was that instead of a ribbon or handshake, he hoped he and his family could survive and pull themselves out of poverty. Jesus and the others had their hands and their eyes open and their backs ready, but they didn’t want a handout.
“Hello, Haysoos,” John greeted the man leaning on his door as he noticed his size and strength. “Why don’t you meet me down in the parking lot and we’ll talk.”
And they did talk. They agreed on ten dollars an hour and one and maybe two days work. Then John headed into the store to get the supplies he would need to finish the job he’d started the previous summer, while Jesus waited by the pickup.
When they got back to the worksite, John and Eva’s back yard, John showed Jesus the task at hand: to move several river rocks from where they had been dumped to the site of a small depression in the soil, the designated space for a promised pond and gurgling fountain for his Eva. He would surprise her. She would come home and see the progress he and Jesus had made.
“I have a hand truck and a wheelbarrow, but these stones are damned heavy.”
“Si, senor,” Jesus responded as he moved to the rock pile and lifted one on the hand truck. Jesus was wiry and strong, but John could see the rocks were a two-man job and hurried to help. After working with Haysoos on three medium-sized rocks, John felt something he had felt before. Before he had gone to the doctor and before he had promised Eva to slow down and work smart and before he had hired Jesus and had learned how to pronounce his name.
What John felt was a pain in his chest and this time he noticed how much he was sweating. He thought, “I guess I’m not a very Tough Mudder.” Then he felt dizzy and he felt out of breath. First one knee buckled and then the other. He felt himself falling. He felt his vision blurring. Then he felt nothing.
He didn’t hear Jesus calling to him, asking him if he was okay. He didn’t notice when Jesus took John’s phone from his pocket and dialed the three digit rescue number. Jesus never learned CPR in his village so far from here. So John wouldn’t have recognized what a desperate, inexperienced Jesus was doing in concern and fear and anger as tears formed in his eyes and his inexperienced fists started flailing and pounding on John’s chest as he pleaded, begged, prayed to his namesake Jesus to save this nice gringo man.
As it happened, John was lifted high above the ground while sirens blared and disembodied voices and radio chatter assaulted his senses with the prize of a new life. Jesus, the Tough Mudder, forever looking over his shoulder, moved hastily away from all the uniforms of officialdom.
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