A man was walking through a dark street of a neighborhood distant from the center of the city. The creaking of his favorite comfortable soft sole shoes was breaking the reigning silence of that working-class neighborhood of low houses with three to four rooms and gardens or backyards. The trees on the street darkened the gloomy landscape covering the street lighting. There was no one out there, it was three in the morning and everyone was asleep; except for the two houses in which late-nighters were given away by the colorful lights of the televisions that could be seen still on. But, in spite of the creaking of his shoes and a distant barking dog, no noise could be heard.
The man was moving forward with hesitating steps that seemed to show he was considering his path with each moment. He was looking at the numbers of Drago Street, lost in the middle of the neighborhood, with an extension of only five blocks leading to Urquiza Street, where the shoe factory was located. The man was looking at the factory, but it was not where he wanted to go or he was heading to. He just had to wait on the corner. Neither did he know who he was waiting for nor when the person would arrive; he had just been told to be there at three in the morning.
And there he was and no one had bothered to come to his encounter. Two minutes had passed when he heard some steps. They did not sound like his; those steps emitted a muffled noise, probably coming from rubber sole shoes. He did not like that kind of shoes, but they were more appropriate than his shoes for situations like that one, more discreet.
He saw somebody coming from Drago Street. It was a very large man, quite heavily-built; he had no hair on his head and was wearing a huge black leather coat almost down to his feet. He was scared to death, but he decided not to show it. The man finally approached and said,
“It’s good you’ve come.”
In spite of the lack of light, the man waiting on the corner could see how dark his eyes were and the tired but strong, dominant and secure look he had. The other man continued speaking,
“Let’s get directly to the point. How much is it going to cost me?”
Although he had a harsh look, the man waiting on the corner did not find it intimidating; he thought it was a simulated harshness. As if he seemed to have been an important person once and was still trying to make everyone think he was the same person he used to be. When his eyes got used to the darkness, he could notice some marked wrinkles on his face. He was not young anymore, quite the opposite.
“I’ve not decided yet.”
For a few seconds, the other man set his eyes on the ground with a melancholy expression, and then raised his eyes again looking furious.
“You’ve made a promise and you must keep it.”
“I haven’t promised you anything. Five thugs forced me to make the arrangement. And, honestly, I just don’t want to. I don’t want to do it.”
He added a special emphasis to the last phrase. The other man answered back,
“I don’t care at all about what you want. In any case, I can still send you some more thugs to convince you for sure.”
“I’d rather you didn’t. I am here, as you can see, those thugs have convinced me. Although I must insist that it is not what I want.”
The man waiting on the corner took a deep breath and proceeded,
“You will have to pay quite an amount for it.”
The other man looked exhausted. Suddenly, his face offered a disgusting expression. He was about to speak, but he regretted. Silence ruled the moment, until he made up his mind and explained,
“I am a very wealthy man. I have everything that you or any other person may desire, so that is not a problem.”
With an apparent high level of anxiety, the other man reiterated the question. “How much is it going to cost me?”
The man waiting on the corner observed him quietly and dauntless. He showed no fear, although he had been forced to go there. He was not a young man either. His hair was white, though he wore it quite long. The other man was not so big, but he was not small either. If someone had seen them, he would not have decided who to bet for in case there was a fight.
“What you want is priceless. How can I set a price? I cannot do it.”
“Do you want me to set a price? I can do it. What about fifty million? Of course we are talking about dollars.”
The man waiting on the corner looked at him with apparent irritation. His face turned even redder and his eyes squinted. He arranged his hair with one hand. By then, he was nervous and could not refrain from showing it.
“You cannot determine a price. It is mine, not yours. You cannot even make me an offer. It is none of your business. Give me at least three days to think about it.”
The other man gaped at him in disbelief. A bitter smile crossed his face. He didn’t want to and couldn’t wait. He urgently needed what the other had by birth right. He was not going to beg, kneel, or humiliate himself in front of that person. Neither could he demand him to sell it at that exact moment; it did not work that way. He had to give him a term. He understood and decided to assume the risks.
“I am not willing to grant you a term, but I understand that it is your duty to set the price to close the deal. If you cannot do it right now, I give you one day, twenty-four hours.”
The man waiting on the corner breathed in relief. His body, which was tense as the blade of a knife, suddenly relaxed and balanced softly.
“Very well, I accept; we will meet here tomorrow, in this very same place at this very same time.”
The following day the man repeated his steps, he arrived at the corner at the agreed time and patiently waited for the other man to arrive, almost with resignation.
After two never-ending hours of tense waiting, an unknown man arrived. He was tall and thin with a healthy appearance. The man waiting on the corner said to the approaching man,
“I am tired of waiting. What has happened? Does the man have second thoughts?”
His voice was full of irony and malice, but also full of tiredness and sadness.
“He has passed away. He does not need you anymore, obviously. I’ve just come here to tell you this because he demanded it; if not I would not have bothered to come.”
He frowned at him with disgust for a few seconds, then he turned around and left without adding another word.
The man waiting on the corner began to walk slowly, enjoying every moment, every single step towards his car waiting for him five blocks away. He sighed more than once. He was satisfied, he had played his cards well and won. He had lost a fortune, as the other man would have given him everything he had, but he had saved his soul.
Translated by Flavia Marcos and Natalia Riera: Rima Traducciones