Buster treated Isaac different than the other borrachos that hung around in the evenings, after all the tourist are gone and when the town is real Mexico again. There is a very fine line between paradise and the 3rd world and the life of a Mexican street drunk is where you can easily see that. Yes, even paradise has a few warts if you look closely enough, and Buster had been here long enough to know them all. Isaac was different though. He never came in like most of the others, loud and drunk, asking for money or something to get them even drunker than they already were. As borrachos go, Isaac was strangely okay in Buster’s eyes.
Buster really knew nothing of Isaac, except that the others all called him “the Russian”. He was a pathetic thing at this point in his life, a life which Buster guessed had lasted around 70 years and would surely be ending soon. His clothes were dirty and the fare colored skin on his bald bead was forever scabbed from the burn of the sun. Most days he started with a drink, usually from a bottle he shared with the other town drunks as the sun rose over the ocean, awakening him from the spot he had passed out on the previous night, be it the beach or someone’s front porch. His home seemed to be wherever he stashed his few clothes and belongings, and where he passed out at the end of each day. Often they were not one in the same.
But between that first drink of the day, and the final goodnight, he always managed to find the things he needed to make his necklaces that he sold for a dollar apiece to the tourist on the beach. They were crude little necklaces, made from local tree thorns and sea beans that float up on the beach each day in Costa Maya. He would find string used to tie palapa roof thatch or fishing line, and make his necklaces each morning while his hand was still steady and his eyes could still focus. “Making his living off the fat of the land” as Buster used to say while he watched Isaac do his thing. He would stroll the beaches and smile his almost toothless grin, and ask in very clear English to the tourist, “would you like to buy one of my necklaces for a dollar?” Cane rum was $2 a bottle.
Buster never allowed drunks to bother his guests and would normally never allow such a pathetic thing as him to get even close to his customers. He knew tourists did not come to Mexico to save its homeless, or anyone else for that matter. He knew they came to enjoy a week of well deserved rest and relaxation that they had paid a lot of money to enjoy and certainly not to be bothered by the likes of Isaac. But while other saw a tattered old drunk, interfering with their enjoyment of paradise, Buster saw a story. He wasn’t sure what that story was, but he was sure it was different than the others, so he never stopped Isaac from selling on his beach. Seldom did anyone buy his necklaces except out of pity, so business was never all that good at Busters.
One night, as Buster was closing, Isaac walked up and very politely, in Spanish, asked for a drink of water. Buster stopped what he was doing, grabbed a bottle of cold water from the cooler and walked over and handed it to the old man.
“Where did you learn to speak that good English” Buster asked him, in English.
“My father was from the US, my mother Mexican, so I learned to speak both. Thank you for the water.” was all he offered as he turned and began to leave.
“Hey, how about I make you a deal. When you are selling your necklaces, if you skip my beach, I’ll buy you dinner each night before we close. You don’t sell anything here anyway, so why waste your time. Our food is pretty good too.”
And so it went for the next year. Most nights, just about closing time, Isaac would show up and sit on the city bench in front of Buster’s and wait quietly. Without saying a word, Buster would each night have Chef Pedro prepare Isaac a plate from the day’s leftovers. Lemonade or water was always served and Isaac never asked for anything with alcohol, no matter how drunk he was, which was almost always considerably. Some nights, Buster would take Isaac his food and although they never had any real conversation, Buster managed to, over time, get bits and pieces of Isaac’s story.
He learned Isaac had been dumped in Costa Maya by a family member a few years before, left to die as someone else’s burden, in a place far away from his original home in Mexico City. Who would have thought he would have lived this long. I’m sure not the family member who dropped him off and left him waiting on a street corner for a ride he never got, that is for sure.
Lazarus, that was the nickname the Livin’ and Dyin’ in ¾ Time boys came up with for Isaac because it seemed so many times they saw him passed out on the street and knew there was no way he was getting up. But somehow, each day he did manage to rise from the dead so to speak, and each day was the same journey for Isaac.
Then one evening, Isaac did not show up, and Buster realized, it had been several days since he had last seen him. It was not unusual for the old borracho to disappear for days, only to stumble back in town again, sometime bruised and beaten up, other times wearing brand new clothes. Somehow though, he always made it back. Several days passed this time though and Buster began to wonder if finally, Lazarus might not have been able to have risen once again from the dead, like so many times before.
Finally, Buster decided to try to find out where Isaac might have gone. He saw, Don Alberto, the senior borracho in town, or the elder statesman of the town street drunks, and ask, “Don Alberto, donde esta Isaac?”
Alberto told him in a genuinely somber tone, “Es muerto, Senior Buster.” Alberto explained how Isaac had died in his sleep a week prior on a street in Chetumal. He was unceremoniously buried in a pauper’s cemetery in that same city, far from his home and far from the people who had left him in Costa Maya years before, to do this very thing. He was alone for both. Buster patted Alberto on the shoulder and told him he was sorry for the death of his friend. Alberto nodded and walked away and with that, so did Isaac.
There are fates worse than death and perhaps Isaac was living one in his last years. His passing was a relief in most ways for Buster, who it pained to watch Isaac’s slow death. But for a stranger in a strange land, and therefore one that finds friends in the strangest places and ways, the loss of Isaac left a somewhat equally strange hole in Buster’s world. In spite of his miserable state, Isaac always had a certain twinkle in his eye and innocence in his toothless smile that touched Buster and he would miss that and forever remember that about him. But at the same time, he was glad this portion of his miserable life was finally over and he could hopefully move on to a better paradise. A paradise where he would no longer be alone.
RIP Don Isaac!