Continued from previous story…Online dating….
A week later, I still hadn’t heard from Sandra and I was beginning to get restless.
On Saturday, we played in Valencia and won. Fans screamed as our team bus drove through the stadium gates after the game. As usual, the driver stopped the bus and a few girls jumped in and sat on our laps.
“Hi Antonio, would you like for me to take care of you tonight?” One of the girls asked as she sat on my thighs. She looked like she was eighteen years old: probably a freshman in college.
“No.” I said. “I’m a little tired tonight.”
She flashed me a beautiful smile. “Maybe next time?”
I nodded and she moved on to another player. Some of these girls were regulars depending on what city we traveled to. They knew our names, our shoe size numbers and the names of our kindergarten teachers.
We drove to a hotel in Valencia and paired up per room. In the middle of the night, I woke up to the sound of my teammate and his girl moaning in bed. They had been going at it all night: the girl was on top, totally naked. I grabbed a pillow and threw it at them and they laughed.
“You guys are disgusting,” I mumbled as I buried my head in the sheets.
At 5am, and not able to sleep, I walked over to the balcony and looked down at Valencia City. Footsteps on the carpet made me turn and I watched as my teammate’s girl joined me on the balcony. She wore a bathrobe over her nude body and gave me a sultry glance.
“You’ve been tossing all night,” she pointed out.
“I know. Too many minds.” I turned and watched the city waking up: the streetlights going off, the policemen changing shifts…
She stood next to me and we both stared ahead. “Who is she?” she asked as she lit a cigarette. Her robe slid open and I caught a glimpse of her smooth skin.
“Ha, oh, some girl I met at a bar.” I quickly looked away.
“You miss her?”
“Yes. She was funny and easy to be with. She made me feel real and always encouraged me to be better.” I sighed. “She was a great cook.”
“Was she your girlfriend?” The girl asked innocently and I turned and looked at her with strange eyes as the truth suddenly dawned on me. I was thinking about Sandra and not Natalie. Oh my gosh! It was Sandra that I loved and not Natalie.
The realization came down and shook me to the core. I was in love with a girl I had met online! This was insane but I couldn’t deny what my body was feeling. My phone suddenly went off and Natalie’s voice brought me back to the real world.
“Hi honey,” she greeted.
“Hi Natalie.” I bit my lips.
“Are you coming home today? I have a surprise for you?”
I knew exactly what the surprise was. Sex. “No. Natalie. I’ll be back tomorrow morning. We have to do some charity work over here for PR,” I lied. It was my first lie to her since she came back. She sounded disappointed but promised to keep the surprise for me till Monday.
My mind instantly drifted back to Sandra and just the thought of seeing her again built excitement inside my body. I took out my cell phone and dialed a number.
“I need you to find someone for me,” I said in a professional tone and then I hanged up. With money, came a lot of power and this was the one time in my life where I would not hesitate to use my resources.
The phone call came back at exactly noon and I answered after the first ring. “Mr. Antonio? We found her. She’s an hour away from where you are. Here’s the address.”
I wrote down the address and instantly felt the change inside me. The thought of seeing Sandra again stirred my emotions to a point where I … it had been a while since I felt like this. Maybe a little when I first dated Natalie. But my feelings for Sandra were more mature and serene. It was like my eyes were finally open and I knew exactly what I needed in my life and whom I wanted to share it with. I needed Sandra, I loved Sandra, and I couldn’t wait to tell her.
I called my soccer coach and explained that I would not be returning with the team to Barcelona. I got on the 2pm train and headed in Sandra’s direction. On the way, I saw beautiful ranches and serene landscape and I pictured a home for Sandra and I, with a few midgets running around. In my vision, we looked happy: I had been waiting for a girl like Sandra all my life. Someone who cared for my career as much as hers; someone who enjoyed putting a smile on my face; someone I could connect with long after the honeymoon stage of the relationship was over. I would put my arms around her and never let go again.
I took a cab from the train station to her house and stood at the door nervously composing myself. And then I knocked.
The door creaked open and I put on my best smile. I saw a beard and then a rough face of a man. “Yes?” he asked.
I stared at him mouth agape. And then I coughed as I tried to find my voice. “San…dra?” I managed.
“Sandraaa! Someone to see you!” the man yelled and closed the door in my face. A few seconds later the door re-opened and I saw her… Sandra! I couldn’t believe it. She was actually there, standing in front of me, dressed in a simple yellow dress that made her look like a little girl.
“Antonio? Wha…t are you doing here?” She looked over her shoulder nervously.
“I… I ,” I didn’t know what to say.
Suddenly a small boy appeared behind her dress and she looked down and yelled, “Go back inside junior!” The little boy scurried away and Sandra closed the door and stepped outside. But I had already taken five steps back, my face, a mask of chagrin, my mouth wide open in shock.
“You are married?” I finally said as I took another step back.
“What did you expect Antonio?” Sandra said. “Some of us have serious lives you know? We don’t have time to run around clubbing.”
I gulped as a wave of emotion overtook me. I reached for the taxi door, yanked it open and mumbled to the driver. “Railway station.” I looked through the window one last time and saw Sandra watching me with curious eyes, and I felt an overwhelming desire to cry. It was halo and goodbye.
I boarded the train and wallowed in a shell of embarrassment. I didn’t say a word to anybody. But when the train pulled into Barcelona, I managed to call Natalie to let her know that I was on my way. She sounded excited. My mind was still dizzy from what had happened.
Natalie opened the door wearing red exotic lingerie. She gave me a big kiss and then led me upstairs. “Poor baby, you must be tired.” I was. And I had to admit that I was glad to see her. I was in a fragile place and I could use all the loving care that I could get. We took a hot bath together in the big tub and later on slid into the king size bed. The bed creaked to our weight and we lay on top of each other naked. She kissed my lips softly and I moaned. Then she kissed my neck and chest… and a few minutes later… she looked up at me in surprise when she realized that I wasn’t responding to her.
“Something wrong Antonio?”
“No. I’m just tired.” I avoided eye contact and managed a heavy sigh. “We had a tough game in Valencia.”
She didn’t buy it. “This has never happened before. Is there something you are not telling me? Did you pick up a whore in Valencia?”
I cringed at her comment. Here we go. We were back to fighting. “No Natalie. Can we just go to bed? I’m tired.” I closed my eyes and she nudged my head with her right hand and woke me up. “What’s her name? I swear you better not be sleeping with someone else!” Her voice was frantic and it reminded me of our last fight that had ended with me in jail. I wasn’t going to let that happen again. I moved out of striking distance.
“I met someone else Natalie. I think am in love with someone else.” I finally managed some courage and it sounded real when I said it. The image of Sandra flashed through my mind and was instantly replaced by Natalie’s screams.
“Is it the girl I saw you with at the party? You are going to leave me for that?” She sounded disgusted.
“No Natalie. She’s married with a kid. I’m leaving you because I don’t love you any more. I thought I did but I guess four years is a long time to be apart.” And there it was. I had finally said it. Her face turned bloody and I knew that she was incapable of rationale thinking. We fought for an hour and I kept my distance. Why did you come back Natalie?
With Natalie and Sandra gone from my life, the next few months turned out to be a nightmare. I deleted Sandra’s phone number to avoid drunk dialing her. My soccer game went down a notch from an extraordinary player to a normal one. We tied with Barcelona and the MVP award was given to Lionel Messi without any protests. It was hard to ignore a guy with a European record of a staggering 73 goals in one season.
On Christmas day and six months of lumbering later, I refused to go home to visit with my parents. I mixed a keg of Jack and coke in the house and drank myself stupid. I grabbed my box of Rolex watches and dumped it on the living room coffee table. I played with them for a long time, but they gave me little comfort. The realities of solitude. I missed Sandra and cursed the day that I had met her. I wallowed in inconsolable gloom and blamed Sandra for ruining my glamorous life. I brought girls home no longer, boozed too much and spent the nights licking my wounds. My teammates began to worry about my performance and the coach called me and threatened to cut me lose, if I didn’t get my act together.
In April the following year, the whole team flew from Barcelona to Boston for an exhibition match against the Red Bulls of New York. The change of scenery was good for me and it brought back fond memories of my days in college in America. The spring breaks had been amazing with half naked American girls on the beach: the dorm parties, getting wasted… Ah, those were the good old days … young and uncaring.
I managed to exchange my jersey with the legendary player, Thierry Henry after the game, and got into the bus with a big smile on my face. The driver released the brakes and the bus rolled out and stopped at the gate to allow girls to jump in, as was the routine. I was staring down at my newly acquired jersey when I heard one of the players at the door yell, “no girls allowed in today! Except you.”
I thought he was messing around with the girls and so I laughed and folded my precious jersey and then placed it inside the bag next to the window. Suddenly, a girl sat on my thighs.
“No,” I begun to protest when suddenly, I saw the familiar polka dress and quickly looked up. Thick reading glasses stared down at me. It was Sandra, the last person I expected to see in America!
“Hi Antonio?” Sandra greeted casually.
“Sandra? What… why… what are you doing in America?”
“I’m stalking you,” she said playfully. “I was in the neighborhood, thought maybe I should drop by. Aren’t you happy to see me?” She was teasing me.
“No. I am!” My heart was racing at the sight of her. I looked around the team bus and realized that she was the only girl in the bus. My teammates gave me thumb up signs, and the bus rolled into the streets. It suddenly dawned on me that I had been set up. They had planned for this all along, blissfully unaware of the truth. I felt nervous because they didn’t know half the story, Sandra belonged to someone else. I turned back to her.
“Why the clothes?” I asked.
“It was your teammates’ idea. I guess everybody knows the story of how we met.” She shrugged. “The clothes bring fond memories. I don’t mind.”
I agreed. But I had seen her look better. “We have to get rid of those clothes,” I said laughing. “We are going to a shelter home to serve dinner to the homeless. Do you want to come?” I asked eagerly and she agreed. Just being with her again was exciting. I felt a stirring inside my body and I knew that it was my heart. I hadn’t felt like this in many months.
We went to the shelter home in Boston and served a three-course meal to the homeless folks. Volunteers had prepared the food and Sandra hugged some of the folks and assured them of the society’s love for them. I told her that I was proud of her and she laughed.
Later on, and after a change of clothes, Sandra and I went to dinner in an exquisite five star hotel with a dazzling menu and excellent service. Boston, the capital state of Massachusetts had a rich history on the American Revolution and the many colleges and universities make Boston an international center of higher education and medicine. After dinner we wondered down the streets and I told Sandra about America and all its splendor. “Why did you decide to study in America?” she asked.
I smiled. “It was a boy’s dream,” I explained. “After watching all those Hollywood movies… I just had to see it for myself.”
“And?” she pushed.
“It’s complicated,” I replied thoughtfully. But she wouldn’t let it slide and so I continued. “The American dream is real. There are a lot of doors and windows out there just waiting to be opened. But you have to know how and when. Gone are the days when our parents used to line outside a factory to make a decent living. Now, in the 21st Century, one can become a millionaire with the click of a mouse. It’s a different world.” I sounded sold.
“So why did you come back to Barcelona?” she asked.
“Soccer,” I replied. “I wanted to be the best soccer player in the whole world and there’s no better place for that than Barcelona.”
“And how’s that working out for you?” she teased.
“Not so good Sandra, not so good.”
It was the way we talked that lit up my world. It was like we could talk about anything without trying or worrying about stepping on each other’s toes. Sandra was the perfect mate that I would never have.
And that reminded me. “How are your husband and kid?” I asked.
“My who?” she looked at me in a strange way. “I’m not married. Is that what you thought? Is that why you didn’t call me?” She looked appalled by the misunderstanding.
“But I saw them at your house that day!” I asked with a frown.
“That was my brother and his kid visiting. You made an assumption and I was too scared to correct you? I was scared that I liked you too much and that you would hurt me.”
I was at loss for words and then slowly, the reality trickled in. I had been a fool. I had wasted all those months thinking that I was the substitute guy… the guy who never ends up with the girl and yet here I was. My sin of omission and never asking the right questions had costed me dearly. A wistful look appeared on my face… could it be… was it possible?
“I love you Sandra!” I blurted out under the Boston streetlights. “I realized this after you left. I miss what we had. I miss you!”
We stood and stared at each other under a moonless night. She looked up at me with dreamy eyes. “I love you too Antonio. Why else would I show up in the bus wearing that ridiculous polka dress?”
We laughed and I took her into my arms. The kiss was passionate and yet behind it, I felt as though I had arrived. All those shallow women I had been chasing … it was fun then… but what I was feeling now inside my heart… nothing could compare to that. I was at the top of the world with Sandra by my side.
I took her to my hotel room and we ordered coffee and talked for hours. She told me about her life in Valencia and I told her about my childhood in Barcelona and how I started playing soccer without shoes. We couldn’t get enough of each other and finally when the coffee ran out of our systems, we wrapped ourselves in each other’s arms and fell asleep fully dressed on top of the bed.
I woke up at 2am to go to the restroom and halfway across the room I tripped over something and managed a muted curse. On my way back and not wanting to trip again, I turned on the overhead light and saw Sandra’s personal effects sprawled on the floor. I had tripped over her Gucci bag. I picked up her lipsticks, mirror, wallet… and then I saw it and I froze. I stretched out and grabbed the magazine and stared at it in shock and disbelief. It was one of the best magazines in Spain and on the front page was the silhouette of a man looking at his watch.
I moved closer to the light and read the title… The man with a Rolex Watch. I took a second look at the cover and realized that the watch looked exactly like the first watch I had ever owned… the one that I had shown to Sandra. My heart throbbed as I scanned through the chapters. The article was three pages long.
He looks at his watch whenever he’s down. The Rolex is like a rearview mirror. It reminds him of where he came from.
I read some more.
He searches for himself through others: the women he sleeps with, his ex, his career. He does not let them define him but he tries to find an identity through their eyes and the way they react to him.
I had read enough. I shook Sandra awake and started yelling at her. She woke up the moment she saw the magazine in my hand.
“I wanted to tell you Antonio. I just didn’t know how?” she looked scared at my expression.
“Who are you?” I yelled and started pacing the room. “I’m reading this article and realizing that I don’t know who you are! I went to your college and they told me that you graduated two years ago. Who are you Sandra?”
“I’m a journalist!” she cried out desperately. “I’m an investigative journalist.”
“So that was it? The night at the bar? It was all a story?” It was hard to fathom how the contrived girl in a polka dress had played me for a fool.
“Yes. At first it was just a story.” Sandra moved closer. “But then I came to learn more about you and I realized that you were not the man on the outside. You are kind and caring and I fell in love with you!”
I wasn’t listening. “That night at the club when I brought you home drunk?” I already knew the answer.
“I wasn’t drunk. I told the guy to push me. Please don’t be mad Antonio!” She reached out and I pushed her hands away.
I was livid. “You used me: you researched and manipulated me Sandra. I can’t trust you. You are no different from my ex!” I threw the magazine at her and stomped through the door.
“Antonio! Please come back, am sorry! Please take back what you just said!” she was crying.
I ignored the elevator and ran ten flights down the stairs hoping that the fatigue would help me, but all it did was clog air in my throat. I couldn’t breathe properly and so I stopped and jumped into a taxi. I was done with girls manipulating my life. Gosh! What a charade! What deception!
I flew to Barcelona in the morning and life went back to normal. I appreciated what my teammates had done for me in America and I resumed training with the zeal of a demagogue. A few weeks later, the coach called me in the office and told me that he liked what he saw. I was back.
I believe my change of heart had a lot to do with discovering the truth about Sandra and finally having a peace of mind. Knowing who Sandra was and understanding her, gave me clarity, and for the first time in a long time, my vision was clouded no more. And knowing that she wasn’t married totally tilted the scale and made me want to be a better man.
She was one of our best students.
Her article, as painful as it had been for me to read, was brilliant. She had been in control from the first night at the bar. She had manipulated me in every way to get every twist to the story…my story… my hopes and dreams. I wanted to hate her but I couldn’t. Instead, the incident made me want to be a better man … mould my life in the direction of a brighter future: a future where I could stand toe to toe with Sandra and tell her… what would I tell her? I wondered.
A month later, and dressed in my favorite white suit, I walked into the ornate huge gallery on 19th street in downtown Barcelona. The entrance was a glamorous hallway that led me to a receptionist. I looked around the walls and saw pictures of myself…or silhouettes of a man looking at his watch, The man with a Rolex Watch.
“How can I help you sir?” the receptionist asked. She could tell that I was someone important by the way I carried myself.
“I’m here for the Journalist of the year party,” I said with an easy smile.
“Do you have an invitation sir, or a pass?” She pulled out a list ready to cross my name off. I looked at her and smiled. Then I reached on the counter and placed my box of Rolex watches. She looked inside the box and I watched as her confusion slowly turned into excitement. She pointed at the silhouette. “You are him? The man with a Rolex Watch?”
I nodded and watched her jump up and down with excitement. “Oh my gosh, this is the best article of the year. They are trying to shop it in Hollywood for a movie. It totally reminds me of the Pretty Woman movie!” She was elated.
I coughed to remind her that I was still waiting. “Sorry,” she said then grabbed the phone and mumbled something. “He’s here!” Confusion. “Yes. The man himself.” Silence. “You can go in sir.”
I took my box and the doors opened before I got to them. A pretty girl ushered me inside a huge auditorium with a charming smile. Glamorous chandeliers and soft background music welcomed me. Folks sat around pristine table clothes with shimmering wine glasses. The lady in front was just announcing my presence when I looked up and caught the breathtaking sight of Sandra wearing a shiny silver gown. Our eyes met and the world came to a stand still. We searched each other’s eyes and I saw worry behind her practiced smile. I stepped in front of the mic and looked into the sea of faces.
“My names are Antonio Maximilla, and I am the Man with a Rolex Watch,” I said and a murmur erupted through the room. They knew about me, I could tell; felt sorry for me… a man who used watches to ground himself in the not so good times in his life.
“When I first read this article, I was very angry,” I said and the room fell deathly silent.
I turned and motioned for Sandra to hand me a copy of the magazine. I flipped the pages and settled on one of the paragraphs. I read aloud.
“He walks around searching… searching for what? He does not know, but he will know when he sees it… when he feels it.”
I gave the magazine back to Sandra and turned back to the audience.
“A famous man once said that our dream is to live in a world where we will be judged by the content of our character and not how we look. The big question we should ask ourselves is this, ‘who are you?’ ‘who am I?’ What do people say when they see us? How do we get to that point where we can walk into a building… a bank or a restaurant… and not worry about what people think about us?” I paused and scanned the pensive faces. “Ladies and gentleman, I stand here before you today and declare from the bottom of my heart that am no longer scared of my identity: am angry no more and I will definitely not need to look at my watch again to remind me of who I am.”
Folks jumped from their seats and exploded into a thunderous applause. It took a while before calm resumed. Meanwhile, I opened my box and took out the watches and waved them in the air for everybody to see. The light from the cameras almost blinded my eyes. “Ladies and gentleman,” I said. “I’m here to announce that I will be donating my watches to a shelter home of my choice.” Pause. “All of them except one: the very first Rolex that I ever bought. And this one, I will give to the one person who opened my eyes to a whole new world; the one person who made me realize that I can be more than I am.” I motioned for Sandra to come forward and in view of everybody; I slipped the watch into her hand.
“Sandra, I love you and I want you to be the new anchor in my life. With you in my life, I don’t need to look at my watch to feel better.” I kissed her on the lips and she kissed me back with tears in her eyes.
“I love you too Antonio!” she yelled into the mic for the sake of the audience.
It was closure, not only for the article but also for us. My search was over. The gods had cast a dice and I was finally a winner. It was time for me to live life as it should be. I felt far removed from my crazy old self.
Off to AFRICA
My book A Whisper in the Jungle has been picked by a publishing company and approved by the board. It has been scheduled for release soon.
The music is all around you, all you have to do is listen
Without God, what are we? What do we have? What is life...