A couple of years ago, like many others in this ‘communicated’ world, I got hooked by that magical web known as the Internet. I started to participate in many discussion forums, and, of course, met a lot of people. Or should I say, e-people?, as none of these new friends had a face, or for that matter, a voice or a physical presence in my life.
Many of these acquaintances did not last. They left as they came. Vanished in cyberspace. But one of them, a Canadian woman named Lydia, did catch my attention from the beginning. She seemed to possess that most uncommon quality, common sense. And she talked about her family, husband and kids, as something really important to her. In fact, she talked about everybody around her, except her own self. We became e-friends, and started to correspond regularly. She showed me her world, piece by piece: descriptions of her beautiful country, stories about her people, family, neighbors, problems, thoughts, ideas, way of living and vision for the future. In return I tried to give her my concepts about this Mexico I suffer and love so much.
Time passed, and our e-friendship grew. One day she wrote to me, saying that she was coming with two of her kids to spend a couple of weeks visiting Manzanillo and Barra de Navidad, on the Pacific coast. And perhaps Guadalajara. I surprised myself thinking, “Well, now I’ll know who you are.” Funny. After all the letters, discussions, and interchanges, I still found myself trying to guess who this person really was.
The day her call came I was in the middle of a business meeting. Not able to control my curiosity, I picked up the phone. “Hi. This is Lydia.” A soft, serene voice. In my mind I tried to picture the woman to whom that voice belonged, something that never occurred to me while I was reading her e-mail notes. She said she was in a certain hotel in Manzanillo, and that she wanted to visit Guadalajara and meet me and my family.
Not a word about hotel reservations. No details. Nothing. She just said that she was going to take the bus from Manzanillo to Guadalajara next day at noon.
Hanging up, I gave my secretary the name of the hotel my e-friend was staying in, asked her to get the telephone number for that hotel in Manzanillo, check the price for a room there, and find something similar in Guadalajara.
By that time, my associates were looking at me with not a very amiable smile on their faces. “Okay, okay. Let’s go on with the meeting.” Minutes later, my intercom rang again. My secretary told me that the hotel in Manzanillo charged Mex$134.°° a night for a double room. “How much?”, I asked. “What kind of a hotel costs 134 pesos these days?” The smiles around me were now tense, jaws set. “Please. This will take just a second.” I came out of the room and impatiently instructed my secretary to make the darned reservations in a hotel not too far from the office, and not to interrupt the meeting again.
That evening I conversed with my wife about the hotel prices these guys were paying.
With typical Mexican acid humor, we joked about tourists that come to this country counting their pennies and still expecting to have the greatest of times.
They finally arrived. I finally met her. The image that had formed in my mind from the incident the day before, did not check at all with the reality now in front of me. These were very kind, agreeable, joyful people. Nice, giving people. “Oh, hell”, said I to myself. “She is my friend. I’ve been corresponding with her for many months. Let’s give these guys a chance.” I cannot recall the last time I made a better decision. We had a terrific time together. My children and her children became good friends, in spite of the language barrier. Spanglish made the day.
Talking and interchanging ideas in real time, I came to the conclusion that this was indeed my good ol’ friend Lydia. A warm, kind, real person. Not an electronic ghost from the Internet. I took them to visit many places in Guadalajara, off the beaten path. I can say we all had a wonderful time. I wish I’ve had more opportunities to be with them, but my usually tight schedule did not give me that concession.
They spent half a week with us. After that, the time came for them to return to Manzanillo, then to Canada. I drove them to the bus central. We had time to talk on the way. I said to her, “Lydia, you are exactly as I thought you were going to be.” But still lurking there, in the back of my mind, was the negative perception, the old prejudice against penny counting tourists.
Find a parking place. Carry the luggage. Buy the tickets. Hug everyone good-bye, surrounded by a lot of people, all of them hurrying to catch their buses. Just a moment before my friends entered the boarding gate, Lydia handed a closed envelope to me, saying with a smile in her face, “I know you will take good care of this.” I did not pay attention to the gesture at the moment, squeezed and pushed around as I was by the crowd.
I finally came out of the building, searching for my car. Then I suddenly remembered the envelope in my hand. I opened it, only to find a neat pack of high denomination Mexican pesos bills inside. A small piece of paper fell to the floor. I picked it up to read, in a terrible Spanish, “For people in need.” I raised my eyes from the handwriting, instinctively looking for her.
Too late. I stood there, money in hand, staring at my shoes, and feeling the most stupid Mexican in the world.
That evening I joked again with my wife. This time, about us.