When Jorge was seven, and still living with both of his parents, he was visited by his father’s father. He had come from Ecuador, the name of a country that Jorge could recognize held importance in his life, but could not place or name that importance any further. Jorge’s experience at that age was of his grandfather’s odd smell, odd taste for food, and the odd way in which his father seemed to not want to talk to his own father — an observation of character that the young Jorge hoped to not repeat himself as he got older.
The real relationship with his grandfather, however, happened three years later when Jorge was nine and was sent to spend his summer vacation with his grandfather in Ecuador. It was his first flight — one of which his parents assured him would go just fine. Sleep, they said. Meanwhile, they continued to argue and only come to an agreement on the fact that Jorge needed to be away for the summer so they could “work things out”. This, as he found out later, meant working out the details of their impending divorce.
In Quito, Jorge’s grandfather met him at the airport and they got into a car and drove for what was probably several hours though Jorge fell asleep. When he woke up he saw the ocean (for his first time), and his grandfather walked him into his house, just steps from it. His grandfather said, Bienvenidos a La Entrada.
Jorge looked around and saw a row of some houses outside, men looking out from balconies, perhaps at the ocean or perhaps at the other men looking out from their balconies. Jorge could see the end of town, only two or three blocks down, and in the streets clothes were hung on wires just over the heads of someone walking through.
The place was silent except a small group eating in the middle — under a canopy sitting on plastic chairs and drinking beers and eating fish with the warm sun beaming just outside
Inside, his grandfather had a small apartment with shiny white tiled floors. It was one story and very hot. His grandfather put his bags into an open room, which had a small single bed and a closet and nothing else. It was a far cry from Jorge’s bedroom in Houston with its painted walls, posters, desk, and computer.
Now that you are in Ecuador, his grandfather said, we’re going to have to teach you some Spanish.
Okay, Jorge said.
The summer started very slowly for Jorge. True to his word, his grandfather had him learning Spanish. He would bring Jorge over to the neighbor’s house (a man his grandfather called abuelito, which Jorge learned to be a bit ironic) and dropped Jorge into a room with some kids his age. It took a week before he could say anything to them.
At the home, there was no internet. There was a phone, but his grandfather said it went “in and out”. Jorge read a few books he brought down and walked along the beach. His grandfather would talk about work but didn’t seem to go anywhere and listened to old Ecuadorian music and watched TV most of the day. Around noon, they got lunch — usually pescado apanado con arroz and some tomatoes were sliced on the side of the plate. Sometimes his grandfather bought them both soup too.
One day his grandfather said, I want to tell you a story
Okay, Jorge said.
Your father, his grandfather said, met your mother in Ecuador. Did you know that?
No, Jorge said. He did not know anything about how his parents met.
And he followed her back to the United States, his grandfather continued. He had no money. She had some. But he liked her and she liked him. they were very young. This was many years ago.
But they did not know each other, his grandfather said. And the authorities came to their house.
Authoritiess? Jorge asked.
The police, his grandfather said.
The police came and wanted to send your father back here, to Ecuador. To Quito. But your mother did not want to come. And your father liked the United States. So they were married. When you’re married, you’re allowed to stay in the United States.
You see, Jorge, marriage is an important thing. You should not be impulsive. It will end badly.
Jorge nodded. He wondered if now was the bad ending, or if that had come before. Perhaps before he was born.
His grandfather nodded at him after his story. And then he turned the TV on and watched and fell asleep and Jorge was hot and decided to go to the beach.
As Jorge began to walk along the beach, he came across a familiar creature he had seen before. It was a stray dog, a big lurking dog — complete with warts and some crooked teeth which sank outside his mouth. The dog would lay in the shadows on the beach most days. It had a spot that was shaded by the largest building in La Entrada and in the morning this would cast a shadow on a large part of the sand.
Jorge never got too close to the dog at first, having no experience with the idea of a stray dog — but eventually spent parts of days watching the dog.
It didn’t do much. It slept. It got up once in a while and roamed around town, looking for scraps of food or water.
in the afternoon, when the shade was no longer available, it walked to the restaurant where Jorge and his dad would eat fish and lay there. Sometimes the woman who cooked would shoo it away, and sometimes she let it stay. It would take scraps off of plates that men would ditch with their forks. It didn’t seem to bother anyone.
By the end of the summer, Jorge’s Spanish was better and he occasionally talked to his grandfather in Spanish. On days when his grandfather slept he would still walk the beach and maybe go down to Olonita and watch some locals play futbol there on the beach.
In the mornings, he still watched the stray dog. The dog was moving less. It had a limp on a back leg and around the eyes had some coloring that did not match the rest of his face. It was easy for Jorge to tell it was getting sicker and sicker. It’s stomach, full of nothing, showed its ribs for the fallen shield that they had become.
Above, Jorge noticed a single black bird circling around. In the coming days, he noticed more black birds.
One day, Jorge’s grandfather happened upon Jorge gazing from the top of the beach wall at the dog. His grandfather approached, glanced at what this grandson was looking at and gave a laugh out loud.
Jorge looked over at his grandfather.
That dog has been here forever, his grandfather said. It’s probably about time for him to be on his way out.
Jorge looked deeper at his grandfather, upset with his cold response. He imagined the people of the town loving their stray dog — as if it belonged to everyone. The townspeople’s pet.
A few days later, his grandfather catching up again looking upon the dog, brought Jorge inside to talk about the nature of this situation.
Do you know about those birds, his grandfather asked. I don’t think you have them in Houston, he added.
No, Jorge said. He had never seen a bird like that.
Well, his grandfather said calmly and deliberately, that bird is going to eat that dog when the dog dies. This is how nature works. And it can be a cruel bitch.
Jorge did not quite understand. Nowhere in school was it mentioned that birds ate dogs.
He asked his grandfather this — do all birds eat dogs?
No, his grandfather said. Those birds are vultures. Buitres.
His grandfather explained, they will circle the dog until it’s dead. Then they will eat. If they don’t survive to do so, they will teach their children to circle that dog. Where to find it. When to eat. Part of it is their instinct, it’s how they survive.
Okay, Jorge said. The story was making him sad. In his mind, he watched the dog being eaten by the birds. He had seen birds eating before — in the park in Houston when smaller birds would eat bread and crackers that men would toss on the ground. He asked himself, why couldn’t all birds be like the birds in Houston?
Before the end of the summer and Jorge’s return back to Houston, he spent time with his new friends. He learned how to bodyboard, how to surf (thought he was not very good), and how to catch fish. Three times he went out on a boat — once with his grandfather and his grandfather’s friend, and twice with his friend Victor and his family. Victor’s dad was a fisherman. He caught dozens of fish each day and brought them into shore. When Jorge and his grandfather ate their pescado frito (Jorge preferred this to apanado and and his grandfather liked it too) at the stand in the middle of town, Jorge imagined he was eating the fish that Victor’s father caught — though often this made him sad and he convinced himself they were other fish, caught by other men, in another town. This, he thought, made sure that no one in town had to see their own population dying.
It would be another four years before Jorge visited Ecuador. This time, he flew with his father, from Miami, where his father lived now to Quito. His grandfather, this time, was not there to pick Jorge up, but rather his father rented a car from the airport and drove himself. The drive was longer than Jorge remembered, and when they arrived on ruta del sol, the drive winding down the Ecuadorian coast, Jorge was surprised at the billboards, the large hotels, the oil rigs that seemed more common than before.
Fourteen now, the first thing Jorge noticed about Ecuador this time were the chicas. The darkly tan girls and women that walked the streets. There were plenty of Ecuadorians in Miami and in Houston, but these were different. Somehow darker, further way from him. He didn’t know anything he could say to start a conversation with them.
His grandfather had moved in between the visits. His house was in the same town, but further from the beach. It was smaller. Jorge and his father had a hotel room since there was not room for them at his grandfather’s house. Jorge’s father would stay for two weeks. Jorge stayed for two months.
The first two weeks, Jorge was mostly bored. He found Victor and they hung out sometimes, but Victor was busy working for his father as a fisherman. Victor promised they would see girls he knew from school soon and spend time with them, but in those first few weeks nothing materialized.
Jorge’s father and grandfather spent most of the day inside, talking loudly in Spanish, drinking rum and, as Jorge understood it, arguing about money and other things. Once they argued about Jorge himself, and the lack of Spanish he used, though Jorge thought his grandfather didn’t realize how good he was in Spanish now.
During the day, Jorge would wander to the beach by himself, sometimes going into the ocean, sometimes just sitting and throwing rocks. He saw a few stray cats and a few dogs — none that he recognized. Of the dogs, one was black with a few white spots, the other was a dark gray with white hairs near the end of its tail. They both looked old and dirtied and hungry. Later, when Jorge would have seco de pollo, he’d sneak a scrap off his plate into his pocket and feed it to these two dogs.
Jorge remembered the vultures — the buitres — but did not see any when he arrived in Ecuador. Around the time that his father left, saying he was going to Quito for five more days for business and throwing out the possibility of Jorge coming with which never culminated, Jorge started spending more time with Victor.
Victor had gotten in some trouble with his parents for stealing from a panaderia in the next town over — he had done so to impress a girl — and therefore didn’t stray too far from his house and La Entrada.
One day, Victor asked Jorge to deliver a message to a girl he called his novita. Jorge took the bus for 30 minutes and got off and looked for a blue house above a set of clothesline knotted together — as Victor described it.
He found it, knocked on the door and asked for Cynthia. Her mother answered. Cynthia wasn’t home but she was probably at the beach. She asked who Jorge was. Jorge told her. He was from the US. He was friends with Victor. The mom scoffed at Victor’s name.
Jorge went to the beach and saw two girls sitting alone. one looked as Victor had described Cynthia. Jorge did not want to let Victor down, as his only friend in Ecuador, it’d be a disappointment to lose that.
He approached the girls and asked if one was Cynthia.
I am, one said. She stood up. And who are you?
Jorge. Victor’s friend, he said.
Oh, she said. And where is Victor. He was supposed to meet me here.
He isn’t allowed, Jorge explained. He has to stay in La Entrada.
Of course, she mumbled. Always getting himself into trouble.
He wanted me to deliver a note to you. Jorge handed her the note. She read it.
Okay, she said. Stay here.
Jorge stayed at the beach and Cynthia and her friend left. He didn’t know how long he should stay but he was in rush to be anywhere else.
The other town had a nicer beach than La Entrada. There were no stray animals here and the houses were bigger and the streets were cleaner. He liked this town and thought his grandfather should move here. Or maybe even his father since his father could definitely afford this place but perhaps not his grandfather. He imagined himself living her and being his father’s age.
At night, the four walked around La Entrada with nothing to do. Victor and Cynthia soon went off, holding hands, and before long were making out against a wall of rocks on the beach. The tide came close but did not reach them.
The other girl’s name was Estefania. He had hardly taken the moment to look at her the beach since he was so nervous on his mission to find Cynthia and deliver Victor’s note.
Jorge and Estefania walked away from them, laughing at the two lovers tied together. Jorge looked at Estefania often and liked the way she looked at night, he white teeth beaming out from under her tan lips and skin and neck. He knew he wanted to kiss all these places, but didn’t know how.
The two talked for several hours, sitting in different places and walking on the beach. The moon seemed to set into a corner of the sky. Jorge reached across the sand on three occasions and held Estefania’s hand. He felt warm each time he did.
Jorge told Estefania about his life back home. Estefania wanted to go to New York and Jorge said one day he would love to take her — though he’d never been and wasn’t sure how he’d pay to get there from Houston or Miami. She told him about her life in Ecuador, her summers on her uncle’s farm and long, boring days at school. She surfed, she boarded on her stomach, and she knew how to skin a fish. She had since she was four.
Jorge talked about his own school. He did not know how to skin a fish but knew some algebra already. He talked of his parents and their divorce —my mom said that my dad loved work first and her second or maybe even third or fourth — and how much he, Jorge, liked coming to Ecuador.
Later, after several kisses on the mouth and innocent laughs after, the young kids wandered back into the streets of the town where dogs lay on the ground breathing hard and snoring themselves in slumber. Estefania and Jorge spent time giving them all names — or the names that people should call them. Sometimes they come into my town, Estefania said, but I think they like it here better. The abuelas feed them fish all the time.
Jorge nodded. Do you ever see the vultures up above circling around them? he asked.
Sure, she said. That’s what they do.
That makes me sad, Jorge said. They are just waiting for the dogs to die.
Yeah, she said, I guess that’s sad. I don’t know what else would happen to the dog though. Or the bird.
Jorge didn’t respond to that. He thought of his grandfather who had failed to mention this in his talk of inevitability.
Estefania pulled him and they found a small tienda and picked ice cream out a freezer and ate it on the sidewalk. Jorge looked at Estefania’s eyes often and sometimes at the dog and the moon a few times too and decided he didn’t want to go back to Houston, though he did four weeks later.
In the three years before Jorge got back to Ecuador, by this time, a young man of 17, he and Estefania had decided they would be boyfriend and girlfriend. This happened through email, texts, and some video calls where Jorge would wear his best shirt and basketball shirts underneath. He always wondered what Estefania wore beneath her waist, and one time he asked but she just laughed.
Jorge’s visit this time was not planned far in advance. His father sent him down to see his grandfather, ailing from sickness, sensing it might be the last time the two men would see each other. Jorge’s father would come down the week after himself to tend to his sick father.
Jorge, though sad to hear about his grandfather’s condition, was quite thrilled at the opportunity to be back in La Entrada. His timing, however, was not great. For the three weeks he’d be in Ecuador, Estafenia would be gone for 2 of them. She had to see her uncle and could not cancel.
Jorge begged to go with. Though he had zero experience, he would tend farm and do anything that was asked of him. Estefania laughed and told hm it was best to stay with his grandfather.
Jorge even asked her mother who said no and Jorge thought that was maybe because her was American and might not know about farm work, which was true but he was willing to learn.
And so, Jorge was left alone with his ailing grandfather, sitting with him by request, and playing old card games he didn’t really understand, then got better at, then beat his grandfather at. They spoke only Spanish, which Jorge had come to like since that was how he had to speak with Estefania — and especially with her mother.
When Jorge’s father came down, things changed. HIs grandfather had lost what little pluck he had left and arguments raged on through the night, sometimes with his grandfather yelling from his bed. The argued about money, about his father working too much, and Jorge learned that his father planned to move to Quito later that year, but did not say why.
After three weeks, Jorge had to return home since school was starting. He got four days with Estefania, which he cherished. He was able to spend time with her, kiss her, and also get out of the way of his father and grandfather’s constant bickering.
Can I stay at your house tonight, Jorge asked one night.
No, my mother wouldn’t let you.
I want to sleep next to you, he said.
Estefania laid down on the beach and said, you can. And Jorge laid next to her and they nodded off. It was the best night of his young life.
He left the next day.
His father stayed behind and three days later called to say that Jorge’s grandfather had passed away. He offered to fly Jorge back down but Jorge was in Houston now with his mother and she didn’t want him to miss school and besides, she said, he had already said goodbye.
Estefania want to the funeral, which was had in La Entrada near the restaurant and afterward people went to the beach and Jorge’s father gave a speech praising his dad’s life and honest spirit.
Jorge’s dad came back to Miami a few weeks later. Jorge flew to see him — on a long weekend from school — and his father let him know he would be moving to Quito sooner than later.
It will be nice, he said. You can come down and stay. We also have your grandfather’s house and you can see the girl you’ve been dating.
This was good news to Jorge. He texted Estefania immediately about the news. She was happy and so was he. He envisioned himself laying next to her in his grandfather’s house, which in his dream was now his and them in the hot summer laying and sweating and not moving and the ceiling fan above circling to keep them cool sometimes.
In the coming years, Jorge went to Ecuador 2-3 times per year, staying each summer. When he finished high school, he opted, against his mother’s wishes, to go back to La Entrada and he lived in his grandfather’s house and saw his father now and then.. His father had moved to Quito to marry a woman he had met there and Jorge liked his stepmom whenever he got to see her.
Six months after moving to La Entrada, Estefania moved in with Jorge at his grandfather’s house. Two months after that, she let Jorge know that she was pregnant and the couple started preparing for marriage and Jorge let his mom know he would be staying in La Entrada to start his family there. She never came to visit, though Jorge and Estefania did fly up with the baby to see her in Houston once.
In La Entrada, Jorge got a job working construction in a nearby beach town that was booming from large groups of Argentinian backpackers coming through. The days exhausted him and he’d have beers after work before returning home. His grandfather’s home has also fallen into some disrepair and he spent many evenings fixing it up, until he woke up his daughter.
You need to stop now, Estefania would cry out and a job would go half finished. This happened often and the house was full of half-finished renovations and projects.
On Saturday nights, Jorge and Victor, a father himself now too, would drink beers and walk the beach together. In the distance they could see the nights of neighboring beach towns sparkling and behind them the obviously non-electric La Entrada stood.
Late at night they would come home, convince Estefania to make chorizo in a pan and eat some and feed some to the dogs who would wait outside the door. Stray dogs had continued to be a part of Jorge’s casual musings on his own life, and he took care to notice all the different ones in La Entrada. He would often grab some extra pescado on his way home from work to feed some. And the dogs grew healthy and the buitres didn’t appear as often as he remembered them to.
At night, he rested happily next to Estefania who married him in a small ceremony after their daughter turned two. He was happy. He remembered a simple thing his grandfather had said once: good things come into the arms of patient men.
He thought about that often and lay still in nights and took each day as it came and tried not to think too much about anything in particular. It was in this that he came to terms with the buitres who circled around above. They too were just waiting for their turn.