A Short Story - Watching Vultures

December 5, 2020

The vultures were circling high above the little hill called Brown Mountain, gently gliding on the thermals that come up from the hill. He sat there on a rock and watched them, as they seemed to be showing off their gliding abilities to him. The sun was high in the afternoon sky, a light blue with not a cloud in sight as far as the eye could see. And that was quite a long way out here, right out to the horizon. This one little hill was the only one visible and the one where the vultures seemed to congregate, of that's what you call it when there are more than a few of them riding the thermals over the hill.

It was a hot afternoon, as was the norm, so much, so that other than those vultures, there wasn't a creature in sight, and not a sound came from anything other than the breeze gently blowing through the desert plants. Not even the rattlesnakes ventured out at this time of the day, nor did the Gila lizards, coyotes, jackrabbits, javelina, tarantulas, other birds, nothing. It was a quiet and lonely place in the middle of the afternoon.

What was would anyone be doing out in such a place at such a time? The answer to that question would be different just about every day - one day the answer might be 'I'm just trying to clear my head of all the day's business'; another day might be "I'm thinking about my future'; another day 'I'm remembering the times I had with Melissa'; and finally he might say something like 'I'm meditating, remembering, forgetting, planning, the future, the past, and the present'.

This had gone on for some eight, 10, maybe 12 months.

His friends never saw him, to them he disappeared. Did it matter? Apparently not. None of them tried to contact him, and he didn't contact any of them. Even after Melissa passed on not a one contacted him. Turns out they weren't friends at all, only band mates and nothing more. Did he miss them? No, not at all. He missed playing the music. He didn't miss those guys and that particular band. Only the performing that came by being a part of it. But his life went on without any of them in it, and he was just as happy without them as with them. But happy? That's probably not the appropriate word to use so soon after losing your spouse at too young an age.

No, he wasn't happy, he was indifferent, maybe that would be a better word. It really made no difference if they were a part of his life or not. As for the music, he was still able to play all his instruments every day, just alone, not with anyone else. And he was satisfied with that, at least at this time.

His neighbor, Ron, asked, "How are you doing these days? Are you holding up okay?"

Justin replied in a monotone voice, "I suppose so". He paused, then continued, "I spend a lot of time out in the desert, just sitting there, watching the vultures fly in circles over Brown Mountain. It's good."

"Well, if you want to talk I'm right there, next door, remember?" Ron felt like he had to remind Justin because he rarely sees him anymore. "It would be good for you to talk about things with another person."

"I know, thanks," said Justin, "but, I'm okay". He turned around and walked back into his house and Ron watched him, felt a little sad for him, and went back to his house. He really wanted to be a support for his neighbor but Justin just wouldn't talk to anyone.

Melissa had suffered a massive stroke and a few days later, she died. She was too young for such a thing, only 50 years old. Why did it happen? The neurosurgeons could find no explanation for it, other than something like 'Well, there's nothing we can find, it was just her time to go". Something along those lines, not at all satisfying when facing the death of the one you had been with for 30 years. So, for a year or so afterward, Justin spent many days, almost every weekend, out there on that little hill called Brown Mountain sitting on a rock, or walking or running through the desert trails, thinking,

Time was something he had more than enough of, in fact, too much of, being he didn't have a fulltime job. His work was barely even part time, just occasional contract jobs. Those had been getting more and rarer over the previous few years and had just about disappeared. If ever there was a time for a person to be talking to another after the death of his wife that was certainly the time. But not for Justin. He bottled it up, locked it away, and coped with it in his own private way.

After a year and a half, he tried a date with a woman. That went okay. They did a second and it was better. He tried to make love with the woman but that didn't go so well. Justin thought maybe even a year and a half wasn't enough time.

Mariana told him, "No, it's okay, I understand. We don't have to do that, yet. We can just go out, have nice dates, do some fun things together, and not get hung up on the sex."

Justin did have a few more dates with Mariana but was suspicious about her, but he couldn't put his finger on why. It probably was related to the fact that she never told him where lived and never invited him to her home. He would meet her in some parking lot of some shopping center, or she would come to his house. And they did go some place they would only take her car and leave his in whatever parking lot they met in. He wondered why she would behave like that. She said she was separated from her husband. Maybe she wasn't?

Eventually she stopped seeing Justin. She sent no messages and she replied to none of his. She finished playing whatever game she was playing and that was that. Justin wasn't happy about that, he really liked Melissa. She was a very pretty Latina woman - long black hair, dark eyes, tanned skin. Apparently too good to be true, thought Justin.

Another year went by and life hadn't changed much, still the same lack of job situation, the same lack of a girlfriend situation. That would change though.

Finally, a job offer came in from a retail store for a job he had no experience doing. He accepted it. Any job was better than no job. The pay was sufficient to cover all the expenses and live, with nothing left to save. Pretty normal in this era.

"There's got to be something more to do," thought Justin. He thought about that a lot. All that time in the desert was spent thinking. He thought about himself - who am I? What should I do? What have I done? Where should I go? Where have I been?

"I want to do something that will help other people," he decided, "no more living just for myself. Melissa was the people person; she loved to help other people. I want to be that way. I want to live a life devoted to helping other people."

After a year at the store where he managed to figure out the job of merchandising manager and was actually doing quite well at it, he gave his boss notice that he would soon be quitting.

"I'm going to move to Bolivia," he told his boss, "I'm going to teach English. I want to help people improve their lives. If they learn English they can get better jobs which will help them to live a little better."

About a month later, he flew to La Paz. He had done some studying about the country but really had no solid plans. He was mostly just going to wing it.

At the airport, he met a man who asked him, "So, where are you staying?"

Justin replied, "I'll find a place somewhere around here".

The man said, "I know a hotel in town, it's better than the ones here near the airport". He told Justin about the hotel and gave him the address. Justin went to that hotel and check in. The two days later checked out because it was too expensive. He found a less expensive hotel a few kilometers away.

About a week after arriving, he met a man who introduced himself in the hotel restaurant, "Hi, are you from the States?"

"Yes," replied Justin, "I'm from Arizona. Where are you from?"

The man replied, "I'm from New York. I was born in Panama, but lived pretty much all my life in New York. Now I live here with my wife, she's Bolivian".

"Oh, nice," said Justin, looking across at the woman, the wife of the man.

"My name is Ronald, and my wives' name is Elena," said Ronald, and he reached his hand out for a handshake. Justin shook his hand.

"My name is Justin and I'm here alone," he said.

"Well, for now we're staying here in this hotel, but we're looking for a house in this area. I'm planning on starting an English school here," said Ronald.

"Is that right?" said Justin, "I'm planning on teaching English. I expect I'll just do private lessons. But, I haven't really planned anything out, yet."

Over the next two weeks, the two talked a lot about teaching English and opening a school, and maybe even doing it together as partners.

Justin told Ronald, "If you get all the necessary paperwork done, all the legal stuff for opening a school, I will consider being a partner with you. But first, I want to see that you have it all legal."

"Cool!" said Ronald, "No problem. We have connections here because this is Elena's hometown. We'll be working together soon, I'm sure".

Two weeks later Ronald showed all the legal papers to Justin, "Check it out, Justin! I have the business license, and we're ready to go. All we need is a building and furniture. Are you going in with me on this?"

They continued to talk about things for a week or two, ironing out some details, looking for a location, and coming to agreements. Soon they found a place they could rent that would make a good small English school.

Justin gave some money to Ronald for the rent, they got the keys, and they started to get moved in. Then they started looking for desks, whiteboards, and so on. Justin gave more money to Ronald to buy the stuff.

The next day Ronald did not arrive at the school so Justin went to his house and found his wife and two kids but no Ronald.

Elena said, "He left this morning. He went to Sucre to take care of some business".

"What kind of business does he have in Sucre?" asked Justin, a little suspicious now.

"For the school," said Elena, "He'll be back in a couple days".

A couple days passed and Ronald hadn't returned. Justin went to visit Elena and found she had left with the kids. Now they were all gone, and his money was gone with them.

"What the hell? They left? They skipped out and stole my money? He's a fellow gringo!" yelled Justin at the old woman who answered the door. "I can't believe I was scammed by a fellow gringo! What kind of shit is this?" he continued to yell at the woman standing in the doorway, not understanding anything he said.

Justin turned around and stomped all the way back to his apartment. He sent an email to Ronald. The next day Ronald replied, "I going to Panama to take care of business. Then I'll return".

A week passed. He hadn't returned. Then two weeks. Three more emails went unanswered. Another week, more emails. Justin gave up hope of ever seeing Ronald again. He gave up hope of ever getting his money back.

Justin found a website for reporting scammers. He registered on the site and entered the story about Ronald defrauding him. The report was posted and within a week, an email arrived. It was from Ronald.

"You have to remove that report!" the email from Ronald said, "It's costing me clients! I want you to remove it today!" and so on with threats of impending doom if it wasn't removed.

Justin replied, "When you repay me the money you stole from me I will remove the post. Until then, NO!"

This went on for months, multiple emails, many threats, but nothing ever happened as far as Justin could see. Of course, the posting included many details about Ronald, which was why he was so mad about it. But he also never repaid the money and Justin never removed the posting. In fact, Justin forgot the name of the site and at this point it doesn't matter - no money, no removal - was his thoughts on the matter.

While all that had been transpiring Justin starting acquiring clients. His students were mainly business people looking to practice the English they already knew but were rusty with it. He really wanted to work with the poorest people and help them move up to better jobs.

He discovered that working with the lowest income people would be next to impossible for a person working alone. They couldn't afford to pay a fee that was enough for the teacher to make a living, only the richer business people could afford to pay such fees. The only way to make a living at teaching the lowest level income people, the people living below the poverty level, was to have an income from another source, or someone with money backing the teacher. It just wasn't feasible.

Justin settled into life in La Paz, teaching business people, and made a comfortable living doing it. It gave him a feeling of accomplishment, of success, of personal worth, helping other people improve their life situations. He saw students improving their English, and some improving their jobs. This led to them improving their family situations. It was a good thing to see, and a good thing to be a part of.

Justin did this for almost 10 years, until he finally retired on his social security, to a comfortable life in Bolivia. He loves it there. He's happy that he was able to help so many people. Now he can relax and write, walk, run, hike, bike, and enjoy the rest of his life.

After Melissa's death, life was miserable, unhappy, unfulfilled. Now it's been filled with new friends, too many smiles to count, and a heart that feels like it has accomplished something worthwhile. Melissa filled his heart until she didn't anymore, afterwards, no one person filled his heart, but many have. Melissa is still there along with many others.

Now he smiles every day.