He liked her, even if he didn’t know her name.
And although he didn’t know it himself yet, his heart already knew the boy was lost to this nameless girl with the pretty smile right after that first encounter.
Sebastian was his name and he worked as an assistant bricklayer at the construction of a new hotel. It was, at sixteen, his first real job, thanks to his father’s connections and although he was neither particularly thrilled about the job nor opposed to it ‐he just did what he was told to do‐ the best moment of each day was when he was sent to the market to pick up the lunches for some of the workmen.
Because it was there at the entrance where he first saw her. The third girl on the left. Standing there behind a shelf that held their baskets filled with tortillas wrapped in embroidered cloth. As soon as anybody entered the market place, the girls cried out:”Tortillas! Tortillas! How many do you want?”
They repeated the same line over and over, hundreds of times a day, until it had long ceased to be a question, but an impersonal mantra, a sound and nothing more.
But not her. The girl was quiet, didn’t even lift her chin up in the defiant way the others did. Rather, she lowered her chin slightly to her chest. Then, all of a sudden, they made eye contact in a flicker of a second and a smile appeared on her face. A smile that locked their eyes. A lightning struck his heart.
Sebastian stopped in his tracks, felt even like his heart stopped beating, and smiled back. Well, it was more of a smirk, he thought later, when he had already practiced the perfect smile for her dozens of times in front of the mirror.
From that moment on he eagerly went to the market every day to have a glimpse at the girl. He hated the fact that the lunches he was to pick up already included tortillas, so no excuse for him to address the girl. But then again, he barely needed nor dared to speak to her. Just looking at her, two glimpses a day, on the way in and out, were enough.
Every day he discovered something new about her. The way she moved the hair out of her face with a subtle flick of her right index finger. The tiny mole just below the left corner of her bottom lip. Her hair that on sunny days seem to glow almost reddish. The way she flashed her eyelashes twice every time she looked up. And how somehow that shy smile reflected in the light of her eyes…
Sebastian couldn’t think of little else but this mystery girl. She appeared at night in his dreams and during the day in his fantasies when he was mindlessly laying brick. He asked around, but couldn’t find out anything about her. Nobody knew where she was from, nobody seemed to know her family.
The anonymity started to bother him. This girl felt so familiar after a few weeks, so much a part of his life after months, that he decided to giver her a name. Carmen. Yes, Carmen suited her. He didn’t know why, he didn’t know any Carmen, but Carmen it was.
Months went by and with time, the construction of the hotel came steadily along. The goal was to finish before Christmas, and it seemed that that deadline was actually going to be made. But then the woodwork for windows and doors arrived later than planned, the swimming pool didn’t quite turn out as planned, so extra man-hours were needed and the workers were asked, or rather told, that they had to work extra long shifts all the way up to Christmas. Not only made the men extra hours, they also worked harder than ever before. At least if felt that way to Sebastian. Maybe it was just months of hard work that accumulated in even harder work, but at night his mind and body were so exhausted that there was no place for Carmen to enter his dreams.
It was December the twenty-fourth and the job was basically done. One more shift, eight more hours and that would be it. Sebastian was sent, as usual, to the market to pick up food and all of a sudden realized this would be the very last time. Sebastian panicked. What if he wouldn’t see Carmen again? What if a new job would take him elsewhere and he wouldn’t have to go to the market again? He needed to do something and he needed to do it now.
But while he was dragging his feet to the market, he couldn’t come up with anything. He didn’t dare to walk up to her and say… Say what? But then he saw a pickup truck on the corner of Central Park selling rambutans or lichas and on a hunch he decided to buy a bag.
With the bag in his hand he walked into the market. There she was, yet again, the third girl on the left. For a moment Sebastian just stood there, not knowing what to do. But then he gathered all his courage, walked up to the girl and handed her the bag of lichas.
“Here. Those are for you. Because it’s Christmas. And by the way, my name is Sebastian.”
The girl took the bag but didn’t look Sebastian in the eyes.
“Thank you”, she said, while blush crept over her pretty cheeks. Sebastian was thrilled. It was the first time he ever heard her voice and for some reason it sounded exactly the way he had always expected. But when the girl didn’t say anything else, nor looked up again, Sebastian felt conscious about how stupid he felt and quickly moved on to the comedor where the lunches where waiting. Totally embarrassed with a nasty red blush covering his own cheeks he quickly picked up the bags with food and hurried out of the market. He didn’t linger to catch a glimpse of the girl as he had done for so many months, just stared as his feet as he tried to make his way out as quickly as possible.
But just when he passed her, he heard “pssssttt…” and he knew it was her.
“Here,” she said, looking him directly in the eyes with that same shy but warm smile playing around her lips. It was a bag holding a few still warm tortillas.
“Because it’s Christmas”, she said. “And by the way, my name is Carmen. “