“Our life drawing model canceled,” Norma told me. “If you know of anyone, please let me know.”
My mind drifted to an old Mexican man who often biked past my window, a tattered sombrero shading a weathered face, sandal wrapped feet laboring against an uphill grade. I’d watched him sorting discarded bottles and pop cans with callused hands.
“I think I know just the person,” I told her. “An old man whose face is full of character, strength and ancestry.”
“Perfect! Find him and let me know. If he can pose for three hours we’ll pay him $100.”
It was two weeks before I saw the old man again. Temperatures of 106 kept me inside, hiding behind drawn curtains but I continued thinking about him and what $100 would mean to a man who made his entire income collecting bottles and cans.
Then one morning riding my bike from the health club, I spotted him. Excited, I pulled over and used the only Spanish I know. “Senor. Hola. I have work for you, dinero.”
He looked at me as he poured the remaining liquid from a beer bottle he’d found beneath a pepper tree.
“Do you speak any English?
He shook his head. I put my hand over my heart.
“My name is Karen, Karen. And you?”
“Raul, I have work for you, dinero.”
He studied me like I was an exotic bird that had perched on the redwood rail that divided us.
This is not going well. I held up my hand.
“Wait, don’t go.”
I dug in my gym bag, found my phone and dialed Julio. I needed an interpreter. No luck. A recording. I snapped it shut.
I smiled, motioning toward the health club.
The Ojai Valley Athletic Club is one of the finest in the world, intimidating even me, but bless his heart, Raul trailed in after me, never missing a beat. Jose, the manager of the café was seated in clear view. I went over.
“Jose, this is Raul. He speaks no English and I speak no Spanish. Would you do me a kindness and talk to him on my behalf?”
Jose was sorting morning receipts, white clothes accenting black hair and dark eyes.
“What do you want me to tell him?” He silently took in Raul’s appearance without apparent judgment.
I placed my gym bag on the table and plopped down next to him, relieved.
“Tell him there’s a group of people who would like to paint him. And that if he can hold still and pose for three hours that he could make $100. Of course, it would not be three hours straight. There would be breaks for walking and stretching.”
Jose looked at me. “I’ll pose for $100. Use me!”
“Thank you, no. It’s his face I want.”
Jose is a handsome man but his essence is not unusual. There is something in Raul that is primitive and raw, a face untouched by civilization.
Jose studies me for awhile, then translates my words.
“Why would anyone want to paint me?” Raul asked.
“You have a strong face,” I say. “Hermosa.”
Because I didn’t know the date, I had Raul write his address on a napkin, telling him I’d be in touch when I knew details.
I returned home excited. Got on the computer and shot off an email.
Re: Model for Life Drawing:
Success. I have found the Mexican man, spoken with him and he is willing. Let me know your next open date and I’ll pick him up and bring him over.
Reply: Re: Model for Life Drawing:
We don’t need him anymore. We found someone else to fill in. Thanks anyway.
Thanks anyway? But I gave him my word. I promised him income and got his hopes up.
For two days I pondered the situation. Finally deciding to pay him from my own pocket.
In this town people pay $100 for lunch and think nothing of it. But to this man it could mean much needed groceries or health care. I hedged. But I’m not working and my resources are getting low. Maybe I’ll just offer him $20 or $30. Why would I give him $100?
Because you gave your word and oddly, it feels like the right thing to do. It really does seem the right thing.
Maybe $60, how about $60?
When Julio came home I explained my dilemma, asking if he’d drive with me to speak with Raul.
“I’m thinking of giving him the full fee anyway.” I confessed. “It just feels right.”
“Oh Karen, that would mean so much.”
The certainty and tenderness of Julio’s reply erased doubt, convincing me to go ahead.
When we arrived Raul was in front of his house talking with a neighbor. Julio lowered the car window, explained the situation and told him I was going to pay him anyway.
Raul refused, shaking his head. Words passed between them I couldn’t understand.
“Tell him it’s important to take it,” I said. Raul hesitated, then came to the driver’s window speaking again to Julio.
“What did he say?” I asked.
He said he would take it because it was money from God.
I smiled. “Yes, Raul, that’s exactly what it is. It’s money from God.”