Some people called him Ninaya. I never knew him by any other name than Pedrito, the diminutive of Pedro, Peter. His full name, I learned today, was Pedro Coronel Orozco.
His life ended last night. He was struck down by a car as he walked along the road on a stretch where there are no lights. A few hours earlier I had spoken with him in the grocery store. As usual he was wearing dark clothing. He would not have been easy to see.
Pedrito was about seventy years old. He stood a thin five foot five or so, a dark skinned man with a well shaped cranium, notably so as he kept his hair burred off. He had a close cut beard to match. He wore whatever he could get his hands on. For Pedrito was, in some way, not right in the head. Never had been. People I talked with said he had been that way for as long as they could remember.
He held no regular job. He circulated through the pueblo each morning selling the daily paper. At the ferias or other crowd-drawing events he would generally be found selling something, probably popcorn or some other snack. I have no idea where he ate or slept. But he spent his days on the street. Sometimes he would be seated on a bench in a plaza, or in one of the gazebos that stand in the center of each of our plazas. But more often he would be walking, walking.
Pedrito went to high mass on most sundays. At the offertory, he would stride up to the altar, pick up the two collection bags that lay on the steps before it, draft a helper, and take up the collection. He usually did not sing. His voice was hoarse and strained, and he carried a melody only approximately. But when he did, his voice carried above all others and could be heard throughout the church. For those whose ears were properly attuned, his voice was that of an angel, tuned to a harmony different from those heard on earth. For Pedrito was a saint among us. He never was known to speak a harsh word, a bad word, or a lie. Despite his poverty, he never begged. No known act of his was in any way wrong.
At mass, Pedrito had in the last year or so taken to circulating through the congregation at the Pax vobiscum, shaking hands with everybody. Most people gave him this handshake perfunctorily, as I did. It happened, however, that I was away from the village for several months, and returned just recently. I was so glad to be back, and to see everyone, and to see Pedrito, that at the next mass I looked into his eyes, took his hand firmly, and held it a second longer than necessary. At that moment an intimacy swept through both of us, something not expressible in words. This moment of intimacy recurred in every mass thereafter.
Pedrito was very probably the most innocent man in this village, and the holiest, in his own inimitable way.
Pedrito did not carry the paper this morning. The paper carried him, or at least his picture. He was lying on the pavement, twisted, covered with a pale blue sheet. Standing over him, wearing a purple stole, was the village priest, anointing his head with oil, forgiving his sins, bidding him farewell, intoning the church’s ancient commendation, In paradisum deducant te Angeli; in tuo adventu suscipiant te martyres, et perducant te in civitatem sanctam Ierusalem. Chorus angelorum te suscipiat, et cum Lazaro quondam paupere æternam habeas requiem.
© 2008 Joseph Mansfield
2008.02.11 first draft