He sat at the small table and his large body bumped awkwardly into its blunt edges. His legs and his arms were thick and his skin was tight, and his hands and face were darker than the rest of his body. Even when Mary cleaned him as wholly as she did, it was not enough. But she was not there to scrub the soot from him anymore.
The large hands that used to run over Mary’s body, sat alone–dark against the white table cloth of the Cafe Cartagena. He asked the barman for a beer, and reversing his words he asked his lady friend who was sitting across from him, if she would like anything. She would have a Kumis and he would now, also like a beer.
When he was thirteen, he spent his first day in the mines. His father brought him in to contribute the handful of pesos he made each day, to the family earnings. Soon he learned what it was like to breathe in the coal air–to not see the sun except for as it rose, and as it dropped below the beautifully soft Colombian hills. He forgot about wandering the fields and he forgot about his bicycle. And when he was sixteen, looking down at his dark hands was something he did as if he had done it his entire life. It was then he saw Mary–not for the first time, but for the first time with more than his eyes. And from then until a year ago, Mary had been within his hands every morning and every night. And her skin did not care about the dark sandpaper hands that held her–what she was for him stayed true and strong. The only changes were what the years brought. Through his eyes and hands, and everything else–what she was, remained the way he loved her. And every morning he left her arms for the walls of the mines. And as the sun flickered through the cables of the lift that lowered him out of its sight, and away from her, the ceilings and floors of the mine embraced him. The dark dust and the sparks of black that flew from his pick, all left their mark. And while the things that formed his hands were down there in the dark, what they were made for was waiting for him somewhere brighter–somewhere that smelled like dinner and coffee and beer…and Mary.
But now as he sat here in this cafe, looking across at this pretty-enough stranger, that place didn’t exist. The place his hands were meant to land every night, was gone–with their only place and purpose below, holding tight to the only thing he knew now. And as he looked again at his hands, and then to the window, the barman pulled down the shade just as the last moment of sun stared at him.