The Friends of Manny

Anyone who proposes to do good must not expect people to roll stones out of his way, but must accept his lot calmly if they even roll a few more upon it. — Albert Schweitzer

One day we, who are Manny’s friends, got together and decided that Manny needed to get a girlfriend.

You see, this came about because Manny carried on so, at his birthday party: “You don’t know how hard it is for an unemployed man of sixty to find a decent chick.”

It was really all Manny’s doing.

Someone thought, “what about Maria”?

Maria was a girl in her thirties, a nice girl, really. The only problem with Maria, they said, was that she’d jumped from boyfriend to boyfriend for so long none of us could remember them all. These boyfriends, they were introduced, they shook hands, we said “nice to meet you”, and we never saw them again.

Some of those boyfriends were tough hombres, if you know what I mean.

One of them, they said, knew how to get you anything you wanted, and sometimes, if someone paid him, he did. When he did not join our little circle of friends either, no one said, “such a shame, he did not choose to be one of us.”

Maria was one of those girls who liked to be given everything she wanted. Maria loved to be loved. Maria loved to have fun. That was why, in Maria’s life, there was always a new guy.

“Who will show me how to have fun?” Maria would ask anyone who would listen. And she would laugh loudly, and her brown eyes would twinkle, in the mischievous way of one who is sharing the secret of Maria.

When a guy ran out of money, he stopped being fun. When he stoppped being fun, that was how Maria could see he didn’t love her any more. That’s why she left them, one by one. She broke a lot of hearts, but not because she was cruel. Not because they weren’t nice to her, and polite. Maria believed, when a guy doesn’t truly love you, it’s time to move on.

So we said to each other, what do we have against Manny?

Manny has no job, but he has some savings.

Manny has some gray hairs, but Manny doesn’t look sixty, either.

Manny doesn’t talk like an old man, he talks like a kid.

“That’s the problem,” someone said. “He doesn’t know when to stop talking.”

“That is because Manny is in love with himself. Everything is all about Manny.”

When he tells you how he bought some meat at the butcher’s, he tells you how he loves that meat, and how his mother used to cook it just so with sides of refried and rice for his birthday.

We all knew that story.

This obliges him to explain how he once did a favor for the butcher, so the butcher always owes him. And also he will tell you how he doesn’t even like this butcher, but the man is worth it because he sure knows his cuts of beef.

And this is all because somebody says, ‘please pass the meat’.

“I told you, that’s the problem with Manny,” someone said again.

Looking back, perhaps we were selfish, but what we decided is, we needed to get Manny out of our hair for a while.

So we set him up with Maria.

We all asked that someone, that one who first put the problem with Manny on the table, since you know the problem, maybe you are a step ahead, eh? You must know then, what is the solution?

“That is obvious”, he said.

“Before we arrange this meeting, we must take our friend Manny aside.”

“And we must tell him, Manny, about this Maria,” he smiled, “she is beautiful, but she is in love with herself.”

“So we will tell him: you, Manny, must talk with her,” he said to us, “and you must talk with her constantly.”

Here he smiled again. We were beginning to see it:

But here, you see, Manny, Don’t talk about yourself, talk about her. Don’t tell her about the year you rode the horses. Don’t tell her how much you like your car. And don’t tell her how much you spent when you got the inheritance.

Manny, for this to work, Maria needs a man to tell her how much he loves her. All the time. Manny, when you are entertaining friends, play the music your friends like to hear. And if this turns out to be the girl for you, you must tell her so, in some new way, all the time.

We all agreed, if any man could do this, was not Manny the one?

“To Manny,” we toasted, even though he was not even there.

With just this one perfect method, we could make Manny happy, we could open a little window of peace within our little group, and, who knows, we could even make Maria happy, maybe. A little more happiness in this world is a good thing, is it not?

Next month, Manny rejoined our little group.  And so we told him exactly what we together, all of us, had planned in this manner to tell him.

Everybody knows it is never wise to needlessly tempt fate, so one of us of course had already talked to Maria:

Manny has no job, but he has some savings: “Manny is well-off and doesn’t have to work any more.”

Manny has some gray hairs, but Manny doesn’t look sixty: “Manny takes care of himself and looks like a man in his thirties.”

Manny doesn’t talk like an old man, he talks like a kid: “You’ll like Manny. He is very young in spirit.”

Manny is in love with himself. It is all about Manny: “Manny’s only problem is, that when he likes you very much, all he wants to tell you about is how many ways he loves you.”

At first we thought we, Manny’s friends, had put together an affair arranged in heaven.

Manny and Maria took the Hawaii cruise. They romped in the Las Vegas casinos together. They did the cruise boat on Tahoe. Maria turned heads with her bikini on the beach. Manny always looked like a million bucks when they dined together, at the classiest establishments on the waterfront. And they dined often.

“She is the best thing that ever happened to me”, Manny told us.

“He is so sweet!” Maria told us.

After about six months, since neither of them worked, the money started running out. Manny had no more money. Especially, he had no money for any kind of ring.  So he was grateful when that subject stopped coming up. When Maria saw Manny’s undying love for her wither before her very eyes, she started seeing another guy on the side.

Not only did this break Manny’s heart, but everything was not exactly back to what it had been before, because now Manny could hardly cover the month-to-month rent.

Still, Maria kept coming  back to him, between boyfriends, and this lasted another six months.

The last time Manny saw Maria, another ungrateful boyfriend had skipped town. Maria was bitter with the world, and told Manny she, too, had decided the time was right to move on and start a new life somewhere else. She hoped, she said to him, he would be good in this, and understand.

The Package

“I only ask one thing, Manny,” she said. “For old time’s sake.”

“Before we met, one of my old boyfriends left town, and he left a package behind in my custody. He made me promise I would look after it for him. He said he would return for it, but he hasn’t, yet.”

“On the Greyhound I can take everything I can fit into this one suitcase, which is everything I need. But I cannot manage this one package. Will you promise to look after it for me, until I can come back for it?”

“What is in this package?”

“I do not know, but I promised it would be safe with me. Please, it is small, Manny, and it takes up no space in our closet. Would you be a dear, and just hold it for me until I can come back and see you, and I can claim it?”

“OK, Maria. Just for you.”

Manny never saw or heard from Maria again. That is why it took him a year to tell us about this package.

Even as the realization finally came to Manny, one day, that Maria was never coming back, eveything about that package irritated him. Maria had lied to him, even in this one last thing. Then too, it was not even her package. He did not know if there was a rightful owner. He did not know what was in the package.

He did not know, but  it could be valuable. It could be family keepsakes. It could be love letters. It was not very heavy, so it could not be gold, or coins, or some kind of treasure. Maybe, who knows, there could be some kind of paper money in it? Could it contain a clue about the real owner?

This package was about the size of a shoe box. It had been wrapped in some kind of heavy brown paper, possibly a wrapping made of brown grocery bags, securely taped all around with packaging tape. And it was tied with a kind of cheap but stout sisal parcel twine. The twine looked older than the package, and somewhat dirty, suggesting both that it had been handled often, and had been used before. There were no labels or marking of any kind on this package.

This package, it greatly annoyed Manny. It bothered and vexed him. It worked on him every day like a nettle. It was if this twine-and-brown-paper parcel was getting the best of him. Yes, the package had become an unwanted guest that would not go away. And no one could say where it really came from. Worst of all,  Manny had no way to give it away or ship it to someone else who could rightfully claim it.

The promise, like the package, had become such a burden, that no one  person should have to put up with it. He admitted to himself that much. Finally, there was nothing else left to do.

When a year was up, and nothing else had happened, Manny opened the package.

The Advice of Good Friends

Opening that package is why we were having this new meeting. It is why happy-go-lucky Manny, who never dealt with life first but always let things happen to him, actually asked us to have this meeting. And he swore us to secrecy before he would tell this part of the story. 

What Manny found in this package, we would not want to know, you understand. He said it made him frightened. He wrapped it up again and returned it to the closet.

Manny’s question to us was: what should he do with this unwanted package? What would you do?

If the package had contained somebody’s ear or hand, Manny would not ask us in this way. If the package contained a lot of money, that could be a problem too, but Manny would not ask in this way either, if he asked at all. What else do you think it could it be, but contraband?

Mind you, Manny has had his problems, to be sure, but he is not one who’s ever been in trouble with the law. He’s never had a speeding ticket. And he doesn’t drink. He doesn’t even smoke.

“If everything is what it sounds like, I would call the police immediately and let them handle it”, one person said.

“In that case you could be arrested. You spent all your money on her, so maybe she thought you could sell it, whatever it is”, another said.

“Suppose someone comes looking for it and finds you,” someone asked.

“If possession of this box is such a problem, then dump it all in the estuary at night, and be done with it”, said someone else. “Manny, you don’t know nothing about no package.”

Some didn’t ever respond to the big question.

Another said, “I wouldn’t be forced to make any decision at all. Why tip the balance?”

“Whatever else I did, I wouldn’t have told a soul”, said another.

“But you can keep my secret,” said Manny, “so what on earth should I do?”

Our little group talked about this into the early hours of the morning.

If it is something the law says you must not possess, you could get into a lot of trouble. They do not care how it happened to get into your closet. No, why should you risk your future on account of a couple of thoughtless jerks? Get rid of whatever it is NOW. If it is something, you know, that people buy and sell, don’t dig yourself in deeper by trying to sell it or even giving it away. You’ll just be setting yourself up to get shot, you know? And we’ll read about you in the Obits.

And then we asked each other, “What would we have done? Would you have even agreed to keep the package?” That was good for another hour.

Finally, we told him: So, we’re all agreed. It’s all in your hands. You’ve got to do something, Manny.

It was late. Manny and some of the others excused themselves and went home.

Just so you know, after this thing was done, Manny told us: he took that package down to the estuary late at night, and he came home without the package.

But tonight there were still three of us left in the smoke-filled living room.

Carlos, the one who had the least to say all evening, finally said that he had something he had to tell us.

“I found out how this all happened,” he told us. “But I had nothing to do with it. This is just what my girlfriend told me.”

Sometime after Tahoe, Maria knew she and Manny were not going to be an item very much longer.

Carlos’s girlfriend liked to get together with her own group of friends, just like we do. Most of the people in that group were not anybody we knew. They were not part of our group. But Maria was friends with some girls in that other group.

And Carlos’s girlfriend told Carlos this story:

When they asked Maria how she and Manny were doing together, they worked it out of her, piece by piece, how everything had gone downhill. Maria did not know how much longer she could stand this Manny. She confided she was going to leave him and start a new life, but she had another problem, and she asked that group for their advice:

Maria knew what was in this package. She was afraid of this package. And she asked the girls, what the hell she should do about it?

“So Maria lied”, we said.

“Yes,” Carlos said, “but my girlfriend did not tell me about this until last night, so, you can see, it was too late for me to tell Manny. What could I do?”

And, he told us, those girls also had talked about it all evening. What they said was very much like what we said:

If it is something the law says you must not possess, you could get into a lot of trouble. They do not care how it happened to get into your closet. No, why should you risk your future on account of a couple of thoughtless jerks? Get rid of whatever it is NOW. If it is something, you know, that people buy and sell, don’t dig yourself in deeper by trying to sell it or even giving it away. You’ll just be setting yourself up to get shot, you know? And we’ll read about you in the Obits.

So what did the girls’ group advise Maria to do about the package?

“Hell,” said Carlos.

“They told her, just leave the package with Manny, and skip town.”

short story by Alex Forbes ©May 29, 2009

All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

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