The old man walks with a ramrod straight back, arms at his sides, soft, sure steps with his moccasin covered feet, making him look like a soldier tip toeing up on his enemy. He has dark eyes and coffee colored skin that's etched with lines and crinkles. He doesn't say much and what he does say is spoken in rapid fire Spanish, his native language that he chooses not to abandon, despite the fact that he's lived in the U.S. for thirty some odd years. Known as Lucho he cuts a solitary figure living out his days in the groom's apartment at the farm, isolated at the end of a long dirt road. He's like an hourglass that ticks each day off as a grain of sand, one day closer to the inevitable. I wave to him and smile, sometimes I even say "Hola" when I see him slip in or out of his apartment, though his stealth often makes his comings and goings hard to catch. Moving like a ghost, he'll return my smile and give a weak wave. There are times when I think he comes out to be noticed on purpose and I'm there simply to reaffirm that he's still alive, human, a heart beating on a revolving planet while it's a million miles away from homeland, Chile.
There have been a few conversations with Lucho over the months I've been at this farm, all related to horses, and I utilize my meager vocabulary of high school Spanish to communicate with him. I'm sure I sound like a stunted four year old, often I'm apologizing for my poor grammar. He doesn't seem to care. I listen to him speaking with his 92 year old boss, the owner of the farm and a character who must've been larger than life as a young man. The two of them together, argue and complain. It's a familiar dance between them.
Lucho has two dogs, one he picked out many years ago and one that picked him 4 years ago. I learn this from Ed, the owner.
"He didn't want the younger one when she showed up here as a puppy, but I told him that was tough," Ed recalled with a wry smile. "She was here and he had to feed her. So he did."
The younger one, a rust colored bitch, who looks like a small chow cross, has a deep loyalty to her chosen person. She follows his truck when he goes to the local gas station to buy cigarettes, sitting outside on the curb, averting her gaze from all who pass her by. She has only one person in her life. I've been allowed to pet her twice and sometimes she'll give me a half hearted wag of her coiled tail, but mostly it's a look of quiet disdain through squinting, mistrustful eyes when I arrive at the farm. The old dog is an aging comic of Akita heritage, with a mottled, dull orange coat that is bare in places. His mouth curls up in a macabre grin exposing yellowed fangs as he patrols the yard, pausing to make water on anything in his path. Barking in a hoarse, repetitive fashion he can often be found upside down, itching his back to and fro with his legs spastically kicking and bicycling caught up in a moment of pure pleasure. He likes to have his head petted, which I do very gingerly whenever he swings by for a check up. The main concern for him is keeping my dogs from eating is Ol' Roy brand dog kibble. It's a full time job that he takes very seriously when we arrive each day and he's not afraid to stand up to my young bucks, even if he is balding and wobbly. The dogs never really get into it, though the bitch has grabbed both of mine and given them a good shake to prove her territory is strictly off limits. Gutsy move for a fox sized dog to pull, but it worked.
The other day Jonathan and I were teaching a young horse how to load in a two horse trailer. The horse wasn't being terribly cooperative, instead he preferred to stand halfway in the trailer with his hind feet still on the ground. Without a word, Lucho appeared with a large bucket of sweet feed and handed it to Jonathan. The lure of the tempting grain was enough to convince the horse that whatever fear he had of walking into the trailer was trumped by his appetite and on he went. I thanked Lucho for his participation and he gave me a little smile before retreating back to his apartment. My suspicion is that he watches everything that goes on around the barn, which is both creepy and comforting. Before we came in the barn was empty. When we got there I was concerned that we were going to be an unwelcome presence with our boisterous group of show horses, but instead I get the feeling that Lucho enjoys the added activity and the chance to lend a hand at times. By early fall we should have our own barn completed so our horses can move to our place. Once again the cavernous polo barn will be silent and still, except for Lucho's quiet footsteps.