The businessman looked around the vacation villa in Puerto Vallarta. Plain, but clean and well furnished. A good place to grab a few days away from his failing business and troubled marriage. He had brought a large supply of sleeping pills and had requested several bottles of Tequila to be brought to his room. Perhaps he could at least drown a few of his worries.
He watched as the housekeeper stocked the villa's kitchen - frozen dinners, some dry cereal, and thankfully, four large bottles of liquor - they had paid careful attention to his unusual requests. The frozen dinners would be easy - he could focus on his lonely drinking, and lose himself.
Jim noticed the housekeeper's slow movements, the stoop in her shoulders, the stubby yellowed teeth. It was somehow comforting to see that other people could be even worse off than he was. Even with his company troubles and impending divorce, Jim was sure he could always find the money to keep his teeth whitened and in good repair - even find the money for the hair transplant he had promised himself. He shivered a little, just thinking about those teeth.
The woman shuffled over to him. "Senor, you not look happy. TV dinner not good. I am Maria, I cook. I bring you real food."
"OK, OK." Jim didn't want to talk with anyone, and certainly not with this woman. Besides, a taco might be better than microwave food - if it showed up on his table.
The bustling in the kitchen brought Jim out of the depths of his hangover. It hadn't been a really big night - less than a whole bottle of booze, and none of the sleeping pills - he might want to take those all at once. Still, he felt really lousy, and resented the intrusion. The bedside clock showed 12:30 as Maria opened the curtains and sunlight poured in.
The enticing smells of spicy meat and corn filled the villa. Maria stood over him, offering a plate of tamales. "Senor, eat. You feel better."
Jim reached for one, took a hesitant bite, and relaxed a little. Before he knew it, the heaping plate was almost empty.
Maria moved the nearly empty plate to the kitchen counter. "You were hungry. Get a nice hot bath. I come back," and she moved toward the door.
"How much do I owe you," Jim called out, remembering her apparent poverty.
"Nothing. My gift. You were hungry," and she was gone.
The next afternoon, Chiles Rellenos appeared. Jim had drunk less the second night, and was even more appreciative of the good food. Again, Maria would not accept payment.
"I have money. You must need money, please take it," Jim almost pleaded.
Maria replied, "I am rich. Please come to my home tonight. I will show you. I come back at seven."
At exactly 7 PM, there was a knock on the door. Jim followed Maria into the warm twilight. They walked silently through the tourist area, then turned sharply down an alley. They emerged into a neighborhood of partially finished stucco dwellings. Iron reinforcing rods spiked the tops of the unfinished verticals. Plastic sheeting substituted for glass in the unfinished windows. Maria led Jim to one of the unfinished stairways and began to climb.
Opening a door on the fourth floor, Maria smiled at Jim and beckoned him to enter. The walls and floor were bare except for small rugs and weavings that combined bright reds, oranges, and yellows. A small sofa and a few chairs lined the walls, one of which honored an oversized Madonna-with-child picture featuring a dark-skinned Mary. The small room was dominated by a long plank table covered with food and surrounded by a dozen happy-looking eaters of all shapes and ages - newborns to nineties. The delicious smells welcomed Jim.
Near tears, Jim turned to Maria to thank her, but words didn't form.
Leading Jim to the table, Maria introduced him to her family, saying, "I am rich. I have my family. Where there is love, nothing is missing. My family is now your family."