With the exception of Armando, who seemed supremely confident, everyone who knew we were buying a house in Puerto Rico assured us that the closing would be a disaster. “The paperwork will be a mess,” “the owners won’t show up,” “they’ll discover there’s a lien on the property.”
Even the bank officer Michael had been chatting with almost daily seemed a little iffy about our prospects. I was just waiting for someone to predict an earthquake.
Understandably, we were feeling a tad uneasy when we pulled into the parking lot of the strip mall in Fajardo where our settlement bank was located. As usual, we were nearly two hours early. After strolling around for ten minutes and completely exhausting the window shopping potential of the downscale mall, Michael said, “Let’s get a snack,” eyeing the Metropol, a chain restaurant at the opposite end of the strip.
I couldn’t have felt less hungry but at least it would kill some time.
We had barely taken a seat in the spacious dining room when I glanced into the bar and saw a familiar face. Armando. Sipping a glass of wine at 11 a.m.
He quickly joined us, a guilty smile flitting across his handsome features. “To steady my nerves,” he said, gesturing to his glass.
I gulped. “Your nerves? What are you nervous about?”
He took a quick sip of his drink. “Didn’t I tell you? This is my first closing.”
Despite everyone’s dire predictions, the bank building did not implode during our settlement, swarms of locusts did not descend, and the paperwork was in perfect order. Everyone showed up on time, including Señor and Señora Tio, who had come over on the early ferry that morning.
Armando had recovered his self-confidence and even blustered vaguely over a small inconsistency in the wording of the deed. The attorney, impeccably professional, offered assurances in Spanish, and then again, for our benefit, in English.
When it came time to sign her house away, Señora sniffled a bit and fumbled with the pen. She and her husband had, after all, lived in the house for 30 years and were selling because of her poor health (she would live only six months more).
She was gracious as always, which made us feel even more like repo men driving her out into the street. But after she had traced her name on a bewildering assortment of documents she looked across at us and said, “Buena suerte,” with a kind, brave smile.
It felt like a blessing.
When all was said and done and everyone in the room had shaken everyone else’s hand at least twice, the assistant (Michael’s erstwhile telephone friend) disappeared for a few moments and came back with a tray loaded down with coffee and pastries. This was a charming flourish we’d never experienced at a stateside closing.
Fifteen minutes later we were done. Armando, looking relieved if slightly green around the gills, disappeared immediately.
As Michael and I walked through the bank lobby on our way to the car, we noticed Señor and Señora at the teller window, already cashing their check.
The house was ours!