The man standing opposite us in the hot, sun-drenched courtyard of the hardware store was telling us that the ceramic tiles we wanted for our downstairs renovation weren’t available.
At least not until “tomorrow.”
And everyone knew what “tomorrow” meant.
It meant never.
“How about today?” Michael suggested feebly.
Our friend removed his hat and scratched his head.
“Tito!” he yelled to his colleague. Tito, shorter and balder, wandered over and was rewarded with what seemed to me an incredibly complicated explanation, punctuated by a couple of dark, sidelong glances in our direction.
“Si,” said Tito after an extended pause. “We have.”
This sounded suspiciously familiar.
“Great, we’d like to buy them,” I interjected. “Now.”
He hitched up his pants, casting a quizzical glance in Michael’s direction.
Oh god. Frantically, I ran the figures in my head.
“700 square feet.”
Tito pondered this figure for an extraordinarily long time. “Bueno,” he said at last. “We have this number.”
Michael and I were practically panting at this point. “Great. Where are they?”
Tito’s expression turned from exhilaration to despair on a dime. “Not here,” he responded with apparent sympathy.
I could have wept. “Where are they?”
This question visibly rocked his world. It turned out Frankie was his boss, not to mention the owner of the store.
“Could you call him?”
“His mother, she die. The day before today.”
In addition to being sad news, this didn’t portend well for getting our hands on the tile anytime soon.
The stench of defeat was in the air, at least for now. We slunk back inside to have a final look around and pay for our other items.
“Ask them if we can take the tile with us,” I whispered.
“Are you nuts?” Michael said, stuffing it into one of our bags.
We called Steve from the car and told him the story.
“Oh, Frankie. Sure, I know him. Cool dude.”
He sounded remarkably calm about the whole situation.
“Can you call him?” I squeaked.
Long pause. “Now?”
“Yes, please. And be sure to buy more than we need, because if you don’t and it’s discontinued, we’re screwed.”
“Okay,” Steve said, sounding slightly alarmed.
“Thanks. And be sure to order more than we need. Lots more.”
“Man, you really like those tiles.”
I could hear the contented, zoned-out smile in his voice.