In the days that followed, we learned more about Paco and only became more confused about our mysterious landlord. The agent who had found us the place told us how she had discovered that he had put up a “For Rent” sign even after we had secured the apartment with a deposit. Apparently, he thought he could rent it out more than once. And we assumed that he must know very little about how things work, having never rented his place before.
He told us that he wanted to stay on good terms with us and reassured us that he would be fine reimbursing us for the fees that we would incur in moving again (the post office charges about $40 to forward mail to a new address for one month, the internet/phone company was charging us about $110 for a change of address), but we started doubting whether he really would honor his word when we heard that he wanted us to pay rent up until the end of the month even though it was only around the 22nd. I knew that once we signed a new lease and moved out, he would have no obligation to pay, so we asked for another meeting at the agency where we requested that he give the agent the first month’s rent that we had already paid. We wanted the agent to hold on to it until we moved out at which point we would all inspect the house a final time and if all looked good then we would get reimbursed partial rent for the days that we had not lived there as well as any costs associated with moving. It was a fair request but when Paco tried to refuse, saying that the telephone/internet fee was not his responsibility, it became clear that he had no intention of reimbursing our expenses. In return, we fought back with our most powerful weapon that we still possessed: a threat to not move out of his treasured home. He had no choice but to hand over the money to the agent.
He had been using his meek facade to win over sympathy, but now that we were making him show his true face, I quickly realized that he wasn’t as nice as he appeared and knew that, from here on out, we must tread carefully.
Meanwhile, the hunt for our new home was on and the agent showed us three places for rent. But none even came close to Paco’s. None opened out on to the charming, winding streets of Altea’s old town like Paco’s did. None came close to embodying the charm and character of Altea as Paco’s had. But, of the three, one – a duplex – felt like it could work. We visited it during the day and we were impressed by its large windows, nice views, three balconies. It was in a complex that we had heard about – the nice area where a lot of foreigners lived. It had a pool and tennis court – amenities that certainly didn’t exist at Paco’s. It was the type of place that would be considered, by most, to be an upgrade. Sure, it didn’t exit out onto cute streets, but if you walked up a hill and around a bend, you could arrive at Paco’s neighborhood in less than two minutes flat.
We were in a rush to find a new home, we knew that every day we stayed at Paco’s would be one more day of rent that we would have to pay him and one more day that this tiring saga would drag on. So, a couple of days later. after we had gotten Paco to hand over the money, we signed the new lease and went to the apartment with the agent to take photos for the inventory checklist to include with the contract.
It was nighttime when we arrived the second time. There was no light flooding the living room, no views to distract, and we were too far away to be able to hear the church bells chiming. And, as I went from room to room, I felt a sterile coldness fill my body. It didn’t feel like home. It felt like a hotel. The comparison between the two apartments was too stark, the transition too abrupt. It changed the whole image that I had had of our future in Altea. Instead of a small village home, we would be living in a standard, cookie-cutter apartment. We returned to Paco’s, to my family awaiting the news of whether the lease had been signed, and I went to the room to start packing and my eyes welled with tears. And, as the tears fell, I berated myself for crying over such a silly thing when I knew that others were suffering much more than me. But I couldn’t help it. We would be moving the next day, and I was already mourning the loss of Paco’s home.
We spent the rest of the evening packing everything that we had just unpacked only a week before – removing the books from the shelves, the clothes from the closets, our Puerto Rico casa from the wall – and putting them back in to the boxes that we had collected from the supermarket. And we spent Thanksgiving morning moving. And as David, my brother-in-law and I carried the boxes up the two floors to the new place, my mom and sister stayed at Paco’s to clean. And when Paco’s home was emptied of our stuff, I went through his house room by room to compare it to the photo inventory checklist that we had received when we had signed the lease. I wanted to leave it just as we had found it, for I had gotten to know Paco well enough and knew that he would be looking for the same. And then we called the agent and had her and Paco come for a final inspection.
As soon as Paco entered his sparkling home – cleaner even than how he had left it – he ran straight to the linen to count the sheets. I found his reaction to be bizarre considering that the sheets were probably the cheapest thing in the house, but I followed to make sure that the count was correct. And when he started complaining that a pillowcase was missing, David quickly removed it from the closet in the other bedroom and added it to the pile. Satisfied at last, we moved on to the mattresses. He lifted each one off the bed frame, examining all three closely, while I gasped in disbelief. We had only been sleeping on these beds for a week. How could we possibly have damaged any of them? We moved on to the kitchen and watched him frown at the vitro ceramic stove that he seemed to find not clean enough to his liking and then moved on to the utilities area and watched while he tested out the washing machine to see if it still worked. Nevermind that all of the stickers were still on it, and that he, himself, knew that we had never even turned it on (he had actually made a comment the previous day about how he hadn’t heard us use it). And while he checked the washing machine, I desperately hoped that he wouldn’t count the towels sitting on top, for my father had accidentally taken the one he was using to our next home and I had forgotten to bring it back. He failed to count the pile, but he did notice that his yellow ashtray, which my mom had accidentally packed with our belongings, was missing, and we promised to return it.
After a walk through of all the rooms, when he couldn’t find anything broken or damaged, we finally sat down to figure out the finances and sign the final papers. And almost everything went smoothly except for one hiccup where Paco was dismayed because the agent had calculated the rent incorrectly for the days that we had stayed there, and, while she punched away at her calculator to recalculate the sum, we scoffed at the ridiculousness of it all and returned the grand total of $3 without a further care as to who it rightly belong to just so that we could just be done with this lingering drama.
And I breathed a sigh of relief as Paco signed the final papers, releasing us from any further obligation. But even so, he continued his inspection and noticed that the roll of blue trash bags that he had left under the sink when we had moved in was no longer there. I had suspected that he might be looking for his trash bags and quickly told David to tell Paco to look behind the trash can. There he found a roll of black trash bags which he lifted up but then frowned upon when he noticed how few there were left in the roll. But he had signed the papers, and we reminded him that he had. We were free from Paco and his obsessive compulsive disorder.
We returned to our new apartment and started preparing Thanksgiving dinner and, at midnight (though still only 6 pm in New York, 3 pm in California), finally sat down to eat. And we gave a huge thanks to my family for spending their vacation helping us move, thanks for being together, thanks for a new beginning and thanks that the Paco chapter had officially come to a close.
Life threw us a huge curve ball. We certainly weren’t expecting that our beginnings in a place as perfect as Altea would turn out to be so turbulent, and we certainly never could have imagined that our first encounter with an Altean would be so unpleasant. But life is unpredictable. And even though it was a frustrating and upsetting experience, I recall a time many years ago when my mom lost her wallet. I remember how I instantly worried about the credit cards that needed to be canceled, the driver’s license that needed to be replaced, the money that might have been stolen. And I cried out, “How could this happen?” But my mom, in her Zen-like fashion, turned to me and smiled. “Don’t worry, Sara,” she said. “It’s things like this that make life interesting.” And her wise words return to me now. For, as stressful as it was, the Paco saga certainly added color to our life and made this chapter – our arrival to Altea – absolutely unforgettable.