Wait, Do I Know You? (and Other Things You Might Say to Dead Relatives)

I am awake at 4:30 on a Monday morning in León. Lion. Nicaragua's lion, heart of revolution, where my grandfather was born in 1903, nine months before Orville Wright flew an airplane at Kittyhawk.

I dress in the dark, find my camera, slip out into the heavy heat of night. The town is the color of ink, quiet and still save a bar on the corner with a stereo playing.

6:00 a.m. procession through the empty streets in honor of the Virgin Mary. (León, Nicaragua; Sep 2015)

I was my grandfather's first grandson. He died in 1982, a few months before I turned three. I have no memories of the little white haired man with bronze skin who proudly smiles from an old photo of us. I'm fat-cheeked and oblivious in his lap. My cheeks have thinned out over the past 35 years, but I'm still oblivious to Grandpa. Can't recall his voice, mannerisms. How he smelled. The color of his eyes.

As I shuffle past the bar, I hear the guitar solo from "Comfortably Numb" wafting from the cracked door. Pink Floyd. I know that song, that piercing string bend, rich and empty at the same time. Hopefully melancholy. Maybe Grandpa knew it too. But probably not. Seventy-five year old Nicaraguan guys probably didn't listen to Floyd in 1979. But maybe. I choose to hold onto the maybe, because that would mean that maybe the grandpa I didn't know is somehow in the space between the notes, that maybe he's not all gone.

I sit on a park bench beneath the big navy blue sky. The security guard slumps in his chair, fast asleep, hat askew. An old woman sweeps the walkway with a clump of straw she bundled with twine. 

I wonder where Grandpa lived. What he did every day. If he ever walked these streets before dawn. If our shadows look a little bit the same. If he would recognize me if time and space had a seizure and spit him out beside this bench on this ordinary Monday morning in the brightening dawn, if he might say, Wait, do I know you? I wonder if Grandpa knows I'm there, in the town he was born in. Wherever he is. Maybe it makes him smile, if that's something angels do.