OPINION
i

An exemplary end

The crash was sudden. Many restaurants closed, others opted to purchase inferior but cheaper fish, and so on with shops, supermarkets and wholesalers across the continent

When he saw the closed sign on the wholesaler's stall, it shook him. He had not forgotten what happened there a few months earlier.

"How are things, Pedro? OK?"

"Well, we're still here, which is better than nothing, right?"

That night he had left his house in Pasajes on the Basque coast at sundown, and had driven a small truck all night, loaded with boxes of salt fish. He knew the highway well because years earlier, when the business belonged to his father, he had driven a refrigerator truck much like this one. Later, in the boom years, his father retired, he moved into the office, and employed as many as six drivers for as many trucks, distributing salt fish throughout Spain and much of Europe. The quality was supreme, the customers happy, the economy kept growing. The mirage that nothing would ever change, except for the better, lasted decades.

But the crash was sudden. Many restaurants closed, others opted to purchase inferior but cheaper fish, and so on with shops, supermarkets and wholesalers across the continent. He sold off trucks, fired drivers, and one dismal day went back to his old job at the steering wheel, to deliver orders in person. Others were worse off; he wasn't complaining. But after the grandeur of the past, his present job felt like a sentence of penal servitude.

The wholesaler, Pedro, was not alone in the office. With him there, early one summer morning, was a man of about 30, face heavy with worry, clothes clean but frayed, wedding ring on his finger, flip-flop sandals on his feet.

"All right." Pedro put down the papers, proffered his hand in leave-taking. "Well, I'll call you. Thanks for the application."

The young man took his leave, and went out into the street with a shrug.

"Well, how about that." Pedro relaxed, leaned on the desk, gestured vaguely to the door. "You see that guy? An excellent man, really. Studied mathematics at university. Married, with two small girls. Why was he here? Well, to ask me for a job. The fact is, I like him, see? I like him a lot. He seems serious, a hard worker, responsible. And I do need someone, but I can't hire him. It's a shame..."

The trucker frowned, gave it some thought, looked Pedro in the eye.

"And why not?"

"Well, er..." The wholesaler shook his head. "I've been adding it up, and just imagine the shit he is in. His wife is unemployed, his elder daughter is diabetic at the age of four - I didn't know you could have diabetes at that age - and they're all living in her parents' house, so..."

"So, what?" asked the Basque trucker.

"So, I can't hire him. Because with the mess he is in, he is going to start stealing sooner or later, isn't he? Am I right? If I was in his situation, I'd have my hand in the till the first month. I can't take the risk."

The salt cod trucker did not know Pedro very well. He didn't know the man who had just left from Adam. Yet he spoke about him for weeks, taking up the advocacy of his case: arguing, reasoning and, in the end, begging his customer to hire the man - because we can't do things that way, don't you understand?

Pedro didn't want to understand. And, six months later, when the trucker came by and found the stall closed, he realized how much he had been wanting that bastard Pedro to get his comeuppance, and be unemployed too. And so it had now befallen. But he didn't feel much like celebrating the fact.

Most of this story is a real one, told me by a Basque trucker as we waited at the bar of a restaurant. The end, however, is a bit of wishful thinking, of my own invention.

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