Here is a house on a hill overlooking the highway. Behind that, the sea. The old couple sits on the terrace, watching the trafﬁc snake by. In all these years, they have seen a lot. There have been accidents, a police chase, a shooting even. Once a horse wandered on the road.
“I want a piece of all that life,” says the old man. His name is Pedro and he has the heart of a child. He goes down to the garage and builds a big wooden sign that says “Horchata.” His wife rolls her eyes. Her name is Maite and she is very patient.
The next day, they wake up early. Maite grinds the almonds and mixes the sugar while Pedro puts up the sign. They wait.
People come—ﬁrst families, then the big trucks. Word goes around and lines start to form. They are longer every day.
It’s not just the horchata. Maite sings sometimes. She has the voice of a hummingbird, but you have to coax it out of her. She is too shy. Pedro talks to the men about sports and politics. He has a lot of opinions.
But it is mainly the horchata that does it. The sea air gives it ﬂavor. A drop of whisky makes it unique.
The day batch ﬁnishes in the early mornings. The customers don’t like that and honk their horns to tell the others back in the line. Pedro’s heart sinks. He goes back to the garage and builds another sign that says: “se acabo” - it is ﬁnished. They put the sign up every late morning to avoid people getting out of the highway for nothing.
The line of customers starts forming earlier every day. Some sleep the night in line. Pedro brings them coffee in the morning. He feels guilty it has come to that.
They need to increase production - he reasons. But Maite has just two hands and there is just one almond tree. So he puts more water in it. And then some more. He also lowers the price because he is an honest man. The lines get even longer. They still honk when the sign comes up.
Now Maite wants a vacation. She is tired of all the grinding. She doesn’t even like almonds and she is getting addicted to sugar and whisky. Her voice slurs when she sings.
Pedro has an idea. He gets a copyright on the name “Maite’s horchata” and goes and talks to all the bars in town. He lets them use the name and the recipe but takes a percentage of the sales. Maite is a brand.
Sales skyrocket. Some bars don’t follow the recipe, but Pedro is on their case and makes sure quality is preserved. The couple still lives in the house on the hill, but now it is bigger. It got a sign that says: “The original Maite.” They have people making the horchata now. They get the almonds from Marocco. Pedro doesn’t talk to customers anymore. Maite doesn’t sing. Her voice is not what it used to be.
And big money comes. They can go national, but they have to change the recipe. You see, almonds are too expensive and whiskey is a no-no. They use caramel and more sugar instead.
Maite is a celebrity now. She got her face on all these cans. She is always on TV. She tries to sing, but her voice comes out funny. It is all these parties she has to go to. The music is too loud and the smoke gets in her lungs.
Pedro enjoys the attention. He buys a fancy car and drives Maite around town to her appointments. He wears shoes made with crocodile skin and they are very pointy. He talks loud and drinks a lot. Sometimes he falls asleep in the car parked in the driveway to their new villa.
The house on the hill is a museum. They have photos of how things were when it all started. The lines of trucks outside; Maite grinding almonds; Pedro building the big sign.
One night they go to a movie premiere. In the car, they talk about their good luck. Sure there are problems: they are busy, always running around. They are tired. They drink too much. But look at what they have!
And they look. And they look.
And find nothing of importance.
If you come up the road to the house, you better come up quietly. Don’t make a fuss of it. When you are up on the terrace, don’t make a sound. You might catch Maite singing as she goes about her business. You might wake up Pedro. He will be happy to see you. He enjoys the occasional chat about sport and politics. He has lots of opinions.
In the garden, here is the almond tree. Down below snakes the highway. Behind that, the sea.