It was the morning I was woken up by a very frantic call on the phone from casa pueblo numero onse Callejon Brosas.
“Ana! P-please, come to the house! Quick!” Senora Almeda’s voice trembled on the other end of the phone. In haste, I dropped the handset from my hand. I reached down and placed the it back.
Within minutes, I hit the road in confusion.
The moment I got off my car, it was evident from the look on their faces, an unforeseen disturbance rocked the Almeda household. Tension and anxiety gripped the salon room when everybody arrived that day. Alegria’s cousins hugged and comforted each other – sadness written in their faces. Outside the veranda, the other members of her family who were deep in worry paced back and forth.
Abuela Charito, shoulders hunched and legs trembled, was assisted by Tia Manuela as she sat on a rocking chair. A rush of fear washed over her, but her calm exterior proved, being too emotional would not help. Old age - with its long years of life’s ups and downs as a constant companion - indeed, had its advantage during a crisis.
Yet grief also had its day.
Alegria’s mother Rosalinda who became inconsolable as the day went on, sat by the sofa, and cried on her husband's shoulder. Senor Almeda’s quiet nature despite being downhearted provided the much-needed solace to his wife.
He announced in a soft tone, “ Alegria had disappeared.” She even missed the special dinner we held for her."
“Oh God! No!” I exclaimed. “Was she not supposed to be with Leo?”
"He is also looking for her.” He replied.
Desperate and anxious, I called the Marbella Acropolis Hotel. The front office staff mentioned Leo checked out of the hotel a few days ago. Alegria’s brothers went around town and searched for them.
To everybody’s surprise, Leo Marco appeared on the third day. Everybody rushed to the door as they heard the sound of Leo’s car parked outside. Her parents were in a state of confusion when they saw him walked in the house – alone.
“What happened after the engagement party? Where is she?” I asked while the relatives gathered around.
“I have no idea, Ana.” “ She went out for a walk that morning, as the note said. I supposed she had spent the night with her family after dinner. She failed to come back to the hotel.”
Leo reached for his bag on top of the sofa and pulled a piece of paper from the side pocket. He let me read the note.
Tormented by the thought of Alegria’s sudden disappearance, I made a quick decision.
“We needed help,” I demanded.
The routine procedures at the Frias police headquarters lasted more than an hour. After a short inquiry at the information desk, Leo and I filed a blotter about a missing person case.
Back at home with Alegria’s family, as the days went on, anxiety and sadness gripped every one of us. It seemed like it had been years. Abuela Charito spent her days praying and resting early. Her highblood pressure became erratic lately. Inside the master's bedroom, Mama Rosalinda just wanted to be left alone. Some of her cousins went home to rest. Everynight, I went home to change my clothes and checked on Daniela’s situation. Then, I came back to keep the Almeda family company.
A week after, the call we had been waiting from the police investigators, came.
Leo and I both rushed to the police station. The police officers had conducted an initial investigation and interviewed several witnesses on the early morning she disappeared from the hotel.
At the headquarters, my eyes were on Leo’s. His facial expression was rigid, his body muscles were tight. Sweats formed at his forehead. Outside the records room, a police technician ambled along the corridors and handed a medium-sized box to the officer-in-charge of the case, police detective Ron Joaquin. On top of his office table, Leo’s eyes gazed at the sandy and wet looking tote bag. Detective Joaquin removed a set of house keys, several coins, a library card and two identification cards. He double-checked the contents again and arranged it properly on the table for us to see. I peered at the identification cards. The writings had faded and the person in the photograph was unrecognizable. Lastly, detective Joaquin pulled out a murky, dark-greyish cardigan sweater, a damp-looking book was wrapped inside it.
Petrified the moment I saw the cardigan sweater, my eyes turned away. Leo glanced at me. He bent over the table to get a closer look. He shook his head in disbelief. There was a clear understanding in his mind when he saw the front cover of the book. He let out a deep sigh.
“It’s Alegria’s. I gave this to her.” Confirmed Leo.
I lost my balance as my legs felt weak. I grabbed the chair near me and sat down. I covered my face with both hands and shed tears in front of the officers,
“Oh no, A-Aleg-ri-aah!” “This can’t be happening!” I screamed.
“Based on our initial investigation, we found several footprints by the riverbanks of Ebro. They were all the same shoe size, the same tractions. Through her photograph, a local couple mentioned they had recognized somebody like her at the river that afternoon. However, we received a call that her personal belongings were found by the edge of another river. Probably, these were washed ashore at the La Najora side and found by a fisherman who lived there.” Detective Joaquin stated.
I rose to my feet and turned to the officer in charge. “La Najora?” “It can’t be - that’s too far from Frias!” I questioned.
“Yes, approximately about 8 kilometers away from Ebro river.” He confirmed. “