And the young men with their suitcases, lined up on the curb in Jacarandas on Mondays, waiting for the bus to take them to the other side, take a risk, to pick tomatoes or bus tables, because it’s better than remaining here, unemployed, scraping an existence out of exhausted soil.
I’m afraid I’m blocking out what’s fast-becoming the daily scenery – the beauty of it – the woman in the headscarf, on the corner of Madero and Juarez, cleaning, trimming and bagging nopal cactus for sale at her prestine corner tienda. Or Sarape, the elote man in his three-wheeled cart. He paints his corns like a Matisse canvas - impressionistic brushstrokes of mayonnaise and chile sauce, sprinkled with cheese and proudly finished off with a squirt of lime. Or Abuelita's komal brimming with enchiladas Rioverdenses - a smear of bean, a dollop of pollo, a sprinkle of queso and a spoonful of chili love.
And the harsh reality of it – the old woman who panhandles on the stoop of the SEMARNAT office where I work. I pass by each day and hear her moans, her hand outstretched, her laminated letter I’ve never bothered to read. And on the steps of the pharmacy, there’s the old man with his pant leg lifted, exposing his mangled limb, and holding his ball cap of measly coins in his free hand. I brush by them, on my way.
I’m starving – rushing off to Dianna’s taco stand for a midday migada de lomo – I can almost taste the salty pork and the sweet raw onion and slices of creamy avocado piled between fresh-pressed corn tortillas. But the old lady stops me, motions her fingers by her mouth – hungry too.
I stop, nod, okay, what would you like, gorditas? What kind?
Frijol …y…she pauses, tests me…chicharon…ita. Just a little bit of chicharon. Then she really presses her luck, holding up fingers, two, three, four.
Four?! I laugh. How much is enough? One, frijol con chicharon, por favor. Dianna serves it up wrapped carefully in a napkin. And the old lady, for once up and on her feet to receive her treat, smiles. Her brown lined face blossoms like a flower. And for a moment I remember why I’m here.
Not that a gordita is going to save the world. Nor will it make the Peace Corps brochure. But…