THE STREET VENDOR
The ringing of the church bells accompanies the slow-paced steps of Don Perfecto. The old man walks hunched over, carrying his wares in a box on his chest. For years he has been selling gum, peanuts and candy in the town plaza.
Don Perfecto usually arrives early, before the street sweepers, at this shady park ringed with laurel and ash trees. He likes to watch the turtledoves and grackles, splash around in the fountain, chat with the shoeshine man, help Don Julian hang up the newspapers at his stand, and fan the embers under Chencha's comal, for which she rewards him with a quesadilla... and a smile. But what the old man enjoys most is to look into the first light and see the tiny silhouette of his grandson in the distance, as he makes his way up the cobbled street. The dawn light paints his carefree gait on a canvas of orange, pink and purple. His grandson is learning how to become a street vendor. He already has his own box.
Today, Don Perfecto finds it hard to walk. His bones ache. His body feels heavy. “It’s old age,” he thinks, “that ruthless old witch who could finish me off in an unguarded moment. Or perhaps it’s the bad weather...” and to confirm his theory he lifts his gaze and searches the sky. The gloomy clouds writhe and twist, sharing his discomfort. Even so, Don Perfecto walks on, shuffling in his huaraches, determined to ignore his many ailments.
The air in the plaza feels different. The birds aren’t singing. They’re hiding in the trees, their muffled murmur rustling the leafy branches. Only the shrill screech of two crows poisons the laughter of the fountain. The street vendor walks towards it, drawn by its noisy fluttering. On the surface of the water the birds are pecking each other as they fight over an object – something that shoots rainbow sparkles at the sky, like confetti. In the middle of their tug of war, the birds drop the object and when it falls it splashes his clothes. It is then that Don Perfecto sees what the coveted prize is: a ring attached to a dead woman’s finger.
The street vendor takes awhile to see through the fog of his aging eyes. He looks hard and when the image clears, he has to lean against the edge of the cold stone. The weight of what he sees threatens to hurl him to the ground.
The body of a woman is floating face down, peaceful and swollen like a sack of corn, unperturbed by the attack of the black birds that mercilessly resume their pecking at the inert finger. Her halo of long hair drifts softly on the water, like the mane of a wild, unbridled mare. Her skirts are riding up, revealing the intimacy of young thighs, ample hips, fragile ankles. Stiff shapes with a mannequin shine. Suddenly, Don Perfecto recognizes her: it's the news girl. The reporter.
The narcos are in town.