French Pears

Translated  by Katrina Hassan

I am in a hurry. I am only buying the utmost necessary items at the Mexican supermarket. I go to the cash register and am surprised to see long lines at every register. It is Thursday evening and the weekend starts for a lot of people. Although for the undocumented Mexican, any day is a taco and beer day. More beer than tacos, the poor man’s medicine.

I notice that the man in front of me in line has as his only purchase a bag of prickly pears. In Guatemala we call prickly pear or cactus’ fruit “tunas.” He has about 50 of them. This makes me want to say hi to him. There’s something about him, I don’t quite know what, that draws my attention. I observe him thoroughly.  He is wearing a pair of dressy boot cut trousers, a thick leather belt, a plaid shirt and a corduroy jacket that is lined by wool that looks as if it’s from the sheep’s first shearing. Everything is brown. His grey hair matches his white hat. Surprisingly, he has no moustache. 

He is tall, slim, and his papery skin clings to his bones. He has that air about him of a farmhand. He looks like those brave men that live out in the country. He is about 70 years old. I make up my mind and say “What luxury  produce you are buying there!” He looks me in the eye with his avocado green eyes and says kind of smiling, very confidently “They are French pears.” “French pears?” I answer laughing. “Yes, French pears. No, actually not pears, but ‘tunas,’ we call them that in Guatemala. We have them in Zacapa. You see, Zacapa is in the East of the country, there we have cactuses and ‘tunas.’” 

He turns around, with an elegant style that only aged countrymen have and extends his hand for me to shake. His hand is three times the size of mine. “Nice to meet you, I am from Durango, Mexico.” “Nice to meet you too, I am from Jutiapa, Guatemala but I grew up in the capital. “Just kidding, I am from Jalisco” he says and smiles.  A smile that is abundant and tranquil,  molded only by time, like honey. There is something about him that makes me want to hug him. Hug him the way granddaughters hug their grandfathers in inhospitable lands. “Yes, they are ‘tunas,’” he says. “Here, people quickly forget their Spanish and where they came from. We have to call them French pears so they feel nice and chic.” His words make me laugh again. Everyone in line is laughing too. “Yes, I know what you mean!” I say. “They can’t even speak English well and they forget their Spanish! The truth is they do it to pretend to be something they are not.”

“You see” he says, “Back home, we ate gourds with tortillas and salt.” “Gourds?” I ask enthusiastically. I ate them in Morelos. “No way! What were you doing in Morelos?” he asks “Well, you know, the journey….” I answer. “Then you really know about the life of a poor person” he replies. “Of course I do! We are still poor! You think that just because you eat French pears that it makes you swanky?” Now he is the one laughing. “Ah young lady, you are so relaxed. I like your style you know?” He says as he pays. “I like your style too” I answer while he raises his hand as a gesture of good-bye as I put my items on the counter.

He walks like those aged men that have spent their life working outdoors. In his dressy bootcut trousers, his thick leather belt, plaid shirt, corduroy sheep lined that looked like the first shearing of wool, cowboy boots with French pears in hand. He left me permeated with the scent the of Sierra de las Minas in Zacapa, Eastern Guatemala, where cactuses and ‘tunas’ grow like anis seed in Salama and white moss in Cobán.

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Ilka Oliva-Corado @ilkaolivacorado

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