Translated by Marvin Najarro
He turns the iron on, and at the same time prepares a recipient with water to sprinkle it with his finger on his pants. Fulgencio follows in his maternal grandfather’s tradition of wearing shirts and dress pants, wool sweater and moccasins. He always keeps a well ironed and neatly folded cotton handkerchief in the back pocket of his pants. He uses the same – forty years old – leather belt.
Once he has his clothes ready he takes a shower with cold water from a barrel, but first, he washes the clothes he wore the day before, and then put them to dry. He scrubs his heels with the pumice stones he buys in the stall of doña Juanita, who with thirty years in the shopping stand, is the oldest vendor in the market. She started selling pashtes 1 and today she sells pumice stones, bags of red sand, copal, 2 candles, siete montes,and cigars.
When he can afford it, Fulgencio buys toothpaste, but usually he brushes his few remaining teeth with salt and charcoal. He wets his neck with Florida Water cologne the old-fashioned way.
He struggles economically to stock up on merchandise. He rents a small room of three by three meters near La Presidenta market in the Guatemalan capital. He always has breakfast at doña Julia’s food stall who travels every day at two o’clock in the morning from Ciudad Vieja, Sacatepéquez, to the capital. By the time the sun rises she has already started setting up her two pine tables and on top of them, the baskets with cooked sweet potatoes and vegetable pears, atol de tres cocimientos, rice pudding and atol blanco. On the grill she heats up the bean, chipilín and fresh corn tamales. She also sells rolls with ham and eggs, and orange juice with duck eggs. She used to sell parlama turtle eggs, but since she learned about the extinction of green turtles, she stopped buying them.
Fulcencio always order two chipilín tamales and an atol blanco which he will pay for when he comes to eat lunch; a roll with beans, and rice pudding. He doesn’t have a stall, but every day at seven in the morning he stands at the market entrance with the merchandise he carries in a wooden box that he opens like a suitcase and hangs it on his shoulders.
He sits on his little plastic stool and starts to offer his product: gums, lollipops, packs of cigarettes and loose ones, cheese curls and one or two cookies. When he gets tired or bored he leaves his stool in the keeping of someone and walks around the market, sometimes he ends up at General Cemetery gates, helping the flower vendors. That’s how he stretches his muscles and gets some fresh air, after a while he returns for his stool and goes back to his vendor spot. There are times when he is unable to sell because he falls asleep, but some people left the money in one corner of the wooden box.
He does not get to sell much during the day, which is why Fulgencio, who is seventy-five years old, illiterate, with no living relatives, at the end of his working day makes himself available to help the market vendors, cleaning an taking the garbage out. With what they give him, he is able to pay the rent and get his daily food.
In his rented room he has a small table top stove where he cooks his evening meal with the vegetables he has saved from the garbage. He regrets not having a refrigerator; otherwise he would keep in it even the chicken bones that the poultry shops throw away; and also some livers and gizzards to make his soups. But he has a new mattress that he bought on Bolivar Avenue, it is his greatest luxury; he had never had anything new in his life. Sometimes he thinks that dreaming with a refrigerator is to ask too much from life, and being ungrateful for what he has, if he even has a pillow left over.
1. Natural sponge that comes from the luffa plant, which in Guatemala and Central America is used for personal hygiene or for washing dishes.
2. Tree resin used as incense in Mayan spirituality in Central American countries and Mexico.
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Ilka Oliva-Corado @ilkaolivacorado