Rafael has ripe heaps of blackberries for sale, like the ones I saw packaged at Via Organica the day before, but neglected to purchase for fear that those I was unable to eat would stain the insides of my backpack while transporting them to my next class at Hacienda de las Flores.
I don’t know if Rafael is actually his name, but it suits him, this overweight, graying-haired Mexican man who regularly force-feeds me mangoes when I walk past his stand at the market around the corner from mi casa de jardin. He is a ladies man, or at least tries to be, the drip stains on his shirt a marker for every woman to whom he’s offered fruit, for whom he’s peeled each piece open with his dirt-encrusted finger nails.
I watched him one day interacting with Yolanda, the young woman who sells produce at the stand across from his. It wasn’t much different from my second day in Mexico, when I watched him flirt with my roommate Michelle.
“Por que no hable Espanol,” he asked Michelle, placing his brown arm up against hers.
“Oh, no soy Mexicana,” she attempted, realizing he had assumed her own pigment indicated a race with which he identified. “Soy Malaysian.”
He looked perplexed.
“Soy...Chino,” she lied.
“No! Esta mas bonita que Chino,” he said. “No tienes...” He pulled at the corners of his eyes.
She still bought his platanos, bananas.
Today, he looks tired, the week nearing its end, but exhaustion does not deter his teasing. He jokes with Yolanda as she rearranges her own selection of bananas to look more appealing. They are riper than Rafael’s and need to be sold within the next few hours to still be viable.
“Mis platanos son mas grandes, Yoli.”
“Si,” she agrees, “pero no quiero comer.”
She wipes her hands on the front of her black jean shorts and redoes her ponytail, sweeping her sweaty bangs out of her face. He shakes a finger at her and smiles.
When he sees me, he claps his hands.
“De donde su amiga,” he asks, disappointed.
I tell him Michelle is home in bed with a broken heart. He chuckles, pats me on the back, and points me toward today’s selection of mangoes. He has two different varieties. He hands them each to me and lets me take a bite.
One is softer, fleshier, firmer. He tells me they are better. I buy four of the sweeter, stringier, more familiar variety and five of Yoli’s miniature bananas.
On the way home, the hot air from the tortilleria blows the tumbleweed of blonde curls out of my face. I pull up the sleeves of my sweater and suck the last remaining bits of flesh from the pit of one of Rafael’s complimentary mangoes. Once home, my feet no longer assaulted by the cobblestones of the street, I set down my bag of fruit, floss the mango strings from my crooked bottom teeth, and wash the juice from my fingers. The pulp collects along the sides of the drain.
published 3 August 2011