J. B. Hogan

Down from the Country Club

“Don’t you have any hamburgers?” the woman demanded in English.

“Señora?” the vendor asked, staring at the woman’s extravagant wedding ring and then at the sun tan oil glistening on her soft, white belly.

She was staying at El Caribe where all the wealthy Americans stayed. The vendor had seen her sunbathing just outside the Caribe’s chain link fence.

“Hamburgers,” she repeated. “Hamburgers. Don’t you understand English?”

“Oh, sí,” the vendor smiled. He pulled a couple of tinfoil-wrapped hot dogs out of his cart and held them up. Hot dogs, hamburgers, it was all the gringos ate. The old man figured they were pretty much the same.

“For God’s sake,” the woman snapped, “those are hot dogs, not hamburgers. Why don’t you people bother to learn a little English?”

“No es OK?” the vendor shrugged his shoulders.

“Why me?” the woman muttered, digging in her change purse, “of all the vendors.”

A local boy in his late teens came up to the cart and stood beside the woman. She looked at him and frowned.

“Dame dos cocas,” he said.

“I was here first,” the woman said, extracting some bills from her purse. The boy leaned back, surprised.

“Oy,” he laughed. The vendor gave him a stern look.

“Give me the hot dogs,” the woman said, holding up two fingers. “Two. Dos.” The boy winked at the vendor.

“Sí, señora,” the vendor said. “Dos.”

He handed the hot dogs to her. She pushed the money at him. He counted it and tried to give her one bill back.

“Demasiado,” he said; then in broken English, “too much señora. You pay too much. Uno.” The young boy giggled.

“No,” the woman barked, as much to the boy as to the vendor. “Keep it. It’s yours. Yours.”

“Gracia, señora,” the vendor said politely, “mucha gracia.”

“Dos cocas,” the boy said again, stepping up close to the woman.

“Well . . . .” she huffed, stepping away. The boy laughed. The vendor handed him his cokes.

“No la moleste,” the older man said sharply, “don’t bother her.”

“Calma, viejo,” the boy said, “relax.”

The woman stalked away, back across the beach towards El Caribe. The boy paid for the sodas.

“Bruja,” he said in the direction of the woman, “bruja gorda.”

The vendor ignored the boy’s rude language. He closed the lid of his cart and ran a grizzled hand through his gray, receding hair. He watched the white gringa lady walk back to El Caribe, back behind its chain link fence. He scratched the stubbly growth on his chin and squinted into the sun. You couldn’t tell what he was thinking.


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