By Irina Echarry
At first I thought that they had trapped a pickpocket; then it seemed to me that perhaps the woman was shrieking at one of those people who take advantage of any uproar to touch us where they enjoy it most.
I found my place at the end of the line, and for lack of anything better to do while waiting for the bus to arrive, I searched out an advantageous spot to find out why the woman was screaming.
She was a small woman of about 50, carrying a large bag and holding 6 or 7 paper cones in her left hand.
She was shaking this same hand in the face of a man of about the same age who was sitting on one of the two benches of the bus stop, also holding a bag, (smaller). His hand was also full, but in this case of mint candies, a kind which, according to the woman, “they make with toothpaste, because where else are they going to get so much mint flavoring.”
The woman was screaming and brandishing her paper cones like swords. The man barely looked at her. He was serving one and another customer, and from time to time he counted the remaining sweets.
As soon as I found out the cause of her impassioned monologue I opted to side with her. The woman paid the State for a license to sell a product in the street, and this bus stop was the point that she had chosen. That is, up until the arrival of the sweets vendor, who – as anyone could guess – had bought no license.
But immediately afterwards I decided that it was better not to judge, not to be on anyone’s side, but merely to listen during the time it took for the bus to come.
– “Yesterday I spend all day getting an electrocardiogram and I couldn’t go out to sell. Today you come here, and everyone buys from you. You go home early to be with your little woman, and I have to stay until I sell this because I have to pay the State, and you don’t. Get out of here! Get out!”
– “But they’re not giving out any more licenses. I want to get one and they’re not issuing them…”
The man responded in a very low voice, like a child who is afraid that the screams will draw the teacher’s attention. In this case, it was the police he was worried about.
A police presence was what the woman most deeply desired. Luckily for the man, they are fairly scarce around the bus stops.
– “But you’re selling popcorn.” (He again responded in a very quiet voice after selling another candy to a student.)
– “But if you’re here everyone is going to want sweets and not popcorn!”
The woman’s reasoning took the form of a menacing and desperate pleading. With the last of her screams a customer approached her, one of those cheerful people who so frequently appear wherever there is an unfortunate soul who is publicly and aggressively displaying their anguish.
– “Okay, don’t fight any more and sell me a popcorn.”
The vendor, absurdly indignant, turned her back and walked off, “punishing” him by forcing him to eat sweets if he wanted to eat something.
I imagine that the woman was a vendor no more for the rest of that day. Surely she went off to take some pill, saving the popcorn for the next day when she felt better; when she wouldn’t have to face the “competition” of the sweets’ seller. Stale popcorn. Popcorn packaged in paper loses its freshness in just a few hours.
That was the least of it. The sweets cost 1 peso, the popcorn 2. But that wasn’t the problem either.
Why was she so determined to be the only person selling at the bus stop. You can’t have two choices in the same place? Have we gotten used to things being this way?
At any rate I’ve seen similar fights for other strategic selling locations. It always brings out one of the worst characteristics of some Cubans: “they can’t live or let live,” or worse, some would prefer to lose an eye in order to see someone else go blind. And I’m not only talking about autonomous street vendors.