The boy woke up to the bread man’s song, blaring distorted from the loudspeaker’s funnel haphazardly attached to the roof rack by cut up and twisted coat hangers. He was sweaty, caught in the rays of sun broken only by the window bars which cast patterned shadows on the wall behind his head. He’d slept in his clothes again, with his shoes and hat kicked off to the side of the saggy rattan couch.

The song repeated again…

el panadero con el pan
el panadero con el pan
el panadero con el pan
el panadero con el pan

tempranito va y lo saca
calientito en su canasta
pa salir con su clientela
por las calles principales

y también la ciudadela
y después a los portales
y el que no sale se queda
sin el pan para comer

diga si van pronto a salir
porque si no para seguir

repartiendo el pan
repartiendo el pan
repartiendo el pan
para comer

      He thought then about Tin Tan, how slick he was. The whole Pachuco thing, the zoot thing, speaking Calo argot and getting over on people – the trickster character: migrant, transbordered, flamboyant. He wanted to be like them, wanted to go to the other side and learn to party like they did.

The song had repeated again, but was halfway through when it again grabbed the boy’s attention…

traigo bolillos
y teleras en sazón
también gendarmes, besos,
conchas de a montan

y traigo hojaldras, novias,
cuernos. Que paso
muchachita va usted a salir si o no?

“voy que me estoy peinando.”
“ándele pues muchachita tómele.
traigo corbatas, volcanes, piedras,
viudas, rejas, un abraso no?”

“y los cuernos, que paso?”
“hay no se va a poder

      That last part always made him laugh. He sang it back to himself. The beauty of the line is that it’s working on several levels at once. He thought about being the bread man for the millionth time, how he’d have horns for all the girlies in the neighborhood, on all the blocks. Himself, he preferred conchas. Again he laughs, thinking, you’re doing it again.

He reached down for his shoes and got up, twisting around to loosen his back. His mother wasn’t home. He could tell she had already left for work by the open Nescafe jar on the counter next to the cup with a spoon sticking out above the rim.
The bathroom was still moist from his mom’s shower, but he wasn’t going to wash now. He looked at himself in the mirror, pressed his fingers into the swollen part of his face, bruised around the eye socket. His eye itself, red and bloody, the pupil unnaturally dilated. He pressed harder and winced at the pain, smiled.

Outside, the sun already beat heavy and the street was congested. The line of vehicles was bordered by food stands and pedestrians. He joined the flow until the corner where a tostiloco cart stood mobbed by commuters wolfing a quick bite amid the stream of passing people. He watched the vendor slit the bag lengthwise and ladle in ceviche. He looked down at all the colors inside the bag, orange carrot, pale fish, green chile, white onion all reeking of lime and reddened by the salsa. The inside of the bag was shiny silver and mirrored distorted color blurs that heightened the effect. He dug in with the spoon and continued on.

The boy slid along the street with the central market on his right. In his mind, he went through what he had to do. Talia would be home later and he could get some money from her. For now though, he didn’t have enough even for the bus down to the docks where he might be able to find some work at the fish market with his uncle El Metate. They called him that because of his face. He was a big man, but had an even bigger head. His head looked too big for his big body. It was rectangular, huge, and his face hung flat on the front. His features barely extruded from his face and he rarely smiled, hence El Metate.

He didn’t have anything in mind and this worried him. He kept walking past places he knew and streets where down friends lived, but he wouldn’t turn in. what worried him most was the weather. The clouds were coming in fast and he couldn’t come home until after his mom went to bed again after work or else she’d have it out with him. He was surprised she didn’t wake him this morning, screaming and kicking him out for the millionth time since she decided he was no good anymore. No, if it rained he was screwed out of luck.

He stopped in the park along the ocean front at the start of the boardwalk. The big mangoes were leafy but bare of fruit, and the shade they cast blanketed the whole block so that no other trees grew anywhere else. There used to be three of them, his uncle had told him when he first brought him there as a child, but the hurricane tore one out and deposited it way up blocks from there, smashed into a facade. You should have seen it, he said. Everything was just torn to shred from that storm. People died. Your grandma’s house almost caved in, and that’s when she came and lived with your mother. You still weren’t born yet, he recounted, but it was like nothing I’ve ever seen. Your grandmother remembers other storms like it, but who knows. She was around when there were dinosaurs!

He liked his uncle. His mother would say he was nothing like his father, and although he never knew him to tell the difference, he figured since his uncle came around all the time and he like being with him, it was just as well. In fact, it wasn’t until his uncle went to Los Angelis to work in the textile mill that his mother stopped being happy and everything went to shit. He followed part too, becoming angrier and more defiant everyday so that his mother was driven mad between him and what she called “the wicked world.” More and more, he thought, in her mind he was becoming part of that sphere as well.

He decided to walk to the docks. It was a long ways with two hills between him and there, but he had nothing to do and no money to spend doing it. A least, his uncle would get him some food or something. He always had some change for him, or would go with him to get some of the delicious drippings they sold near the ticket booth for the water taxi to the island. He liked those drippings, hot in the wax bag, salty and filling. He and his uncle would sit off to one side on the railroad ties that ran through the market, eating the drippings and talking about nothing in particular. He and his uncle were good at that, lazing away an hour or so talking about clouds, as he would say, crunching on the fried bits and cracking jokes that were only funny because they were there together. Not that his uncle was lazy. Far from it, you could tell by his hands that he’d done more work than four normal men. It was only that he enjoyed the boy, maybe even felt he was a father to him, although he was to humble too ever admit it.

Walking suited him just fine. He took off from the park and wove into the center, away from the beach and the hill that rose up in the south of the city. He would cut in and loop around to meet the road on the far side of the hill that then continued on along the port side of the peninsula until he’d get to the fish market. He could have just double backed and cut in through the center, but he preferred walking along the naval road because he could see all the ships and there were never many people on it.

As the boy made his way through the industrial park next to the tanker docks, he took to glancing in the houses he passed through their windows. He saw a family eating, a man watching TV in his skivvies, a woman reading, and in one a painter at work, stepping back from his canvas with the palate resting on the back of his hand. The painting was of a young woman seated at a low counter in front of a large window through which you could see a beautiful garden, bursting green in spring. The effect of looking through two windows, one real and one painted, transported the boy. For a moment he stood transfixed on the garden outside the woman’s window. He wished he could be in the garden, could walk away from the city through the painted window.

He snapped back to himself at a noise coming from up the street. He turned and saw a man walking on all fours, grunting with the effort and smoking a cigarette jammed between his teeth. He inhaled smoke with every breath and steamed out the ends when he took each step forward. He was dirty ragged, but his hair was short and he’d had a shave recently. The white, stubbly growth on his head was patchy and you could see some gleaming scars running around his skull like an insignia. He wasn’t moving fast, but you could tell he covered some distance in a day despite his position. The boy wondered if he had to walk that way, or if it was a matter of choice. It couldn’t be, he thought, no matter how crazy no one would choose to walk that way, it’s too hard.

When the man got within a space of the boy he craned his neck up awkwardly and looked at him. He didn’t say anything, but the sound of his heavy respiration was loud enough to fill the boy’s head. He didn’t like the way the man looked at him, and he moved back a step or two, made to go around him or let him pass. The man took a step closer to the boy, seeming to follow him in his retreat. The boy took another step backwards, this time moving into the street. The boy moved forward then, and began walking around the man. He had not taken more than two steps when the man moved sideways, blocking his path. A gurgling sound came from him then as he moved closer to the boy, and when the boy tried to move away again and get past him the man let out a bark like a dog. The boy smirked then, losing his fear, and kicked the man full on in the face with the toe of his heavy longshoreman boot. The man made a sound like a bag with a rubber neck loosing wind, a deflating sound terminated with a toned wheeze like a sendoff of a trumpet thought. He rolled off to the side with blood trickling from his mouth and a painful grin. The boy leaned over the man and looked into his eyes. He looked for signs of intelligence, fear, rage, anything that would identify the man, but he could see nothing. In the man’s eyes, he could not even see recognition.

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