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Saturday, July 30, 2011

Daily Bread

Written By: Katrina Heimark

Jesus stumbled out of bed, feeling his way through the blackness to the aggravating sound that scuttled across his floor. His cell phone, vibrating, had fallen to the floor just instants before it started to scream 3 AM 3 AM 3 AM. His wife didn’t even roll over. Madre Mia! He cursed as he reached his arm under the bed, trying to stifle what he now deemed the world’s most infuriating sound.

He was never ready to wake up this early, no matter how early he went to bed, or how many hours he had slept. It was as if the darkness would somehow devour him. Or maybe the darkness would never let him escape from the barren walls and dilapidated furniture that should be called a home.

Jesus staggered into the kitchen, and washed his face and arms in a bucket of water his wife had left for him on the floor. He found a bowl of rice on the counter and ate it slowly, hoping each mouthful would make him feel llenito. It didn’t. He was still hungry after finishing off the bowl, and went to wake up his wife.

“Fríeme un huevo.” He said, as cold as could be. She didn’t even roll over. Jesus reached his hand out into the darkness. “Fríeme un huevo,” he repeated, touching her arm. He heard a gasp from her mouth, but couldn’t see her face. “Madre mia! You scared me! I’m not getting up to fry you an egg! It’s three in the morning, for Christ’s sake. Do it yourself!”

Maldita sea, cursed Jesus. This damn woman can’t even spend five minutes on me. I’ve got to bend over to wash my own face from a bucket on the floor, and eat yesterday’s rice.

He left the room, grabbed a white and ironed (gracias a dios!) button-down shirt, and shoved a pile of coins from the kitchen counter into his jean’s pocket. He picked up his bike, sitting in front of the door, and made sure to make as much noise as possible on his way out into the street.

He had entered another world. The darkness here was different. It wasn’t fighting against him; it wasn’t an oppressive force to fear. Here the darkness was as dead as the city around him. Jesus imagined the darkness as a sort of bringer of fantasmas that populated the city with hidden sounds. This is my city, thought Jesus, a city of ghosts.

Maybe Jesus didn’t fear the darkness in the city of ghosts because it wasn’t really dark. He knew that soon enough light would creep behind the eternal blanket of clouds and scare back the darkness. He knew that if he biked far enough he would reach a city that really never was dark. A city that had pulsating lights, set in time to mark the breathing of the night-ghosts.

Jesus hopped on his bike, and with one arm over his shoulder, hanging on to his pristine white coat, he biked until he was away from fear. He passed through dirt paths that opened to dirt roads which later transformed into pebbled, badly tarred highways. His bike rattled and shook with a rhythm that was song-like. But Jesus never had a song in his heart, and he wouldn’t recognize the bike’s song, even if he had.

He arrived earlier than usual to the bakery, but the baker and his assistants were already half done with their morning labor. “Buenos dias, Jesus,” shouted Ernesto, the baker. “Do you have those three soles you owe me from yesterday?” He asked, not even trying to be polite.

“I told you I would,” grumbled Jesus.

“Well, let’s see ‘em.”

Jesus flung the three soles so hard onto the counter that one of the coins went flying under the tall refrigerator at the back of the bakery. He looked up with a snide grin on his face, imagining the baker trying to get the coin out from under there.

“I only see two,” retorted Ernesto, looking at the refrigerator. “I thought I said you owed me three.”

“I do. And you can get one of your scrawny empleados to pick that last one up for you.”

“I don’t know where he’d start to look to find a third sol that never even existed in the first place, Jesus. Now you can give me that last sol, or I won’t sell you any more bread today or ever.”

Jesus fiddled in his pocket, cussed some more, and gave Ernesto a glare that would send most men a step or two backwards. Ernesto knew better. “You’re a mean old bastard, Jesus. Even a dog wouldn’t so much as bite you, for fear he’d get poisoned. But I’m no dog. So hand over the cash, or you’ll be looking for a new job.”

Jesus slammed the coin on the counter. “Give me ten soles-worth this morning.” He said, pulling a bill out of his back pocket. While Ernesto handed the order to one of the empleados that were buzzing around the bakery like flies on honey, Jesus turned and filed out of the bakery. Off to the side and chained to a post was a large wooden enclosed cart. It had a glass top and a few window-like sides, as well as three or four different sized shelves. He pulled a rag out of his pocket, and started to wipe down the cart. He meticulously wiped crumbs out of the corners, and polished the glass until it was as clean as could be.

One of the boys working in the bakery was so young Jesus knew that the kid had to be Ernesto’s son. The kid handed him a large sack of bread, and Jesus worked to fit it into his cart as best he could. Next he attached his bike to a slot on the back side of the cart. He was almost ready to go.

When he went back inside the bakery, there were a few more men inside, purchasing bread for their own carts. Jesus shoved himself to the front of the line, and yelled at that same kid to get him a few alfajores and empanadas and even orejitas. He paid, begrudgingly, and pushed his way out of the bakery, without even so much as a gracias or con permiso.

Jesus biked to the apartments and houses on his morning route, dropping off the bread in little plastic sacks, and carefully tying them to door handles. He ran into few people this early in the morning, and that’s how he liked it. Now and then a couple would stop him and buy an oreja or empanada but the morning was still quiet.

By the time he made his way to the intersection of Sucre and Bolivar, he knew it was close to 7. The morning rush would start soon. He parked his cart off in a solitary location, close to a restaurant, and waited for his customers to show. A few buses started to pass, calling desperately to the small amount of people standing on the street corners. He closed his eyes for a moment.

The blast of a loud horn woke him up. The streets were now filled with the noise of cars, taxis and buses; exhaust churned out of the backs of buses as they sped away, and the sidewalks were bustling with people. Jesus moved his cart out a bit more into the open, and a few people caught the bait. He charged them more than usual. He had fallen asleep.

Jesus grumbled through the rest of the morning. He couldn’t sell much; his higher prices drove people just a few blocks down, towards his cheerful competition, another man from a different bakery. The man was fat and jolly, and shared jokes with his customers. Jesus barely shared even a nod of his head, and kept his customers waiting for change he was never willing to give them.

He decided upon a change of scenery. He peddled towards the University, hoping to get a few more sales before he would have to head home for the day. He set off, head low, mind on his own measly fortune, his frustrating day, his bad luck. He didn’t see the car until after it hit him.

Or rather, hit the cart. The black sedan came out of nowhere, and sped off faster than Jesus could stand on his own two feet. His cart had tipped over, glass was everywhere, and his wares were strewn across the sidewalk. He pried his bike from the wrecked cart, and carefully placed it against a metal gate. No one stopped to help. Hijos de puta! Can’t anyone help? I could have been killed!

The shock of it sent him to his knees. He began to sob right there in the middle of the sidewalk, with people parting around him as they walked by. His tears fell on top of a crushed alfajor, the powdered sugar dissolving with every drop that fell. His body shook with sobs, with frustration. He imagined that sugar to be his life, his ambitions, his family, all dissolving away before his eyes. It only made him sob even harder. The darkness closed in around him, despite the brightness of the sun behind the clouds. He could barely see.
Ya no doy más. He thought. I can’t. I can’t do any more. It’s over….and then with indignation….I’m going home!

Jesus paused. He opened his eyes. The darkness was gone. Yes, he would go home. He would go home, not to the inevitable darkness, but to his wife. He’d search through the darkness until he found his love for life again; he’d try to make things work. That’s right, he thought, I’ll find a way to make things work. He’d try to apologize as best he knew how.

He got on his bike, thankfully still intact after the accident, and left the destroyed cart in the middle of the road. He biked as quick as he dared; he weaved through traffic, peddled along bustling highways, flew over bridges, forced his way up hills, through the dirt and dust of the paths outside his house until he arrived. Home.

“Amor! I’m home! I’m back early today, sweetheart!” Jesus pushed open the door, the beginning of a smile just showing on his face. He strutted into the house, and left his bike outside, just like his wife always wanted. He looked for her in the kitchen, in the bedroom, and even in the back of the house.

But the house was empty. And dark.

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