The Screaming Candidate

by Clara Nava

This short story comes from Clara Nava’s collection: Cuentos Chirundos, on sale at Publicaciones Fabián, Librería UMAR, Kabbalah, Casa 12, and Alebrije Lector.

Clara Nava, Photo: Ernesto Torres
Clara Nava, Photo: Ernesto Torres

All the candidates for Municipal President showed up at the latest meeting of the market vendors. They praised the market for its recent certification as one of the cleanest in the state. Their promises focused on how to draw in tourists and get them to buy more. They assured us that they were our good friends because they do their shopping here, and they pledged to provide training for us and other people who deal with the public in Puerto Escondido so that we could sell in English.

It’s obvious that the candidates do not know us. They are right in only one point, business is bad; as to the rest: well, we can’t read or do math. We know how to count and take away in our heads but not on paper. Sometimes we are befuddled because the customers all want to be attended to at once and so do the suppliers. When there is something to sign we make a print with our right thumb, and if there is nothing to print with we make a shaky cross with a pen. Sell in English? Güerito, do you want chicharrón?

Foreigners travel to get close to another culture, in other words, to observe. They no not eat in the market; out of fear of getting some infection they prefer to eat in their hotels, or they would rather not try something exotic. If foreigners knew that we spoke English they would want us to explain things to them as if they were from another planet. As it is, they ask everything and understand nothing; their lives are as far from ours as Jupiter is from Earth. This is a total waste of time for us. In this we agree with the gringos: time is money. If they were standing at our stalls asking what is obvious to us, they would be taking the place of a real customer.

Mexican tourists, on the other hand, know what they want and buy without worrying about the price. They want Oaxacan cheese — they say the Oaxacans twist everything: mezcal, chocolate, bread, mole and cheese. Foreigners would want to know about things we love but that they would never eat - like fat-assed ants (hormigas culonas) or flying ants (chicatanas), fried google-eyed fish (ojotones fritos), chili zest (palos de chile) or grasshoppers (chapulines), not to mention maguey worms (gusanos de maguey).

Who advises the candidates? Why do they think we have the time or desire to learn another language? Why should we be bilingual when the foreigners are the ones who roam about our land? And besides that, many of the foreigners don’t speak English either. They come from far away to live or spend a season here, and they are all the same in the sense that they like the scenery but they don’t like the local people.

The candidates are all strange; sometimes we don’t understand what they are trying to say, what they are offering us, what they are talking about. Sometimes we think they do not even know what they mean, or we are very dumb, or we fall asleep during a part of a speech. Nonetheless, we decide to applaud if applause is called for. They smile at us; we smile back at them. They hug us; we hug them. They dance; we dance, and so it goes. Form is the foundation for any relationship and we do our part.

We listen to a woman candidate, a screamer excited by the microphone and the attention of almost 500 people. She is backed up by her men, her team, who have never been seen to smile, but here, behind her back, they show their teeth and hold a smile, thus proving to the assembly that they have normal, ordinary teeth just like everyone else. They even show their gums, their smiles extending from ear to ear. We suspected that the smiles were forced, but we were grateful out of morbid fascination to see their teeth and gums and to know that they knew what it was like to sell and how far they were from succeeding.

We are far from electing a woman president, even a municipal president. The majority of the voters are women, and among ourselves we are rivals, enemies, witches and crazies. We don’t read each other’s palms; dogs don’t eat dogs, we say. We would not allow ourselves to be seen reflected in a candidate who is like us. In other words, to seduce us a woman president would have to have masculine traits; she must look impartial, focused, patient, reflective… Even if it was only an image, a pose, that would show us that she knew how to manage her emotions. But in this screamer we saw the fits we throw everyday to win some favor or to dramatize a complaint. We saw a part of what we were and it did not make us proud. Meanwhile, the market women murmured, “We are not so stupid as to vote for a bitch just like us!” In the end, we were so nice that we accepted her t-shirts, caps and flowers. Of course, at the hour of counting the votes they say she came in last. I don’t doubt it.

VP16 Contents