The rubbish that Italian Coffee Company pedals resembles the agua which remains in my sink after washing a weeks worth of México City off my clothes.
With a heavy heart, a few hours to kill and a craving for a decent coffee, I set off to find a little place I’d visited once before with a very special person. I was on a mission, partly to satisfy my caffeine addiction, partly to relive that beautiful moment which had well and truly passed a year and a half before.
Upon my nostalgic arrival, un chavo, selling cd’s caught my eye and we exchanged a smile. I found a table and sat down. He wandered slowly over, his manitos clutching a stack of CD’s in plastic sleeves, analysing me with each step closer. He must have noticed the heart on my sleeve because he seemed to recognise that I had some time to give him. He inquired as to whether or not I might like to purchase un disco, I shook my head and smiled, “no gracias amigo”. He persisted, planting a knee on the chair opposite me in a gesture that whispered, “I’m not leaving just yet”. As he shuffled through his selection my attention was eventually snagged by a sexy, scantily dressed Latina on the front cover of pirate a reggaton CD. I asked him what his stance on that particular genre was. He was more of a hiphop slash romantic slash norteña kind of a kid. We joked about the male pop singer’s fashion and overly made up appearance and finally I decided to purchase a Café Ta Cuba disc…more like a CD of every Café Ta Cuba song every recorded, and probably even some that have never been released, there are 136 tracks on this disc! I handed him his asking price of 10 pesos and he quietly asked if I wanted to buy him a coffee, “me regalas un café?”
“I’d be happy to, sit down, what do you feel like?”
“A hot chocolate, sin espuma…”
“You don’t like froth?!” I guess this kid wasn’t brought up on babychinos. “I love froth, sometimes I ask for extra”
The waiter found his way over to our table, he took my order but didn’t acknowledge that my small friend might also have had thirst, so I pointed out that his craving was for a hot chocolate, hold the froth.
“On the same bill?” he inquired?
“Yep sure, that’s fine.”
“You want it to take away?” I asked my friend.
“Yeh…because I like those cups better.”
This kid surely knew what he wanted.
So we sat, waiting for our hot drinks and began to talk.
He doesn’t like froth because you get less drink. He lives in a small town an hour and a half out of Puebla. He’s ten and works everyday from 5am until he returns home at 10pm. He works alone and on a good day might make 100 pesos, minus the 5 each way on public transport. Everything he earns goes straight to his padre. He hates eating breakfast, it makes him feel sick and he pretty much exists on one meal a day, dinner, if he feels like it when he gets home. I tell him, “you’ve got to eat, si no, no crecerás!” He sigs and tells me, if he’s hungry, he’ll eat! He doesn’t go to school and is the middle child of five. He doesn’t get along with the kids in his pueblo, they play too rough. His dad’s a welder, he makes bridles for horses and his mum…she does everything else.
It wasn’t one of my regular interviews mind you, he had plenty of questions for me too and his ability to grasp the pronunciation of Australian phrases was astounding. “Gimmie anutha warda”, “Que cool”, “See ya layda may-TE”.
And so we sat for about an hour, chatting, exchanging, learning, jigging work, absorbing the caffeine and the sweet, hot milk.
My new digital camera lay on the table between us.
Once our cups were emptied and the traces of milk were beginning to harden and dry, creating a memory of time sequences down the interior, he asked how I was going to spend the rest of my day.
“I’ve got a couple of hours, I suppose I might wander around, take some photos while the sunlight is creating such beautiful colours…then maybe I’ll go check out un museo.”
He was curious about my photos so I begun to show him some glimpses of Australia, my dog, mi familia. He was glued to the small LCD screen like a kid that doesn’t have a telly becomes paralysed by whatever’s on when they’re over at a friends place.
“How much did that camera cost?”
I didn’t hesitate to answer, but I knocked a couple of hundred bucks of the price I actually paid and winced slightly as I waited for his reaction.
“cinco mil pesos..?!” His eyes widened, “about the same price you paid to get here?”
“Noooo…” I shook my head slowly “to arrive here, costs at least double…más!”
What kind of world must he imagine I come from? How is it possible that two humans, sharing coffee y palabras, can be dealt such wildly different cards? What was I expecting? A flood of resentment from him? But, with the blink of an eye, the beat of a heart, his face lit up, and he moved on,
“I’d like to take a photo!”
“Orale, vamos! I’ll pay and we can go take some.” I paid the four bucks and went to the toilet, when I returned he remained at the table, veiled in an expression of tentative hope.
“Come on, let’s go”
“Did you pay?”
The disbelief was substituted for relief as he skipped toward the door. We wandered up the street and he confirmed for the last time that I had actually paid for his hot chocolate as well as my coffee. Every now and then as we walked and talked I was forced to bend forward in order to hear what he had to say.
“Anytime you see something you find beautiful or interesting, that you’d like to take a photo of, me dices, va?!”
“Oh…so many things” he sighed. Eventually he decided one of the thousands of Poblano church spires was worth capturing…that or the time had come for him to go back to work. We stopped, I gave him a brief lesson and SNAP! We got it. He was pleased, nailed it first go.
“Well then…I guess I’ll go check out that museo..” I suggested “you?”
His expression kindly mocked me, “I’ll go back to work, pero mañana? What will you do? More photos?”
“I’ll probably go to the antique markets, wander around, and yeh, i’ll probably take some more photos.”
He told me he might see me in the morning, pulled out his mobile and suggested we exchange numbers. I was feeling self conscious, the conservative eyes of Puebla were upon me, “What the hell do you think you’re doing guera?!”
“Ok, well, suerte amigo, cuidate mucho, you take care of yourself, maybe we’ll see each other tomorrow.” I affectionately roughled his head with my hand, messing up his thick dark hair, “Adios”. I turned and walked away, instantly chastising myself for concluding our interaction with such a patronizing gesture. This was no regular 10 year old kid, I was not dealing with a child here. A hand shake or a high five at the very least would have been a far more appropriate way of saying goodbye, respect and good luck!
I shook my head, embarrassed by my ignorance…when was I going to wise up?!