“Are you sure you want just one?”

The kindly old woman wore a traditional frontier woman’s garb: bonnet, wire-rimmed glasses, a home-made dress of rough material, ankle boots and all. She stood on her tiptoes to reach the top of a clear glass jar filled with purple liquid.  As she plunged a wooden ladle down into its depths, displaced purple pickling juice rose in the jar.  Liquid threatened to spill over the sides just before the woman withdrew the ladle and produced a perfect purple-tinged pickled egg.

“One is hardly enough.”

On bringing the dripping orb into the light of day, the old woman grinned with more pride than that of the egg’s original hen-mother.

“All I have is this much,” the dirty-faced girl said as she laid down a wrinkled $1 bill on the counter. She wore faded jeans and scuffed tennis shoes with loosely tied laces that were unraveled at the ends.  Her thin hair was pulled back into a greasy pony tail.  After relinquishing the money, the girl stuffed her hands into her pockets and looked longingly at the jar.

Saliva filled the urchin’s mouth as the old woman patted the excess liquid from the egg.  After a second of hesitation, the woman scooped out another dripping purple-tinged egg and dropped it next to the first egg.

With a wink, she whispered, “It looks like you could use it.”

“Thank you,” the girl whispered back to the woman, taken back by her generosity.

Finished with the business of egg-buying, the girl carefully took the eggs in both hands and stepped out of the line. She looked back half-expecting the woman to demand the second egg be returned, but no such thing happened.  Instead, a man took her place and ordered lemonade and a pickle on a stick.

“No, make that an iced tea. Is it already sweetened?”

The man badgered the kindly old woman with questions about the sweetener and if he could have a drink of half lemonade and half tea. Patiently, ever so patiently, the woman listened and answered his questions, while trying to keep an eye on her last customer whom she had aptly named, the hungry urchin.

As the girl stepped out of line, it became clear that she was not alone. A little boy stepped out with her, following in her shadow.  The boy wore a grungy grey sweatshirt with his thumbs sticking through the holes at the wrist of the sleeve.  He was a head shorter than the girl but had an equally grimy face and messy hair.  The girl handed him the second egg.

“Here,” she said. “It’s just like Granny used to make.”

The pair walked off, down the dirt path, past the other booths and vendors. Each slowly ate their delicacy, one nibble at a time, savoring the acquired taste of pickled egg and wondering what they would eat next.

Dirty Toes

A roach crawled over my toes and I swallowed a scream.

Sure, I was breaking dress code by wearing sandals, but it was 90 degrees in the middle of the summer. I was in a shanty house without air conditioning, feeling sweaty remorse only at not breaking more of the dress code with shorts. Who would care out of the cataract clouded, hard of hearing, mostly demented people I met?

The air reeked of stale cat urine and hung heavy in place even with the window cracked open. Knicknacks lined the wall on a narrow shelf. There appeared to be a number of clowns and small dust covered dolls jumbled together in no particular order. If the knickknack shelf was representative of this lady’s paperwork situation, it was going to be a long afternoon and I was already hungry for lunch.

I wondered if my blood sugar level was dropping or if the heat was affecting my brain when a black cat crept into the room. It eyed me suspiciously before ducking behind the tv to use the area as an extension of her litter box. She emerged with a guilty look that explained the wretched smell of cat pee that was definitely intensifying.

When I looked up, a roach froze on the wall.  It could sense me watching it, wishing for it to die or disappear. Another fat roach scuttled towards my computer bag; the bag sat gaping open on the floor beckoning all creepy, crawly things to enter. I felt a fresh scream forming in my throat.

A woman in cut-off jean shorts and flip flops stood between me and the bag.  Her dirty toes were firmly planted, she wasn’t moving.  What do I do with it once I close it? I will just have to open it again to get out a pen or to add a small dust covered doll to my pile of purloined knickknacks.

A phone chimed from inside of her back pocket. She pulled it out and flipped it open with her thumb.

“Hey yea, I’m busy now,” she said into the mobile device but continued to speak with the caller.

She turned away from me and cupped her mouth to divert and muffle the sound of her voice from the rest of the room. This cupping technique may have worked better if she also lowered her voice to a whisper, a detail she neglected as she started to negotiate some type of illicit drug deal.

I turned to her allegedly stone deaf mother who sat next to me on the couch and gave her an encouraging smile. I tried to communicate my patience and acceptance of the environment. The bugs, the smells, the man who just walked in with a weedeater muttering to himself, none of it bothered me that much.

See how Zen I am with all of this?

The woman returned my smile with a mouthful of pink gums.  Oh she’s healthy, I thought remembering an article I read at the dentist’s office about gum health. Wait, I stopped myself in mid-thought. Was that something I read at the vet’s office?

Her eyes were sea-foam green with brown flecks that turned gold as she shouted, “I hate when people talk behind my back.”

“Me too, me too,” I said in surprised agreement.

Her daughter warned me that communication would be pointless, “She can’t hear a thing. She used to be sharp but now she can’t even remember her name.”

I wanted to prove her daughter wrong. With the evidence of her health gums and now starting a conversation, things were looking good for the old lady.

“What?” the toothless old woman asked and after a second forgot what she asked and settled back into the cushion of the crusty couch and commenced to stare straight ahead at her narrow shelf of clowns and dolls.

Nevermind that plan to redeem her competency.  She was happy here.  This life in a hot, dirty, infested house made sense to her.

I refocused my attentions and wiggled my toes, remember the little piggies that were accosted by a roach earlier?

I was suddenly overcome with gratitude for their freedom and for my freedom to leave this house. If I pass out first, the roaches will eat my face or that man with a weedeater might come back for me. I resolved to stay conscious until we could finish our business. In the meantime, I might as well enjoy the experience.

We continued sit in a demented and hypoglycemic bliss and I thought of a Kurt Vonnegut quote that goes something along the line, “If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.”