“E poi?” Seems like that’s all I ever say: ‘and then’, ‘and then’ ‘and then.”
“Un kilo di sanguine.”
Reach and grab.
Throw the produce on the scale.
Add it up.
Take the money.
I can do this in my sleep. I do do it in my sleep. So boring. But I can’t help looking, checking eyes all the time. Take that lady, third in line. Always comes to my side of the stand when we set up on Tuesday and Saturday. Always the sly smile when I drop the change in her right hand, the one without all the rings. Got so many on her left hand—hope she takes them off in bed. She’d give her husband a concussion if she rolled over and whacked him. Would serve him right, so unsure of himself that he has to load enough gold on her hand to give her carpal tunnel or something. Still…she smiles at me. Maybe the rings are meant to remind her. “E poi, signora?”
Nice legs, the little I can see when she struts away. But, just another customer…I hope.
You get to recognize some of them from each day’s market. Monday, Piazza Garibaldi. The old lady with the football shaped pooch. Looks like he’s going to roll over when he lifts his leg on one of our stands. After all these years, he’s probably baptized every single table leg. Then she only buys rucola. One bunch.
And Wednesday, at the Indepedenza, there’s the zucchini guy—2 kilo a pop. What can he do with all that zucchini, even in a whole week? I swear he looks a little green around the ears. Is he eyeing me or is it my imagination?
I smile. I wink. Pretend to know them. They’re all just hands, money and an open bag… like baby birds screeching for me to drop food into their gaping mouths. Or are they?
Look at my boss, Renzo, moving all the time. Hands and eyes. Shouting in his booming voice. Is that what I’ll be like after thirty years of humping artichokes and onions and pears from square to square around the city? Can’t sit still. Don’t know how to relax. I’m getting that way after just a year and it’s not from hawking zucchini.
They asked where I wanted to go after I fingered the shooter. South Dakota? Alberta? I grew up hearing Napolitan’. I could speak a little Italian. Why not hide in plain sight? In a busy Italian city? In for a nickel, in for a dime…I said how about being a street vendor who moves around town? Really keep it loose.
So, they hooked me up with Renzo. I throw around a little slang. Got just enough Italian to sound like I never finished grade school and I fit right in. But I can’t stop looking. Not like Renzo, looking for customers, for someone snatching a pear. Me, I’m checking out the eyes that hold a fraction longer than necessary, the someone I notice more than once, cutting me a glance. Gotta watch…all the time. Make sure I don’t see the same face, especially on different days at different market sites.
Here comes that strange American-looking guy who puts his grandson in the grocery cart and then hand-carries the food. I shouldn’t have to worry about him tagging me. Not someone wearing a NY Yankee baseball hat and lugging a kid around. Where does he think he is? In New York? Some people just don’t get the picture. But, I like the way he takes his time. Very calm. Compares prices. When he comes here, he always gets our best buys. He’s mellow. Probably old enough to be retired. That’s what I want—just enough money to be comfortable, maybe grow my own vegetables and never have to see another fruit stand…watch eyes, faces.
Wait a minute. What is he doing here? This is Piazza Minitti. He’s supposed to be at Porta Genova on Thursdays. He’s staring at me. Pissed. Oh, man, here it comes.
What’s he sputtering in broken Italian? Tangerines? The tangerines had seeds. Says I told him they were seedless. His kid almost choked on a seed. Yeah. Lighten up man. I’ll make it up to you. Stop making a scene. Everyone in the piazza is staring. Not good. Not good, buddy. You’re drawing attention to me. Not what I need. I gotta distract him. Calm him down. Here. Here’s a perfectly ripe mango I was saving for myself. This is for the kid, okay? I think the guy understands my Italian.
He looks down. No kid. We both stop. Do a quick scan. I call to Renzo, “Torno, subito,” and then I hustle into the crowd killing two birds with one stone—getting away from the jerk and finding the kid.
After a minute, I spot the brat reaching for a strawberry. Spinning slowly, I scan for the navy-blue Yankee cap. I whistle. He turns. I point down.
We both start talking at the same time. “Hey, goddam, man, sorry about the tangerines. I messed up yesterday…” Down on his knees, gramps is hugging the toddler, going, “Gott in himmel, Heinrich du nicht…” Then we both stop in mid sentence, stare at each other. I’m thinking, you’re not American. He must realize that I’m not really Italian. I watch first surprise, then fear, and finally something like pleading play across his face. He must be in the game some kind of way too—spook, undercover, on the lam? What is he asking me? Don’t blow my cover?
He rises slowly, does a palm-down slicing motion. I nod, barely. He picks up the kid and walks away. We won’t be seeing each other again. One less set of eyes to register.
A minute later I’m behind the barricade of asparagus and oranges and palms of bananas.
“Mezzo kilo di pere”
Grab. Weigh. “E poi?”