Tuesday, December 2, 2014

The Keeling

(Adapted from an old Mexican Folktale)

Marcelino had been a crafty one since he was a child; he knew how to make a quick peso by smooth-talking people into buying things they didn’t even need. Once, he sold a broken watch to his neighbor, Prudencio, convincing him that even if it didn’t work, “You can still impress your friends with how expensive it looks.”

One day, at the Mercado, he met a man selling huaraches, or sandals. “Young man”, said the merchant, “I usually sell these shoes for 3 pesos a pair, but if you buy 2 dozen pairs today, I will give you a 15% discount. Surely, you can resell them for 5 pesos each and make a hefty killing for yourself?”

Marcelino was dubious, all too familiar with these unscrupulous salesmen. He would think it over. Yet, the man’s proposition gnawed at him all day. He tried  making calculations by using his fingers: “Let’s see, if I buy 24 pair at three pesos each, that’s a total of seventy-two, and then if I deduct 15% off that, then….” But each time he ran out of fingers to count with! Whatever, he concluded, “that’s one chinga worth of pesos!

But who would he sell them to? In the city, people already had shoes. Suddenly, an idea hit him! Nearby, in the hills, were many villages full of barefoot Indians! If he could convince each of them to buying one pair of huaraches, he would make a killing!

He raced to the Mercado hoping to catch the shoe salesman before he closed up for the day, or worse, changed his mind on the deal. He was relieved to find the man still in his stall. “Amigo,” he stammered. “Is your offer for the shoes still open?” “Sure, marchantito, it’s still open and I will even throw in a free pair just for you!” Marcelo, as everybody called him, excitedly loaded the shoes into his mochila, or back pack, paid the man and headed home. He would go to bed early, get a good night’s rest, and head for the village of Puropedo, early the next day.

At dawn, Marcelino took a few tortillas, smeared them with beans and chile sauce and began the arduous trek to the village. He envisioned pesos floating all around him, and he stuffing them into his pockets, at will. When he arrived at Puropedo, he asked for the Cacique, or village chief. Marcelino explained to him that he was a shoe salesman from the city, and would he gather the inhabitants at the plaza, so he could tell them of his marvelous product. The chief graciously acquiesced, and instructed a young boy to ring the church bell.

When the citizens were gathered, Marcelino began his well-rehearsed pitch: “SeƱores,” he began, “today, I have brought a product each of you must own,” and proudly dangling a pair of sandals before them, said “These, my friends, are not only comfortable to wear and long lasting” (he ran his fingers through the deep tire treads on their soles), “but, most importantly, they will protect your feet from snakes, scorpions, and disease! Yes, “Mis Amigos, I said disease! Why did you know that most diseases enter the human body through the feet? A collective “Ooooo -” was heard in the crowd.

“Now, I need one volunteer, to demonstrate how they are worn.” An awkward silence followed. Finally, a young man came forward, and Marcelino deftly slipped the shoes on his feet. “Today, and today only, all of you can own a pair of these fine shoes, for a special price of five pesos! Think of it! FIVE measly pesos for protection from disease and sickness!!”

Slowly, all the villagers lined up to buy a pair. “I will make a keeling today!” But no sooner had the third man purchased a pair of shoes, when a man in the crowd spoke up: “Wait! WaitI”, he cried. “Listen to me!” As the crowd parted, Marcelo could plainly see the man had no legs below the knees. “Look at me! Look at my legs! I have no feet and I have NEVER been sick one day in my entire life! This man is a fraud! Do not listen to him! Don’t waste your pesos on these useless ‘shoes’ of his!”

Marcelino was dumbfounded. Those who already bought the shoes approached him, one with his hand on the handle of his machete! Their quaint looks of humility had now turned menacing. “But… but… Mis Amigos… surely we can’t believe the testimony of one man…?” The crowd edged toward him. In a flash, Marcelino reached into his pocket, and refunded the men their money. “Well, my friends,” he stammered as he hastily stuffed the shoes into his mochila and slowly backed away. “Perhaps you will be more disposed to buy my product at another time?” He turned and rapidly descended the hill, never once looking back.

“There will be no keeling today, except maybe my own,” he grumbled, as he lugged the 24 pairs of huaraches back to his home. “Let’s see, maybe I can sell them to....” 

(Copyrighted and published in Joaquin Magazine www.joaquinmag.com)

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