(New to the Clementino saga? Start at the beginning.)
With my supply of Bubu Lubus at dangerously low levels, and my attempts to find another local dealer of my favorite Mexican candy having failed, I swallowed my pride and found myself outside Clementino’s store. Weeks had passed since our last encounter – since the day he had gotten into a shouting match with my husband. Carlos granted me permission to go to the store on the condition that I “act like una mujer casada and not like a school girl.” … Fair enough.
The bells on the door tinkling behind me, I went inside the small dimly lit store. As I got in line behind a little woman wiring money, Clementino looked up and smiled. There on the counter top sat the familiar blue box full of Bubu Lubus – his previous threat to no longer sell them had only been a bluff meant to make me feel badly for not accepting his piropo.
The woman in front of me shuffled out of the store and I approached the counter.
“Buenas tardes,” I said.
“Buenas tardes…¿Qué quieres?” he asked in a friendly way, lifting his chin toward me.
“Cinco dólares en Bubu Lubus,” I said, looking at the box.
“Cinco dólares…en… Bubu Lubus,” he repeated, taking the box down and counting them out on the counter.
I thought about saying something, about asking why he had been so rude to my husband that day – but what acceptable excuse could there be? I asked no questions and he offered no apologies. The unspoken thing sat between us like an unseemly fence between good neighbors.
After a moment passed, Clementino cleared his throat. Breaking the silence, he finally said what was on both our minds.
“Estás enojada conmigo.”
“No, no estoy enojada,” I replied, immediately chastising myself for being too nice.
“Sí, estás enojada,” Clementino insisted, “porque ya no vienes a visitarme como antes.”
“Bueno, estoy un poco enojada,” I said. He lifted his eyes from the counter top and looked at me.
Before he could say anything and before I could lose my courage, I forced myself to say what I knew I should.
“Portaste muy mal con mi esposo,” I said, tsking him.
“No,” he said shaking his head.
“Sí,” Now it is I who insists. “Sí, portaste mal.”
Clementino switches to English as he slides my debit card through the machine.
“Your husband said I sold the phone cards to him, but I didn’t,” he said meekly. “You came that day – not your husband. I never saw your husband that day. Maybe he bought the cards from my wife, but he said I sold them to him, and I didn’t.”
“Yes, you did. Yo estaba en el carro cuándo él venia a comprarlas. Bien recuerdo que fue tú.”
Clementino shakes his head, puts the receipt and pen on the counter. I sign while he puts the Bubu Lubus into a small, black plastic bag.
He holds the bag hostage as he tells me, “He came with your mother-in-law. Your mother-in-law always has problems with the phone cards – nobody else. If she was a more regular customer, I would care, but she only comes for the phone cards and to cause problems. N’hombre. I don’t care about her.”
I’m not sure what he expects me to say. Not liking my Suegra didn’t give him the right to yell at my husband that day. I look at Clementino. He doesn’t apologize. Qué terco. He shrugs as he hands me the bag.
“Okay then,” I say, sighing. “Hasta luego.”
He lifts his chin in my direction and mumbles “hasta luego.”
Standing on the sidewalk in front of the store, blinking against the bright afternoon sunlight, I feel a little like a deflated balloon. Clementino ya no me quiere… this is a good thing… but I was so hoping we could go back to being friends.