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El Paletero


The slight breeze is unforgiving and warm, rustling through the droopy leaves of palm trees and plants. Birds, bugs, and people hide from the cloudless sky. Spring in the desert has set in which means the busy season has started. The distinct sound of the bells attached to his cart are heard before he is seen. Each step he takes creates a jingle as he walks down the cracked street pavement. The heat of the day does not stop him. It bares down his back, into the joints of his knees, and down the soles of his shoes. The paletero man wears a light blue long sleeved button up shirt, Dickie’s trousers (secured tightly with a brown belt), and a pair of well worn New Balance shoes. His profits of the day are secure and safe in the fanny pack against his stomach.White hair peeks out from the baseball cap he wears. Deep wrinkles frame his eyes and mouth.

Children clamor towards him and wave their dollar bills around his face. He stops for his loyal clientele, elementary aged and bright eyed kids. Slowly, their parents and older siblings follow, seduced by the prospect of a cold treat. Sweat glistens off his face and his shirt as he opens his ice box cart. His callous riddled hands point out some of the popular flavors: Tamarindo, Fresa, Coco, Limon, Pepino Con Chile, Nuez.

He is patient as the children pick a popsicle, a paleta, to buy. The cool air from inside the ice box escapes, mingling with the dry, arid air from the outside. The bars of popsicles are covered in a thin layer of frost, stacked on top of each other like colorful bricks. A boy points at one of the sun bleached stickers covering the small cart. It’s a Sponge Bob Squarepants popsicle. The paltero nods before digging into his ice chest, expertly, pushing aside and stacking the other popsicles. American ice bars are more expensive by a whole dollar. The boy doesn’t care, and gives the man three one dollar bills. He rips the plastic off of his treat. His eyes are on the cotton candy flavored, blue gum ball eyes. Spongebob begins to melt down the boy’s hand, the yellow food dye deforming any features on the popsicle. The boy licks his arm where the ice cream drips. His mouth and teeth are stained in every color when he smiles.

The paltero man hardly speaks, but his voice is gentle with disuse. The day is at its peak, but he is already tired. He shifts his balance from one leg to another and wipes his forehead. The water bottle that hangs by his side is already more than half empty. The kids slowly disappear, and he readies himself to start walking again. His daily trail is not yet finished. His shift ends when the sun sets and the sky turns into a purple pink haze. And so he continues his journey, roaming up and down residential streets of a developing suburbia, through parks and schools on a loop.


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