Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The Day the Ciganos Came To Town - Part II

Disclaimer: the video I've attached today is only meant to be lighthearted.
No disrespect whatsoever to the Ciganos.

The Ciganos frequented my café several times a day, mostly for drinks, rarely for food, save for maybe a pao de queijo (cheese bread) or one of my infamous (at least in that little corner of the world) American chocolate cupcakes or brownies. The little girl who had come on that first night, I came to know as Darla. Dark curly hair, dark eyes, and smart. Not book smart, entirely street smart. She and I developed a relationship based on this: she would try every trick in the book to cheat me, and I would let her cheat me once in awhile. And because of that, her family came to respect me. While others in the town, who distrusted the Ciganos and talked behind their backs, were getting cheated on a daily basis, I was upfront, curious, and trusting. That must have been my saving grace. In Brasil, most people will run a tab at your shop and you are almost obligated to allow it --that is, until they burn you, and if they do, you don’t extend any more credit. I ran a tab for the Ciganos, and they paid me every time, except once, but I’ll save that for the ending.

The weather was cool when they first came to town, so I would find them in my shop several times a day wanting cappuccinos with chocolate. I even made homemade whipped cream to put on Darla’s. Then when the weather warmed into summer, it was sucos naturais (natural fruit drinks). I made special smoothies for Darla. Darla was my most favorite and colorful customer. She was rude to me, not in a knowing way, just in the way she was raised. There was never a please or thank you, in the beginning. But with time, I found that Darla was just as curious about me as I was about her, and with that revelation, she did begin to soften. And when I least expected it one day, she just started saying “thank you very much” in perfect English, as if she had been practicing it all her life.

When we put self-serve ice cream in the shop, Darla was our first customer. I scooped it for her at first, but she picked up on it quickly and got to the point where she’d know how to turn on the scale, scoop her own ice cream and then know just the right moment when the scale would say R$2,00. She’d pay, or sometimes not, and be on her way. Always seeming to laugh at my trusting nature. She had been taught just the opposite.

Then there was the oldest member of the family, around 70 or 80 years old, mysterious and mean. She’d come in the café rarely, but when she did, she would order something to eat, say it didn’t taste right, eat it and not pay. I never cared. It wasn’t much for me. She would hit my customers up for a palm reading and they would buy her a bottle of water or a soda or an espresso. But like I said, she was rarely there and after a couple of visits, I knew what to expect. The rest of the Ciganos were mostly young boys and girls, aging from 12 to 25, and they all treated me with respect, except for one, Darla’s cousin. He was always begging for something free, and I couldn’t turn my back on him. He was trouble. But even he and I saw eye to eye and he knew not to push me very far.

The Ciganos stayed in our little town for perhaps two months or three, infiltrating every nook and cranny. And then one day, they were gone. Word spread quickly that the Ciganos were moving to a larger city and just like that, they were packed and ready to go. I didn’t know this fact until after Darla came into my café to pay her tab of $R11 reais. She handed me a twenty her brother had given her to pay, and asked for a sucos naturais which cost $R2,00 and a cupcake, which cost R$1,50, and I gave her change for the twenty minus her tab and those items. She threw one of her fake tantrums, and, as usual, I acquiesced and ended up giving her back a ten, thinking I’d catch her next time and thinking smugly to myself that I had at least gotten half the money she owed me. Her broad smile said it all. Gotcha! That one last time, she had finally won our little cat and mouse game. They were gone for good.

And so am I, until tomorrow…

Till then, ciao!

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