My phone never did pick up a signal in Mexico. I went to the local tianguis, or flea market, to get it unlocked and buy a local SIM card for it.
My grandma told me to take the Fraccionamiento/Centro bus route into town and to get off at the pharmacy with the Dr. Simi.
“Who’s Dr. Simi?”
“He’s really fat and he dances in a white coat on the corner.”
“Yes. Like this.” There was a commercial playing reggaeton on t.v. and she busted some moves. I covered my eyes embarrassed.
“He dances for money?”
“No. That’s his job.”
I walked to the stop and found Mindy there.
“Good morning. You know you could use a haircut.”
“Good morning. No, this is how long I wear it.”
“Is that how they wear it in el Norte?”
“Yup. I started the trend at my school.”
“Uh huh. Where you heading?”
I looked over my left shoulder, and then my right. “Oh! I guess I must have lost them.”
“That’s not the only thing you’re gonna lose,” she muttered.
The rickety bus pulled up in a cloud. I had changed a few dollars into pesos back home but had not realized I needed coins because the buses there didn’t have those auto payment slots for bills. The driver held out his hand and I handed him a twenty-peso bill, expecting fifteen back in change. He pointed at a sign over the windshield that said, “CAMBIO EXACTO.” Exact change.
Now, my skin’s brown as a coconut but I could feel it turning tomato-red.
Mindy handed him a five-peso coin.
“I’ll pay you back when I get change downtown.”
“Don’t sweat it. We’re all friends here, remember?”
I looked for the pull-strings to signal my stop but the passengers just yelled “STOP!” every time they needed to get off.
I asked Mindy, “Hey, what happens if a passenger’s mute?”
“You mean dumb?”
“I mean if he can’t talk. Does he have to write a message to the driver or hold up a sign? Or does he just ride to the next stop?”
“They’re always on the buses selling peanuts. The driver lets them get on for free. They just walk up to the exit when they need to get off. Some of them also sell gum.”
“Is it less or more than at the store?”
She furrowed her brow and rolled her eyes.
“I know a guy. Started from zero. Makes more money in a day than you do in months.”
“Yeah. Magic peanuts. In home-made baggies.” She laughed. “They don’t sell those at the store.”
“His name’s Rubilio Veinte. I can hook you up.”
“Uhm, yeah, no thanks.”
“I don’t touch that stuff myself. Just saying.”
As we neared downtown, more people crowded the bus, and some nice men yielded their seats to them. Eventually I had to give up mine.
As I balanced myself using the bars at my disposal, I asked Mindy, “Do you know where the Dr. Simi dances?”
“Yeah. That’s him over there.”
About half a block ahead was a dancing guy in a fat doctor costume. People just walked around him. I laughed out loud.
“Is that your stop?”
“…Can’t you call it for me?”
“No. Because then everyone will wonder why I didn’t get off.”
We drove by the jolly doctor, who waved at the bus passengers.
“So you’re just going to stay on the bus forever?” she asked.
“No. I’ll get off next time someone calls a stop.”
“Ugh. You are hopeless.” She got up, took my hand, pulled me toward the front and called “STOP!” She turned around and said, “I was getting off here anyways.” I let go of her hand as soon as she loosened her grasp and wiped it on my thigh.
“I’ll walk with you to the pharmacy,” she said outside. “I just remembered I gotta buy something.”
When we reached the pharmacy she danced a Banda number with Dr. Simi. Some spectators gathered around. Mindy seemed perfectly in sync rocking back and forth and under and over between the giant costume hands. The song ended. Everyone clapped and went on their way. She kissed me goodbye on the cheek and whispered, “I went to school with the girl in there.”
I squeezed through the tianguis labyrinth looking for a cell phone booth. Some booths were between arches inside gray concrete corridors, while others were an extension of the building, under a river of blue tarps. There was noise everywhere I looked. It could just as well have been the Mexican stock exchange. I wouldn’t have known the difference. For around twenty bucks I was able to unlock my phone and for around another ten, I bought a SIM card with free international text messaging.
I leaned against one of the columns and called Cindy. We hadn’t spoken in three days. The phone rang once and her sweet angelic voice rose above the commotion around me and sung, “Hello?”
“Hi Mindy! How are you?”