Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: ZEST (10/01/15)
TITLE: Whine Not
By Virgil Youngblood
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Up-wind from the garbage dump, urchins, some raggedly clothed, others naked, most barefoot, clumped in a half-circle before a smiling boy named Luis. None could explain it, but most knew instinctively, the little general had improved their daily struggle.
“You, Tony,” Luis said, pointing a stubby finger at a tall, wiry youth twice his age. “Take Lupina’s beautiful arrangement to Facio’s in the village. He will let you sell it as art-from-trash in front of his store. Clean your face before you go and use good manners. Okay?”
“Do I pay Facio the customary rate?"
“Yes, of course. He is our only help in that place.”
Luis hitched up his cut-off jeans, tightening the rope around his gaunt waist. “You know your assignments, the places to look, the kind of recyclables that pay best. Keep your eyes open for our cook-pot tonight so we won’t have to spend our pesos. I especially want an orange, or orange peelings, flour and a little salt. That is most important.” Flashing a brilliant smile in spite of his stained teeth, he looked each one in the eye, waiting until one girl raised her head, before moving to the next person. “Comprender?”
“We will meet here after they shut the gate. Remember: no fighting, no stealing, tell the truth and help someone outside our family. That’s the best way to get along, don’t you agree?”
Conchita rose to her feet, pulling a scarf over her unkempt raven curls. “Luis, I’m twelve and you’re eight, maybe. Where do you find these ideas?”
Luis laughed, “Conchita, I see and hear things. Where you see the dump, I see the stars above the dump. I feel it in here,” Luis said, tapping his thumb against his chest. “You can too.”
“So you say,” Conchita mumbled over her shoulder, scurrying down the trail toward a loaded garbage truck descending the slope.
“You will do even better soon,” Luis shouted. “The missionary that brings us water promised someone to teach us to read and write.” A gasp of astonishment, then applause came from the group. “He said he would. Now, vámonos. We have much to do today.”
When evening fell Luis was hurrying to a shack on the outskirt of the village. As he walked, he reveled in the buoyant mood that had been in the group. Carmen and Fernando had caught a fish for the pot and with some vegetables he had made a savory stew. The scavengers had found more scrap iron and tin than customary, along with other unusual items for Lupina to work with. Fascio had sent two loaves of day-old bread and sold Tony an orange. Someone else had checked the dumpster behind the bakery and found a little flour in a bag, enough to make a small pan dulce that he baked in a discarded fuel can set on the coals. Life was good.
Luis approached the cardboard shack from the rear and knocked softly on the door frame. “Stella, my star,” he whispered. “Come out. Your chef is here.”
A waif with long tresses scooted out the door, dark eyes sparkling. “Luis, mother would not approve you being here.”
“We have a few moments I think. Doesn’t she send you outside when she brings some man back?”
“Yes, but, I …”
“Sssshhhh …. Taste this. I’m going to be a chef, you know.” Luis broke the pastry and held it out to Stella.
In the light streaming out a window Stella could see little flecks of gold in the sweet bread. “Oh, Luis,” Stella exclaimed. “I see bits of sunshine. What is it?”
“Ssshhh … Taste it. Tell me what you think.”
Taking a tiny bite, Stella chewed thoughtfully, her eyes widening in wonderment, before taking a huge bite. “Mmmm, mmmm good.” she purred.
“When you go to school, you can write about it if you like.”
“I’ve never been to school, Luis. Mother said, ‘Maybe next year.’”
“Then we will go together Stella. I know a man; I have a plan, I …”
Stella’s kiss on Luis’ forehead sealed the deal.
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