I walked outside and looked over potted plants that sat on the edge of the rooftop, down onto a woman who was wrapping little chocolates shaped like hearts with two tiny rose petals accenting one side of the heart’s curve. Her breasts lay flat; her cleavage like sand colored crow’s feet, the floor of the dessert I drove through once.
I called down to her, asked her what she was wrapping. Chocolates with rose inside. I imagined the delicate pink flavor mixed into the robust darkness. I imagined struggling to find the taste, rubbing my tongue across the roof of my mouth, and then all of a sudden finding the bouquet like a clown had pulled it out of his coat pocket.
I left my little apartment on the third floor of the Diego Rivera designed building on Avenida Revolucion. I walked carefully (using the sides of my feet) down the first set of tiny, narrow ladder-like stairs, and then down the grand staircase that creaked with my weight.
I walked out the front door after I waved to the cleaning lady who told me she had contemplated eating a slice of pastel de frambuesa I’d gotten at Pasteleria Esperanza. It had white puffs of whipped cream on top, like chubby spires. She’d eaten the avocados and my black beans, but she had a sense that the cake was off limits she said. I would have preferred having the beans; you can’t live off of pretty cake, I thought.
When I got downstairs the lady informed me that she couldn’t sell me the chocolates. Oh. She had an agreement with a fancy chocolate store a few blocks away. It was new, run by some Americans, and she said that I could follow her there.
We turned left and left again, past the street with all the rubble on it where I get my laundry done for 50 pesos.
We pass the hipster coffee shop where they serve Intelligentsia and sell cake that must taste good to people like me.
We pass the convenience store that sells toilet paper and little gums and lolly pops dusted with chile. We end up on a tiny street, and then she walks up to an over-sized door, pulls it open and there’s a tiny pink chocolate shop inside.
There are bright yellow truffles on sky blue cake plates. A little machine that has liquid chocolate inside. There’s chocolate shaped like animals, high-heeled shoes, and body parts. The chocolate lady hands the rose truffles to a woman in the back whose black hair is in a perfect bun that is positioned in just the right place to make her look both serious about her profession and familiarly warm.
She walks over to me, heels clacking on the gray stone floor. She tells me about each chocolate.
She uses words like enrobage and couverture and “caramelized white chocolate ganache.” I choose a few chocolates. I notice on the little paper where the prices are written that each piece of chocolate is 30 pesos, but that if you buy a box with four chocolates it’s 150 pesos. I have to stifle the part of my brain that feels this is a waste of money. I force myself to think “the chocolates are beautiful – just pay for the box.” She wraps them in the small box with a satin ribbon. Her finger nails and the ribbon are the exact same shade of pink. I tell her in English that I’d like a cup of chocolate too.
“Water or milk?” She says, her tongue barely skimming each consonant, like this chocolately world has turned her words into sweet soup.
“Which do you prefer?” I always ask this question, eager to be in on the secret.
“The milk softens the bitterness of the chocolate and thickens the drink. The water allows the chocolate to coat your mouth. I prefer to add only water.”
Ok, water then, I tell her.
“Can I add something to your chocolate? Curry powder or passion fruit are popular.”
The word for passion fruit is maracuya.
She puts passion fruit pulp into my chocolate and I go sit down at a white table with oil cloth doilies on it. The chair below me teeters on delicate legs. I feel like an oversized Alice in a shrinking room.
I’m trying so hard to focus on the chocolate I’m drinking. I want to think about all the things that make me feel guilty all the time. Doesn’t my brain ever get tired of this shit?
A man walks in. I look over at him, down at the doily, back up at him. His hair is greasy. His mustache is long, and straight. The coarse hair has no kink. I look down at his shoes – dirty and white with no socks. He’s looking at the chocolate, and the woman comes over to him.
“How much is the box?”
He pulls out the money from his pocket, rolled into wrinkly worms. He could have bought individual pieces, had her put them in a bag, then he wouldn’t have had to pay for the box. He clearly lived on the streets. What was he going to do with that pristine white box?
He waited, unhurried while she packed it. He didn’t look at anyone, no curiosity and no need for approval.
He headed out the door, and I left at the same time. I walked behind him as he stuffed one exquisite chocolate into his mouth after another, leaving a trail of waxy brown accordion paper cups behind him.
When he got to the end of the box he threw it on the street behind his shoulder, and then he walked into a door.
“Adelante,” he yelled from inside.
When I came in he was sitting with his legs crossed. The room was filled with the green of leaves. They grew in from the walls and up from the ground. I looked up to the ceiling and saw red and green pods dangling from the trunk. This was a Theobroma cacao tree.
“You can’t grow these here inside a house in this climate.” The farthest north these trees grew was Oaxaca, 450 kilometers south of where we were standing.
“But here it is, mijita. What else have those yanquis taught you?”