“Senhora, it’s too warm to wear your coat and head scarf,” Lourenço says.
Oh, Mercy, he’s young. An old woman’s blood doesn’t flow like a man’s when he walks around stomping his boots and swaggering and moving his eyeballs all around, watching.
So I say, “Is it too warm to wear your policia coat and hat?”
I point to my chest. “This is my uniform.” I point to his gun and then raise the crucifix on my beads. “This is my weapon.”
“Your permit?” His palm up so the sun splinters his black leather glove.
“My permit is there under the few coins where it was yesterday, last week, last month and last year. It still says Senhora Saramago may occupy the stoop at 5 Rua Igreja Velha from 10.00 to 15.00 Monday to Saturday.”
Mercy, I tell you these tourists with their white legs flashing, strange voices and clicking cameras are my salvation and I’m theirs. These indentations in the cobblestones are from my feet. When I stand you will see the marbel is smooth where my backside rested all these years. Before the law changed I offered a medallion of Our Mother to those who dropped their coins. Then the government said I didn’t have to provide anything but my prayers. But some days I think that I should give them something concrete. It would relieve some of the responsibility that I feel.
I tell Lourenço, “This turista wants to take a photograph.”
He says, “Not of me she can’t.”
His life is small.
“She wants one of my face, sitting here doing my job.” I say.
“Fala ingles?” The turista asks and drops her coins.
“Não,” I say.
You see, Mercy, how her camera shakes. She doesn’t think I have a Mercedes with a chauffeur waiting on the corner to drive me to my mansion. She sees my rotten teeth in her view finder. She’s puffy like white dough before it is punched down. I will pray that you, Mercy, are with her when it is her time.
Published: “Mercy” Close to Quitting Time: Work Anthology, Ascent Publications, Spring 2011 and “Mercy.” the Society March 2009:6