Sunday morning. He comes early, by four o’ clock, to sweep the brick-lined plaza. He’s been doing it for years — a fixture as much as the dark stone colonial church in the far corner, with the spires so tall they pierce the soggy morning sky for miles across the yellow valley. When he bobs his way into the center of town, he sidles up to the back of the gloom-stained church and plunges his arm behind the loose brick just above his eye level where he balances his favored yellow broom, just high enough so the dogs don’t get to it and gnaw it all to pieces.
He holds it close as he sweeps clean every brick in the central plaza. The stones have years, he can count them like the rings of an ancient tree trunk, and he can feel the bristles pushing back against the thickly formed adobe bricks on every sweep, he feels the years in every whisking wrist flick, his knobbly hands and brown stained fingernails curled stiffly around the yellow broom he always uses. Wrist flick, the broom jumps a moment across a bump in the brick — his hands ache from years of lining up his spoon next to his saucer every afternoon at tea — another flick, his tendonitis burning a little — and from years of snapping his hand too fast to tie the final knot in the laces of the shoes he bought ten Christmases ago from the market stall two spaces over from his own little pork stand.
Like a metronome, dipping his wrists back and forth, his ashy elbows knocking into his waist, he feels the rings etched into the earthy bricks and — the rings of his own thick torso.
The market builds in odors, trades in taste. The meat and fish, their heavy scents relegated to the far corner, closest to the northern mountains — far away so they won’t bump into the smell of cloistering, dripping mangoes. Across the way, the dirt earth smell of the potato hawker, her wares spread out on a bright pink and green shawl draped across the bumpy bricks, a private scent for only him when he stops there on his way out from the market — holds calloused after calloused potato — smells like the punch of cold air, winter left just behind.
And always, in the corner near the teal painted city hall where all the fruit stalls line up, the woman with the mango cart and always too many mangoes. In the mornings she unloads the back of the dark green truck, full of cardboard boxes with barely ripe mangoes, her papery fingers rubbing coarse against the boxes, and she whispers to them a moment or two as she removes each meaty green and orange fruit from the pile, places it with care onto the fruit stand. He’d bought them once — at many points really, entire boxes at one go, passing over the thick scent of green plantains — and not again since, not since a long while.
A little girl with a floppy blue sun hat sees the mango cart, spies the lone round fruit that’s rolled to the ground, out of the sight of the woman who owns the cart, and he watches her lean to pick it up, her floppy hat winking at him — the last time he tasted a mango, he had sucked all the meat off, licked it clean, waved the peel at his wife like a war medal in the middle of their chess game and she laughed and threw him a cloth napkin before calling, checkmate, her mouth corners all tucked up into her dimples as he looked down bewildered, not remembering she’d taken his queen while he sat suckling the mango, and he remembers how she said I love you, stupid pig, her voice turning from husky to a crackling prepubescent boy’s.
He slips out of the plaza by noon as it starts to fill up and smiles out at the buzzing crowd as they haggle over fresh trout from the lake, over a bargain price for a chocolate brown bowler hat. The sloshing, bumping colors, the mob of mingled scents — tinge of beer, smelled through sweat of hulking farming men, like the beer he keeps tucked into his pocket in the mornings that he sweeps, like the charred smell of tobacco stuffed into his other pocket.
He watches the fruit stalls, walking backwards away from them ’til he’s far enough that the hands poking through them make them look like flowers with soft brown petals sneaking out all around them. The market is abloom, but they do not know that he’s the one who prepared the plaza — that he makes the market happen every Sunday. His swaying yellow broom, his metronome, is the center of it all, begins it every week, clock clock clock clock — like the rhythm her foot used to make when she tapped it, stirring quinoa soup for lunch in the big beaten pot. This — his orchestra; he — the silent conductor.
On the edge of the market, he climbs up the ladder on the abandoned house next to the church and sits slowly on the tin roof and watches … making the sounds in his head that he wants to, sounds the way he remembers them sounding — the soft bubbling of little girls’ voices around the candy stand and their tiny hiccupping giggles when they first put the little hot pink sweets into their mouths and it starts to melt all over their tongues. And now he can hear even more: a POP when the sugar starts to break onto the pointy front part of their tongues, a little hiss as their back molars crunch onto the last gritty bits of candies.
The POP of her heart stopping, the sudden gasp of her veins, the glug glug glug of her blood swirling and then having, suddenly, nowhere to swirl to; her face frozen his whole body and voice all caught hers, too, hers blocked and choked and — Gasp gasp gasp.
Can’t hear. Can’t speak.
From the room, walking through the market, he sees a woman, maybe twenty, and a man, maybe 25 — walk stop kiss stare whisper laugh, he shudders, their gazes locked on the other’s face; her wide cheekbones and red tinged skin pulled into a constant smile, shy and her braids skipping around her face when she nods and laughs and shakes her head. His broad shoulders, upright and stiff, grant, with not a moment of a hunch.
The invented conversation — makes him laugh:
— Taste this. A slice of mango, he places it delicately in her mouth, shakes his hand out to get rid of the pulpy juices.
— Too sweet! A siiisshh as she swallows the fruit and laughs.
Clock clock clock clock their gait is regular, they clop across the clean bricks, her tough-soled leather boots knocking a beat against the ground, glug glug glug
— A game of chess, perhaps? And they sit on a quiet bench in the shade near the edge of the market, and he extracts a newly-bought wooden chess set from her bag, and they marvel at the little marble pieces, and as they set them up they laugh at the soft clink the pawns make as they put them all in place — and it’s all louder than it ever really was in reality, clink clink clink clock clock clock, but it seems right, and he yells out, a noise like a wounded animal, just wanting to hear that soft clinking clocking sound again, just wanting to move and hear some echo from the world that says yes, yes, I can hear you, you’re moving.
The couple look up, breaking their locked gazes for the first time, confused at the wailing coming from the top of the abandoned house by the church.
“Are you all right?” she cups her hands over her mouth like a megaphone.
He cannot read her lips. He closes his eyes, feels the couple still calling out to him, confused about who this strange yelling man is — he feels their voices like soft rain hitting his skin and the tin roof. Clock clock clock. He begins to conduct his next symphony.