Silencing the Mango Man

Devolver bien por mal.

Juan worked as a bartender long into the evening, six nights a week. He went to work in the late afternoon and returned to his home after closing the bar in the early hours of the morning. During his normal shift he dealt with demanding boozers, the constant smells of the bar and keeping count on the money in the register. When it was all over he refurbished the liquor, stocked the coolers, mopped the floor, arranged the furniture and secured the door before leaving the place to the light of day.

He always slammed a parting shot on the way out the door, fired up a smoke and coughed his way through the winding streets back home to his peaceful bed. Exhausted, he fell usually asleep in moments. That was before the Mango Man.

For months the morning offered quiet solitude. The world of the bar seemed millions of miles away. He could pull the heavy curtains, don his sleeping mask, turn on the ceiling fan, and pull the covers back. Sometimes when the town crew was repairing the streets or on a festival day he would use earplugs, but he hated them. After the ceaseless bar noise and the repetitious music the earplugs did little more than cause an echo affect with a sprinkling of acute irritation in his right ear.

“Mango! Mango! Mango!”

“Most mornings I’m so tired I could sleep through hurricanes, jackhammers and the abrasive car alarms,” he said. “It’s all a matter of developing a workable pattern. Besides, I have no choice. My work hours are my work hours. The bar wouldn’t make any money if we opened from eight to five. “

Juan could survive on six hour of sleep but combined with the drinks, the stress and the tobacco he was clearly on the verge of a collapse. His only redoubt was his room on the second floor where his smoky, rum-soaked world had no sovereignty. For a few hours each day Juan could escape to this tiny realm. Safe from the sins of the night it was the only immediate remedy but it’s walls were slowly crumbling, chipped away by another puff, another swig.

“Who wants to live forever anyway?” coughed Juan.

Then one day the Mango Man expanded his territory to include Juan’s neighborhood. Before that there were fruit venues to be sure but they called irregularly at best and with much less fanfare. The Mango Man was not so subtle. He was a blaring presence every morning at six with his familiar “Mango! Mango! Mango” careening off the sidewalks and the concrete structures. “The man must be from high in the Andes to have grown such lungs,” thought Juan. “I wish he’d go back there.”

Now every morning the noise began anew. “Mango Mango Mango!” kept Juan awake. “Mango Mango Mango!” overwhelmed the fans, the curtains, even the cumbersome earplugs. Juan now tossed and turned in what had been his one refuge from the daylight insanity around him. Although the Mango Man was quick to come and go, his chant was becoming a plague. Tomorrow I will talk to him. Maybe we can work something out.

As the sun broke through the next morning Juan was waiting out on the sidewalk. He spied the Mango Man, approached and purchased two ripe mangos. After the small talk was suspended Juan explained his predicament to the Mango Man who listened intently shaking his head and frowning. Now, enveloping the conversation, was a brewing confrontation.

“Can’t you visit this neighborhood later in the day toward the end of your route?” he asked after the purchase. “I work at night and I’m trying to sleep during the period that you visit. If you will do this simple thing for me I promise to buy five mango per day, even while you work out your logistics.”

The Mango Man told Juan that he fully appreciated the situation and that he was terribly sorry but that he picked up his morning cargo just a block from here and that if he didn’t call right away he would have to double back in the afternoon. Besides, Juan’s neighborhood offered a new, lucrative market and the morning was the time people bought mangos!

“They are like my children. They are used to me coming early, before they go to work,” he whispered. “I cannot risk my enterprise by changing it up in its infancy. Besides I need to cover my expanding route by mid-day since my wife needs me at her restaurant in the afternoon and then I visit my mother near Little Botero Park before calling it a day. She will be 96 next month and relies on me for everything.

“So as you can see I have to sell here early in the morning or lose the income and starve to death.” whined the Mango Man.

“You could eat mangos,” coughed Juan to himself, now trembling from lack of sleep and the booze from the night before.

The first mango cart

A groggy Juan returned to his bed, unable to sleep despite his near exhaustion. The next morning Juan intercepted the Mango Man on the way home and bought all of his mangos, every last one. “That ought to keep him off my street until I can figure out something.”

But the Mango Man had upped the ante. He was back in fifteen minutes with a new cargo of ripe mangos. The noise bounced off the concrete and plaster walls, stacked horizontally like squared off and cramped cubicles in a captive canyon of their own creation.

The following day Juan bought all the mangos and the cart as well as the little air horn the Mango Man sometimes used as a first notice the he was in the area. As he was falling asleep with a smile on his face the Mango man returned with a new cart full to the brim with delicious mangos. Juan woke up cursing. The little horn tooted away.

“Ave Maria…What will I do?” he cried.

That afternoon Juan painted two signs in his bedroom. One said, “No soliciting between 5 am and 11 am” and the other read “Baby sleeping-Please be quiet.” Although the signs were attractive enough and didn’t bother any of his neighbors they did not detour the Mango Man who, sadly, was quite illiterate.

Exasperated, Juan consulted with his contemporaries at the bar. As might be expected some suggested cunning while others suggested violence. One particularly loud man who always sat near the doorway said he had friends that could “strongly encourage the Mango Man to change his venue and habitual routine”. Of course Juan would have to cover their expenses and might owe them a favor down the road. Juan shook his head.

“I don’t want to hurt him. I just want him to stop yelling the repetitious Mango Mango Mango! at 6 am. Besides,” frowned Juan, bullying barrio icons will backfire. My neighbors love him.”

“What then is the core of your problem?” asked another of the barflies. “Mangos,” he thumps on the bar like a college professor, answering his own speculation. “With no mangos there is no Mango Man. So, clearly, we have…”

He then stopped mid-sentence and returned to his dark rum and jovial ice cubes. He swished his drink around incessantly, attempting to punctuate his postulate. Then he ordered another and sat quietly not offering further half-baked wisdom to the now boiling pot.

Others joined in, vaulting the place to intellectual heights not seen since the last round was lovingly consumed. It was if Socrates and Plato had, unbeknownst to Juan, stopped in for a shot and a beer.

“Steal his cart,” offered one man.

“Sic your dog on him,” gestured another, his arms swinging wildly barely missing several of his loopy fellows. “Even barking alone might make your noisy interloper think twice about disturbing the dawn.”

Bad ideas from breaking legs to releasing bees were introduced over the next few hours. Juan again rejected violence and added that “bees preferred a bouquet in a rich man’s lapel than a beggar’s banquet in the middle of the daybreak street”. The clientele seemed quite impressed with such metaphors, then finally started to go home.

As he stepped into the doorway to light another cigarette Juan sighed.

Looking at the sordid collection soggy philosophers and failed dream engineers, clutching their glasses like lifeboats, he said: “You people are crazier than I am.”

Unfortunately Juan had not considered that his job at the bar might be the problem. He drifted back to a mound of solutions when he closed for the night. He lit up and walked home thinking about setting a trap for the Mango Man. In his growing madness Juan thought that if he could catch him out of the view of the neighbors he could then haul the fruity intruder along with his machinery of chaos to the suburbs and away from his street. He would then gingerly push him out the door of whatever kidnaping conveyance he was employing. The Mango Man could sell mangos in a better neighborhood and make more money. He’d be helping him out. He’d need a car.

Setting yet another conspiracy on the back burner, he decided on immediate action. Tomorrow he would let an ambulant and less than instinctive Chihuahua out onto the cockcrow street. When he did so it became clear as Aguardiente that the strategy would fail. The dog soon loved the Mango Man and especially the chicharron that he tossed.

Having failed at yet another task, Juan followed the Mango Man and at an opportune time secretly grabbed the cart full of fruit, covered it in a blanket and hid it at the rear of a vacated butcher shop where he thought no one would find it. As luck would have it the cart was easily discovered after a throng of loyal, patriarchic, alley-sweeping neighbors canvassed the precinct. The mangos and cart were once more in the possession of its proprietor.

And so the next morning it was “Mango Mango Mango!” once again bouncing off the walls, vying with the pre-recorded church bells for the morning’s loudest decibel level on a ludicrous logarithmic scale.

Back in his mid-day sanctuary Juan plotted, dog tired, his aggravation growing with each sleepless minute. Now not only the noise kept him from slumber. His frustration and obsessive plotting deprived him of the most meager harbor, even in the afternoons. His head swirling, he decided on another, more belligerent course of action.

The next night Juan did not go to work at the bar. He could not stomach the scene there. The booze, the smoke, the fools had worn him to fragile bits. He finally slept and at 6 am was awakened by the familiar chants of the Mango Man, “Mango Mango Mango!”

Juan bolted out of bed and ran to the street. He forced the mango cart away from the grasp of its purveyor and sent it careening down the lane until it tumbled over a cliff into the town dump and into little pieces. Juan stood by shaking, stunned at his actions and growing more conscious of the anger growing around him. Several neighbors swung at him. Others cursed him. It if were not for the local police, who had been called to the scene after the destruction of the cart, he might have been lynched.

The Mango Man sat quietly on the curb, taking in the show.

In the settling dust the police arrested Juan for menacing, willful destruction of property, assault and disturbing the peace. He was soon released with a hearing scheduled for later in the month. He would have to pay for the damages for certain and criminal charges might be forthcoming. However the peace and tranquility of a quiet jail cell was denied him.

Mango Man on his route in the morning

The neighbors quickly procured another cart that would suffice as a temporary mango transporter until someone could go to Magdalena to get him a better one. They even bought him a new horn. Meanwhile Juan, now under the scrutiny of the authorities, was ashamed for what he had done to the poor Mango Man.

He worked his last shift that night, giving notice to his aloof, indifferent boss. As he strolled out of the bar at closing time he felt a resilient peace down to his bones. A few hours later, when he saw the Mango Man guiding his revamped cart in his direction, he greeted him.

“And good morning to you sir,” said the Mango Man. “You are up early. Would you like to buy some mangos?”

The Mango Man didn’t show the slightest bit of anger or even a hint of resentment. He just smiled, offering a plump, ripe mango.

Juan bought a few then in passing remarked to the Mango Man “You know these neighborhoods. I have left my job as a barman and I am now seeking gainful employment. If you hear of anyone looking for help please let me know.”

Sizing up the man who had been his nemesis for the past few weeks the Mango Man smiled, seemingly elated by the news.

“I have recently purchased a second mango cart and was hoping to find someone local to help me expand my business, he explained. “There are new routes yet to be exploited, new customers to harvest. One must be regular, punctual and only sell the highest quality fruits. I think you’d be perfect. Would you be interested?”

Stunned, Juan said he would ponder the offer which he did all that night and the following day. Sure, he’d sell mangos, at least until something better came along. Why not? It beat killing himself in the bar. No more smoke. No more bad music. No more nightlife. A mango route assured him of acceptance and place in the community with reasonable prosperity.

Juan sought out the Mango man and accepted the offer. Tomorrow he would be a Mango Man. He too would yell “Mango Mango Mango! down the cobblestones and boulevards of the town.

In just a few months his health improved. The morning hours were bright and stimulating. He slept peacefully at night. Without the bar’s environment he soon stopped his chronic consumption of tobacco and alcohol. And he was selling mangos like gold, like hot potatoes.

– Kevin Haley

Filed Under: Featured Peeks


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