No matter what anyone might tell you, it is extremely difficult to purchase a Mexican boy for 300 pesos. To my surprise, the Mexican parents I’m bartering with actually blanch at the suggestion. Even fanning the pesos out more suggestively and waggling my eyebrows only has the effect of the mother clutching her five children closer to her. To my annoyance, we keep returning to why, specifically, I want to purchase one of their children —a question that my answer (“Because I have 300 pesos”) apparently fails to satisfy.
I toy briefly with the idea of simply grabbing one and making a break for it. Given that I’m standing in the middle of a lettuce field, though, I abandon this line of thought. Despite my cunning disguise of poncho and oversized novelty moustache, I doubt I’d make it to my car with a Mexican boy under one arm without alerting the farm owners who patrol the fields. The floppy sandals I’m wearing are comfortable – classy even – but not built for long-distance sprints. I try appealing to common sense instead.
“300 pesos for one child is a really good deal,” I insist. “You’re ripping me off here.” Stone-faced silence.
“You can pick which one I take off your hands,” I add. “Are any of them stupid?” Stone-faced silence.
“You can always make more,” I bark, getting irritated. I fan my hands out to encompass the sizable herd of children encircling the mother. “Clearly.”
Stone-faced silence. I kick at a lettuce head and consider fresh strategies.
I’m hesitant to tell them straight out my reason for wanting to buy a Mexican child; namely, that I was unable to find a retailer capable of renting me one. Specifically I could use some little hands to clean out drain spouts, mix drinks and fish blockages out of the trash compactor. But that’s only part of the story, if I was being honest. More than this I seek companionship – companionship that’s possible to ignore when I’m busy. I need something small, trusting and able to follow barked orders, and -- due to a court order I’m not at liberty to discuss -- I am not legally allowed to buy a dog. I’d thought to make a day of it – take the scenic routes down to New Mexico, buy a child, maybe grab some fresh lettuce while I was there, and be back in time to assign it evening chores (making salad, possibly).
“Que?” says the father, squinting in the fierce noon-day sun.
To be honest, I’d expected to be beating off the offers with sticks – discovering on the ride home that more Mexican children had been lodged under the seats when my attention had been elsewhere. For a family with as many children as these jokers have, I’d assumed they’d be trying to give me three-for-one deals, let alone haggling over a single offspring.
The mother says nothing, dividing her time between keeping an eye out for the farm owner and throwing me unfairly distrustful looks. I suspect her concern over the owner’s appearance must have something to do with them getting in trouble if they’re caught not picking lettuce – docked pay, maybe, or maybe someone gets locked in a box. I’m not concerned enough to ask, and anyway I’m irritated.
“This isn’t over,” I say, pocketing the pesos and stumbling over lettuce heads, grumbling and boyless, back to my car. I crank the air conditioning and wait an hour before returning, this time in a disguise more cunning than the first.
“Cheerio,” I say in greeting, tipping my stovepipe hat and adjusting my monocle. I play absently with my cane, rolling a lettuce back and forth over the dry ground with it – what actors call giving their characters a ‘bit of business’.
“I seem to have three hundred pesos that I am unable to take back with me to England,” I say in a convincing cockney accent. “Perchance is there something I could purchase from you for this amount?”
Stone-faced silence. “England,” I repeat, slowly.
“Que?” says the father, squinting in the waning late-afternoon sun. I fan the pesos out suggestively and waggle my eyebrows in British fashion. The mother clutches her five children closer to her. Curses. Luckily I have one last trick up my sleeve.
I grab the nearest Mexican boy and make a break for the car, the tails of my dapper tuxedo trailing like flags behind me. Before I’ve made it fifty feet, the father – whose speed betrays his stout body shape and tough, rawhide-like skin – is on top of me, smacking me in both sides of the head with lettuce. I try to break free, but he’s squarely on top of me and has a heft to him like a swarthy bag of cement. Thirty years of lettuce picking’s given him a physique hewn of dense granite, and his thighs are like a vise. In the distance, I make out the sound of an approaching pick-up truck, muffled from the lettuce leaves whapping up against my ears. The lettuce field goes dark.
The sound of a shotgun blast pulls me out of a blackout, and the father’s thighs loose their Mexican death-grip around my ribs. I take in grateful lungfuls of lettuce-smelling air. The owners – two cross-looking gentlemen armed with shotguns – allow the father to walk back to the lettuce with his son by the hand, and focus all their attention on the Englishman in tails in top hat, beet-red and laying in the dirt.
“What’re you doin’ here, fancypants?” says one, while the other fiddles with the crosshairs on his shotgun, presumably to more accurately shoot me. My mind races for an explanation for my presence that will make just enough sense to get me back to my car.
“Cheerio!” I say from my dirt-groove, looking up at them. “Tin of biscuits,” I add, staying in character and establishing my Englishness.
Ten minutes later I am back on the highway, driving home at high speeds. Beside me in the passenger seat, strapped safely in with a seatbelt, is a fresh head of lettuce, which I’ve just paid three hundred pesos for. I keep an eye out for roadside farms, hoping to buy some tomatoes and radishes on the way home and at least come out of this with dinner.