Tamales

Every night I hear him in the street, sharp and urgent: “Maaales Tamale. Taamaaaales!”He stands at an intersection under the street light, sack of tamales over one shoulder and hand cupped to his mouth.

“Maaaales! he screams. Then he waits a moment, looking up at silent houses. “Maaaales! he continues, up and down the streets. “Taamaaaales!

A pair of lovers buy two and carry them to the cliffs above the ocean, discard wrappers of broad green leaves, eat quickly, then wipe greasy hands and mouths. Every morning, hundreds of wrappers litter Lima’s gutters, where they shrivel and dry a brownish green.

Once in a while the Male man works with a partner, and they whistle to each other from blocks apart, approach to talk in the middle of the street, go in to buy a glass of chincha from the corner store, then come out again, shifting full sacks from shoulder to shoulder. “Taamaaaales! Tamales!

Most of Lima’s tamale vendors are black, their ancestors brought here as slaves. They live in clusters of mud, tin and reed huts low and flimsy, in alleyways or against the sides of buildings, hand-to-mouth. Some mornings they are back in the neighborhoods again early, selling what they could not the night before.

 

Tamales

In the late hours I hear the Maale man far away, his voice fading in and out of traffic, then suddenly under my window: “Maaales! he shouts, “Taamaaales! each night in the damp Lima air, sharp and penetrating, bouncing off high walls and closed doors, soaring above TVs and radios.

“Taamaaaales!

In the tall apartment buildings they hear him down there, crying his wares in the night. “Maaaales .

When I’m out, he always appears by my side.

“Desea tamales? he asks. “Would you like some tamales?

“No thanks, I always reply, and shake my head. So on he goes, sharp and urgent, “Maaaales Tamale. Taamaaaales! sack over one shoulder and hand cupped to his mouth. “Maaaales! he cries.

. Tamales.