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You can mercar stuff from the machines


This episode is about the word mercar, a verb that means to buy. The modern Spanish word for that is comprar. Mercar is simply the noun — mercado or market — turned into a verb, in the same manner that terms like bond, mortgage, and bankrupt are turned in to verbs in English.

Boy was on the bus headed out of the Southside. His final destination: Los Montoyas — a day’s travel away.

It was Saturday before Thanksgiving. Unlike last year, when he had gotten into a day-long wrestling match with an older, bigger kid from the neighborhood, which ended with a hide-and-seek rock-throwing chase around the block, his family wasn’t going to take any chances this year. Boy was put on the bus to La Junta right after breakfast before he had a chance to slip out of the house and go out adventuring.

He didn’t know where they were headed until the family car, the whole household loaded up, drove into the bus station parking lot.

“I didn’t pack,” said Boy, only mildly surprised.

“Everything you need is in this plastic bag. You can take it on your lap. And here’s $20 just in case,” he was told.

Boy made sure to be among the first to enter the bus so he could claim the seat in front of the bus entrance, his favorite spot.

When they got on the highway, Boy looked around and saw the bus was full, with only a few seats empty. No kids. Mostly single men and a few young couples. Everybody probably taking advantage of the holiday to go back home, like him, he thought.

“We’re going to stop in Comanche and pick up more people and packages,” said the driver, a young man in a suit and tie.

“That’s where my nephew is,” an elderly man sitting behind Boy said to nobody in particular.

“Oh, sí. Studying?” asked a man sitting behind the driver.

“Simón. For drinking. Idiot. He had a good job. Maybe now he’ll settle down when he gets out,” said the old man.

It took Boy a while to connect the dots.

“In the bote, the can?” asked Boy.

“Simón, hijo. Don’t grow up to be an idiot like him” said the old man.

“They say half the young men from Los Montoyas are there,” said another man a few seats away.

“That’s what they say. Why do they even leave home. They’re good workers, but they lose their minds when they’re idle,” said yet another man.

The bus driver nodded and glanced over his shoulder.

“Where you going?” he asked Boy.

“Uh, OJ,” said Boy.

“That’s mercado in your bag?” asked the driver.

“Just my clothes,” said Boy.

“Órale. Then no food. I hope you had a big breakfast cuz you won’t be able to mercar lunch until we get to the end,” he told Boy.

Boy didn’t say anything.

“Don’t be aguitado. You can mercar stuff from the machines at the stops,” said the old man.

Boy nodded but remembered he didn’t have change for the $20 bill in his pocket.

Oscar Rodriguez is the creator and host of Caló.