La reina de los yuyos

Daniela sits on a chair against a wall covered with chipping blue paint that advertises cell phone servicing and repairs in bright yellow letters. She is flanked on either side by a row of flat round baskets propped up on cardboard boxes, apple and milk crates. Some are filled with bags of dried herbs. Others have fresh leaves, stems and roots arranged in bunches. To her right is the large wooden mortar and pestle used to crush them. Daniela’s skirt and apron spread across her lap. Unblinkingly, she gazes straight ahead as I quickly approach after exiting my building a few yards up the block.

The older gentleman, who is now unpacking small boxes of prepared herbal remedies from a large plastic garbage bag and placing them along the ledge of the blue wall, passed by my balcony with the overflowing wheelbarrow as he returned from the market earlier that morning. I stop abruptly to wait for an opportunity to navigate the stream of people walking single file along the edge of the curb around the two young women choosing pohã ro’ysã from the basket nearest the corner, and the man pounding his own herbal mix in the mortar next to Daniela, and remember to ask her if she has any fruit today. She looks up, as if she does not recognize me and then looks at a plastic bag by her feet, the same bag my eyes find as I quickly search for the answer to my question as I ask it. She picks up the bag. A smile of recognition starts in her eyes and works its way to her mouth as she holds it out to me.

Mburukuya?” I ask her.

Hêe, mburukuya,” she nods.

I hesitate thinking that I will have to take out my keys, open the front gate and then the front door of the building –which takes two hands and some fiddling– climb three flights of stairs, unlock the heavy cedar door to the hallway between the doorways of the two apartments on my floor before arriving at the front door of my apartment, where I will drop the bag on the kitchen counter, before running back down again.

“How much?”

“12,000.” She is still holding the bag out in front of her.

But of course I cannot resist. $2.50 for a bag of 12 passion fruit that will yield enough juice to both drink and make sorbet, so refreshing in this heat. Nor can I refuse her after I made the inquiry.

“Two for 20,000” she inevitably adds. Today she has more than one bag.

I wince slightly at the added expense, but know I have to take the opportunity when it comes. I move closer to let people coming down the block pass by while I fish around for my wallet in my handbag. I hold out two 10,000 Guaraní bills to her, thinking of the aroma that will fill the kitchen when I cut each one in half, and the bowl filled with the orange and yellow pulp.

“Thank you.”

“Tomorrow, I’ll have more,” she says as she hands the bags to me and turns her head toward a customer asking for cangorosa.

And now I smile, because this interaction made both of us happy.

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