A faint click…, click…., tick…. comes from somewhere in the distance, mixing with other sounds of the street; clangs, whistles, horns, calls…pasele, cuántos te damos?
Advancing on calle lopez in the centro histórico the sound grows louder. I reach the corner with victoria, a block back from metro San Juan de Letran on Eje Central.
I pause at a point where so often I stride on through. ‘Sell one to the güero’, father tells son in a classic sing-song chilango accent. He, perhaps 11 or 12, obliges and holds up a cheap, plastic tennis racquet with an insect design inlaid on the ersatz strings. Father strikes the strings with a little twig sending a spark flying. The source of the click…., tick…/ I’m on bug zapper corner.
‘We’ll give you a good price’
‘Actually I’m not looking to buy one. I’m just kind of interested in this corner’.
‘I’ll give you a discount. This one’s only 70 pesos and this one just 50!’
‘Yeah, but I don’t really have many insects in my place’
‘but with this you can keep the ones you have under control!’
Bernardo arrives to this same corner virtually every single day with his son to sell their wares. Light fixtures and kitchen goods are for sale on his corner and an adjacent one. A cantina stands diagonally opposite. Never tiring with the click…, tick… he looks for the next sale. He has no hesitation answering why this particular corner and always this corner, ‘because sales are good here’.
While we continue to talk the bug-zapping raquet trade, a police car is seen in approach and Bernardo and son swing into action, swiftly placing the Chinese made insect killers into a large green garbage bag, hidden from view. The constant fear of the street vendor is the confiscation of their products and thus the loss of their livelihood. The patrol passes and Bernardo agrees to take a couple of minutes out for a couple of photos and jokes about how ‘feo’ (ugly) his son will look in the photo. They both laugh.
I cross over to the corner in front of the cantina Salon Victoria to get a different shot and Bernardo gestures at me, holding the racquet aloft trying to coax me into a purchase.
Do I really need one? No, but what the heck. No sale has been made in the 10 minutes I have loitered. I return for an exchange of pesos, to say goodbye and for one final chat:
‘What happens if you touch it’
‘You get a shock’
‘Is it strong. Could you die?’
And so it is that I am now the proud owner of what is technically known as a ‘rechargeable mosquito-hitting swatter’ aka a ‘family helper.’ Like a Jainist, I doubt I’ll ever swat anything with it or even plug it in to charge.