Sunday, March 27, 2005

comet balls

One of the best features of having my nice apartment is a large picture window that looks out over a small plaza from six floors up. I’ve got a couple of comfortable chairs set up in the window and one of my favorite things to do is sit in the window with a newspaper and a cup of coffee and alternate between watching the action down in the plaza and catching up on the latest news. I can easily spend a couple of hours doing that.

Sunday is an especially fun day to check out the plaza because each week I watch as two women show up with two tiny little kids to set up a small table from which to sell comet balls.

The comet balls are rubber super balls with sparkly streamers glued to them. The two women set up a small plank on top of an overturned bucket, lay out the comet balls, and start bouncing them around in hopes of enticing passers-by to make a purchase. Meanwhile, the two little kids – probably about 3 and 4 years old – run all over, playing merrily with the balls, chasing pigeons and exploring every nook and cranny of the plaza.

I looked forward each Sunday to watching the women and children arrive and set up shop. And when someone would approach the comet ball table, I’d watch intently, rooting for them to make a sale. I’d also watch with sympathy as they occasionally dashed for cover from a sudden downpour or from unfriendly police presence.

After watching for a few weeks, I started to speculate a little about them. It became clear to me that one of the two women was the mother of the children, and it also looked like she might be expecting a third in the not-so-distant future. She wore a cleaning woman’s apron every week, so I wondered if maybe she supported her kids by cleaning houses during the week, then used Sunday’s comet ball sales to augment their income a little.

A few weeks ago when my friend Andrew was here visiting, we were passing through the plaza and I pointed the comet ball family out to him and explained who they were. Andrew was intrigued and wanted to support the cause by purchasing a couple of balls. So we went over, picked out a couple of balls, and I briefly introduced myself and told them that I enjoyed watching the children playing from my window.

Last week I was passing through the plaza again on Sunday and saw the family set up. They recognized me and I thought I might chat a bit to try to confirm some of my theories about them.

They were much more interested in trying to sell me a comet ball than telling me about their lives, but I did manage to get a little info out of them (and they managed to get me to buy a couple more comet balls). I was correct that the mother works as a cleaning woman. She commutes via public transportation every day to the center of the city from some neighborhood I hadn’t heard of, but that she said is about a 1 to 1.5 hour trip each way. She cleans houses in some residential neighborhoods a few miles south of where I live, then comes on Sunday to the plaza to sell the comet balls. Her husband went “to the other side,” i.e. the U.S., to look for work. The other woman who tags along on Sundays is her younger sister, who watches the kids for her while their mom’s out cleaning. From close up, mom still looked quite pregnant, but that wasn’t a question I felt comfortable asking. And the two little kids are even cuter close up than from my window.

I have the feeling I’m going to end up with a large collection of comet balls.

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