As she saw a man approaching, the peasant woman looked up from the vegetables she had picked that morning from her garden and sold in the streets of Kathmandu’s historic district. He had transported her from her village on the tricycle that his son used to earn his living.
According to popular belief, which others would call superstitious as is usually done with other people’s beliefs, she took it for granted that if she got a good customer first thing in the morning, many more would follow and she would sell all her products that day. So he set out to attend the stranger kindly with a toothless smile that would have frightened a Westerner who regularly visits the dentist.
Divergent story. A toothless smile
“Namaste, sister,” he said.
“How much are eggplants?”
“I sell them for thirty-three rupees a kilo.”
“They look very expensive to me,” he replied, guessing that she would be willing to give him a discount so as not to lose the first customer of the day.
“If you had grown, harvested and transported these eggplants yourself, would you also think the price was high,” she asked without losing her unsightly smile.
“Maybe you’re right, but we all have to fight to get ahead, don’t you think? Besides, it turns out that I have only twenty-five rupees,” he said, taking out of his pocket the amount he had planned to pay.
“You know something, I wasn’t born yesterday, and I have the impression that the clothes you wear, the glasses you wear, and the watch you have are not exactly those of a man who only has twenty-five rupees.
He blushed and she smiled a little more as she won the first round of the dribble they were conducting. That gave him a head start in preparing for the next one. Humans are very competitive animals, hence their rapid evolution; and she competed by haggling in a similar way as others played poker, chess or backgammon.
“I’m not going to sell you just a few eggplants,” she thought to herself, “but also tomatoes, potatoes, and some mushrooms; and you’ll never suspect that I’d be willing to do that for much less than the price I ask.
The man wanted to send her away, but, apart from the fact that she had the best vegetables in the bazaar, his wife would stone him if he returned home empty-handed and without the necessary ingredients for the “dal bhat”.
“What do you say we leave it half done,” he asked her with little hope, because he was beginning to sense that she was a man of substance.
“You’re crazy if you think I’ll cut your aubergine kilo to thirty rupees…”
“No, not thirty, but twenty-eight…
“If anything, it would be 29.”
“Then make it twenty-nine rupees and we’ll settle the deal.”
“Not a chance.”
“But how stubborn you are!”
“Those of us from my village have been given birth this way; but I would be willing to negotiate the price of the aubergines if you would also buy some of these precious tomatoes and those tasty baby potatoes that were still underground this morning.
“How much is the kilo going for?”
The peasant girl had to make a great effort to conceal her joy. The man who thought he knew it all had got into the trap on his own feet and she had won the second round! The competition went on!
While they were discussing the new prices and the peasant girl was lowering here and going up there, several women had stopped along with them who seemed more interested in the free street show than in making any purchases. In any case, her presence did not bother the peasant woman, for she knew that at least they would attract other passers-by. Besides, with his merchanting skills he might be able to sell them something.
He took a step in that direction by asking them:
“Let’s see, ladies, at what price do you think I sell these chips?”
He had called them ladies to capture them even though their appearance made it clear that they belonged to the lower class: it was another trick that rarely failed. Who doesn’t like flattery? She called it the Ego Syndrome, that liar that everyone believes even though they know they have never told the truth.
The peasant woman, while moving the baton of sales she hoped to achieve, because she had the ability to focus on different things at the same time, remembered the lessons she had learned in this regard from her wise grandfather when she was a teenager:
“If you praise a really clever person by telling him that he is the one who gives no more, he will surely look at you with scorn, whereas if you say the same thing to someone who is stupid as hell, he will not hesitate to believe you and jump up and down like a dog to which you will give a bone. A cripple is aware of his limp with every step, and the same will happen to the short-sighted, the deaf or the dumb, who will be unable to forget their shortcomings even for a moment. However, this is not the case for the stupid, who never seem to look at themselves in their inner mirror. In part, it’s lucky, because that’s usually how they manage to live their whole existence without noticing what kind of a bug they are.
“Grandpa was a real man,” she thought. “He was the only one in the village who had the courage to stand up to the Maoist guerrillas when they wanted to shoot the school teacher because he refused to pay the fee they demanded from everyone. He got his way by gaining the support of a large part of the population, especially the teacher’s pupils and their mothers. Those murderers left with their tails between their legs, but since they were bad losers, two days later when Grandpa was alone in the field, they ambushed him. They tied him to a tree trunk and shot him. Then they hung a sign on his chest that read: Traitor. Although wars are absurd, those who die in them are soldiers who are armed; but, on the contrary, in the supposed revolution of those bloodthirsty madmen, poor civilians died above all who only wished to live in peace.
A new man joined the other possible buyers; he was carrying a newspaper in his hand, and the peasant woman, on noticing the date, exclaimed silently:
“Well, if it isn’t the anniversary of Grandpa’s murder!”
On this date, the peasant woman celebrated every year with the approval of her family a private ceremony dedicated to the memory of her grandfather. A curious ceremony that he rushed to perform, making the day brighter for those who wanted to buy.
“Dear customers,” he said in a loud voice, “I have a matter that I must attend to urgently and I will be willing to sell all my products at half price.
A quarter of an hour later he had already settled the stock, and phoned his son to come and collect it.
“Have you done it again?” he asked, smiling.
“Yes, honey, because Grandpa will stay with us as long as we remember him.”
DIVERGENT STORY, by Nando Baba