By Terrence McCoy
By Scott Fishman
By Deirdra Funcheon
By Allie Conti
By New Times Staff
By Ryan Pfeffer
By Deirdra Funcheon
By Kyle Swenson
The man finally decides to take the kefir and smiles. "Gracias," he says.
"De nada," Melodie replies and wheels the chair around a corner, following the route she knows by heart. She knows where people will sidle up to her makeshift cart, picking gingerly through the bins. She knows which families will take whatever she has left and which ones will always wave her away, her persistent but unheeded calls a shared joke.
Like most of the Villa residents, Melodie is painfully self-conscious about her place in the neighborhood. "We're gentrifying it by being here," she says matter-of-factly. And she knows how weird it must look: a young, white woman with a wheelchair and rolling table full of exotic food, calling out like a barker from some bizarre carnival.
A car drives by, a small, fringed Cuban flag hanging from the rear-view mirror. It slows down, and the twentysomething men inside refuse the food but suggest a house nearby: "The people are hungry there."
Melodie continues down a potholed street to a cluster of small apartment buildings shrouded in weeds. At the gate an elderly man and woman wait, staring and gesturing anxiously. Another woman shuffles out, her white hair sticking straight up, as if she just hurried out of bed. She tries to speak, but her words are slurred and unintelligible, obscured by a picket fence of missing teeth. She asks for spare change.
The elderly residents accept the food with apparent satisfaction. As Melodie leaves they stay at the fence, nodding and muttering, watching until the carts are out of sight.
It is dark now; the streetlights cast an eerie amber glow. Cars drive by, and the drivers stop to chat with friends standing astride bicycles. They surround Melodie curiously, and she appears overwhelmed by the attention. No one takes food any longer. Instead they talk to Melodie in Spanish, Creole, and slanged-up English, flirting boldly in the patois of the street. A faint blush rises in Melodie's cheeks.
Finally, with difficulty, she extricates herself from the throng of young men and starts home, but two young Haitians insist on walking her back to the Villa, one pushing the now-empty cart in a gesture of chivalry. She relents to this patriarchal courtesy, and they start back toward the house.
Before long, a police car rolls up and stops. The officer gets out and walks around the car. He is tall and thin, his ramrod-straight posture making him all the more imposing. "What've you got there?" he asks, apparently meaning the cart but eyeing the two young men.
"Yogurt," Melodie answers good-naturedly, explaining the food distribution. "Would you like some?" He declines and asks where she "operates" from. When she tells him, his face registers familiarity. He knows the house on Lake Street, he says cryptically. (Everyone does, Melodie says later, particularly the police.)
Then he pauses, looking at the empty boxes, at Melodie, at the young men. She offers what's left of the food again, and again he declines, explaining that he's about to get dinner.
After he drives away, the men, who remained silent during the whole exchange, look relieved and resume their conversation.
"Fucking pigs," Melodie mutters under her breath.