Soon as the van turns off San Juan Highway onto our dirt road, I can see the cloud of dust chasing it. Don’t look like nothing special at first. Just a white van changing into a dusty brown van. When it gets closer, I see it says FLOUR CHILD on the side in big curly letters. What does that mean? The van stops close to me and the other kids, and the driver opens the door and steps out. With his pink face, white shirt, white hair, and little mustache, he looks like Mister Kentucky Fried Chicken. My dog, Lobo, doesn’t like strangers, and he pulls on his chain and barks at the man.
Mister Kentucky opens up the two back doors of the van. Of course, we’re wondering what he’s doing. Usually the jefe, Joe Gyrich, is the only gringo that ever comes to the Gyrich Farms Worker Camp, so it’s not like we see real Americanos here every day. Kentucky looks at us and smiles, then he makes a little hook with his finger and calls us with it. I point to myself, like I’m saying “me?”
“Yes you, my friend,” he says. My cousin Cesar and me put down our sticks and stop our game of changai. My sister, Sylvie, and our cousins Olga and Tiny stop playing hopscotch and come over too. The five of us circle around Mister Kentucky, and he has a big ol’ smile, like he’s gonna tell us the greatest secret ever. “Hablan español?” he asks. I’m surprised to hear him talk in Spanish. It’s like when I heard a parrot say “Lucy, I’m hoooome” at my tia’s house. We didn’t think he could do that. Then Cesar answers.
“Yeah, we can speak Spanish. English too.” Cesar is so brave, talking to that big pink, white-haired gringo just like that. Maybe when I get to the sixth grade like him, I’ll be all brave too.
“Muy bueno. That is very good,” says Mister Kentucky real slow, like he thought we couldn’t understand. Then he turns and opens up the two doors on the back of the van. Inside, it has four big silver metal drawers stacked up. He grabs the handle of the bottom drawer and pulls on it. It opens up, we look, and everyone is surprised.
“Ooooh, so nice.”
“No way, José.”
The whole drawer is full up with donuts! Shiny, perfect donuts all in a row like little soldiers. The smell is really, really nice. We never had no van full of donuts arrive here at the Gyrich Farms Worker Camp before. Kentucky smiles at us, and we smile back at him. He shows us the next drawer. Oh my God, Jesus. All chocolate donuts! Some of them have little rainbow sprinkles on them or even better: COCONUT. This chocolate drawer is so beautiful. Nobody says nothing. We stare. It’s like a magic show. Kentucky is smiling so hard his eyes get tiny, and he opens the top drawer. One hundred percent cookies! I’m not lying, man. Huge cookies, bigger than your hand. Some oatmeal, some chocolate chip, and some yellow have-a-nice-day smiley face cookies too. It’s a miracle. Someone bought a whole van filled up with donuts to the worker camp, here in the middle of the tomato fields in tiny San Juan Bautista. Nobody ever comes to the camp unless they work here or they’re visiting the family.
“Please can I have one, please?” asks Tiny.
“No, stupid,” says my sister, Sylvie. “They’re not free. You gotta pay.”
“How much I gotta pay?” asks Tiny.
“Not too much, little lady,” says the man. “They’re twelve cents each or two for twenty cents.”
“Oh,” says Tiny.
Nobody says nothing. I feel embarrassed. I don’t have no twelve cents or even one cents. This nice man drives all the way out to the ranch, shows us the shiny donuts, and nobody has twelve cents to buy one. I think he is embarrassed too.
“Maybe you can ask your mama,” he says.
“She’s working,” I say. I point to the tomato fields where my ma and the other mothers are working. Mister Kentucky thinks and then he says, “All righty, well, maybe next time you can save your pennies and buy a donut, my friend.” He closes the cookie drawer, then the beautiful chocolate drawer, and then Olga says, “Wait, please. Can I please have two donuts, please?”
“Of course you can, little lady,” says Kentucky. “What kind of donuts would you like?” Everyone’s staring at Olga, cuz—where did she get money? The man gets a pink-and-white bag and a little piece of paper.
“Please, I want a chocolate donut with rainbow sprinkles, please,” she says. The man gets one and puts it in the bag. Then she points to the shiny glazed donuts on the bottom drawer. He pops one of those in the bag too.
“Twenty cents,” he says.
Everybody stops breathing. What’s she gonna do? She don’t got no money. She gonna take the bag and run? That would be stupid, cuz he could chase her in the van. Besides, if she did that, Grandma would hit her so hard, she’d see the Devil through a hole. I don’t know what that means, but Grandma always says that, and it sounds pretty serious.•
Excerpted from Gordo, by Jaime Cortez. Published by Grove Atlantic/Black Cat. © 2021 by Jaime Cortez. All rights reserved.