Manuel’s Tortillas


Manuel lifted the clean white cloth and counted the fresh tortillas in the woven basket he carried in his hand. There were still two dozen left. Grandma had told him if he didn’t sell all of them, there wouldn’t be enough money for cornmeal and beans next week.

Manuel had been to all of the houses in the village except that of the pretty young señorita who had just moved into the house across the street from where he now stood. He’d gone there on his rounds the day before, but she had told him she was busy.

“Should I try to sell her some tortillas again today?” Manuel asked himself. “Or should I just go back and tell Grandma no one else would buy the rest of her tortillas?”

He stood undecided, shuffling his bare feet in the soft dirt and staring soberly at the house across the street. Finally Manuel turned and started slowly toward the small adobe hut where he lived with his grandmother and little sister, Lupe.

As Manuel walked, he thought about how disappointed his grandmother would be when he returned without selling all her tortillas. Suddenly he stopped. I’ll go backto the new señorita’s home, he decided. Perhaps today she’ll buy some.

Quickly Manuel retraced his steps and went up the flagstone pathway that led to the little house.

He rapped lightly on the door and waited a few minutes until the young señorita opened it. She was even prettier than he remembered, and somehow she looked kinder too.

She smiled at Manuel and asked, “What do you want, little boy?”

“I sell tortillas,” Manuel replied, holding the basket out toward her. “Would you like some?”

“No, I don’t think so,” she answered.

“They are very good,” Manuel said quickly. “They’re fresh today.”

Seeing the small boy’s expression of disappointment, the young woman hesitated.

Manuel became very conscious that she was looking at his ragged shirt and pants and his bare feet. He bowed his head and started to turn away without another word.

“Wait!” she said. “What is your name?”

“Manuel,” he replied.

“I think I’ll try some of your tortillas, after all,” she smiled. “Come in while I get a pan to put them in.”

She held the door open for Manuel and then left him alone as she went into another room.

In a few moments she returned. Manuel was surprised when she uncovered his basket and put all the tortillas in a shiny pan. His smile was broad as he thought how pleased Grandma would be, for now she could buy food the family needed.

“Oh, dear!” exclaimed the señorita as she looked in her purse. “I can’t buy these from you today. I only have fifty pesos, and no change—unless you have some.”

Manuel reached into his pocket and pulled out the ten pesos he carried. “This is all I have, Señorita.”

“I can’t buy them today then,” she said as she began to put the tortillas back in his basket.

Manuel’s face fell. “Wait, please!” he said. “I’ll take your money to the market and get it changed.”

“I’m afraid I can’t let you do that,” said the señorita, shaking her head and looking doubtful.

“Please,” Manuel said quickly. “I’ll bring it right back.”

The señorita looked down at the boy and slowly shook her head again.

Manuel blinked to hide the tears that filled his eyes, but one escaped and rolled down his cheek. He turned and wiped it away with his sleeve as he started to walk away.

The señorita suddenly felt uncomfortable and ashamed.

“Come back, please,” she called. “I know I can trust you. Go get the change for me, and I’ll keep your tortillas here until you come back.”

“Gracias, Señorita!” cried Manuel as he ran from the house.

Manuel’s bare feet slapped in the soft dirt as he hurried toward the village market. But gradually he slowed to a walk and examined the bill he held tightly in his hand. As he looked, he thought of Lupe’s big brown eyes when she stood in front of the jars of candy in the market. He knew how much she wanted some. He also remembered how hard Grandma worked to make the tortillas to sell.

Suddenly Manuel began to wonder if he should keep the money. It was enough to pay for the tortillas he had left behind. There would be enough left over to buy food for many days and even some sweets for Lupe at the market.

Then he remembered the señorita’s words, “I know I can trust you.” Besides, he had given her his word, and Grandma had often told him no person is good unless his word is good too. Suddenly he wanted very much for the señorita to like him and trust him just as Grandma and Lupe trusted him.

He quickly changed the fifty pesos and then ran back to the señorita’s home.

“Come in, Manuel,” she said as she opened the door. “I knew you’d come back.”

“Here is your money,” he said, giving her a handful of bills.

She counted out the money she owed for the tortillas and then gave him an extra peso. “This is yours for going to the market for me.”

“Gracias, Señorita,” said Manuel, his eyes lighting with pleasure. “You are very good to me.”

She ruffled his hair. “How would you like to work for me? I need someone I can trust to run errands and help me around my yard.”

A broad grin spread over Manuel’s face as he picked up the basket. “Si, Señorita. I’d be happy to work for you. I will work very hard too!”

“I’m sure you will,” replied the woman. “Come back tomorrow, and there’ll be many things you can help me do.”

“I’ll come back,” he promised.

As Manuel ran home, his heart sang and he whistled a happy tune. He could hardly wait to tell Grandma about his wonderful new job!

[illustrations] Illustrated by Jerry Harston