The son of one of my caregivers had a birthday last week. Victor was turning eleven.
I’d met him once when María brought him to visit. He was sweet and shy around me, an innocent ten-year old who was excited to meet a gringa.
María had told me that his birthday was coming up, so after one of my doctor visits, I made it to a small shopping area near the hospital. In one of the store windows, there was a bright yellow model car.
The car was a stereo speaker that could be used with a laptop, an MP3 player, a USB stick, or a chip. It was also a radio. It turned on with a great engine roar and a “Beep-beep” of the horn. I bought the car, thinking that it would be the perfect gift for Victor.
Back at home, I tore up the receipt and threw the bits away, as María had trained me to do “because people here go through the trash.”
The speaker sat in its box for a few days before I tried it out. It came on with the same roaring sound and the beep, but it didn’t work with my laptop. Nor with my USB stick. The radio had only one station–static. I couldn’t give that defective gift to Victor. I had to return it.
I explained to María that I was taking the car back to the store. She asked, “Do you have the receipt?”
When I told her, “No,” she pursed her lips and shook her head.
I did it anyway. I’d bought the car from a young woman, but this day, there was a man at the store. I started explaining the problem to him and asked him to show me how the car worked.
He called a name and the young woman appeared from the storeroom. She recognized me with a broad smile. At first, I didn’t ask for a refund or exchange. Instead, I said, “I can’t get this car to work. Can you please show me how?”
She took the car and tried all its functions, with the same results that I’d had at home.
“Look, it doesn’t work. I can’t give this as a birthday gift. Can I please exchange it for something else?”
“Do you have the receipt?” She asked.
“I’m not asking for my money back. I just want to exchange it for something else.”
“Do you have the receipt?” When I shook my head “no,” her eyes turned to the man. I knew that the decision would be up to him, and I started over again, telling him the story.
“Do you have the receipt?” He asked me.
“I can’t find it,” I told him, knowing good and well that I’d torn it up.
“Without the receipt, I can’t take it back.”
I explained that I wasn’t asking for money back, just an exchange of a faulty item that they’d sold me. After several minutes of heated discussion, he hollered at me. “I’m making an exception this time, but don’t ever expect to do this again!”
Fine, fine. I was more than satisfied that he’d allowed me to exchange the car for an MP3 player plus two luka.
I left the store, feeling victorious. Back home, I showed it to María, who was thrilled. “Victor will be so happy with this.”
However, when I tried to download an album of children’s music onto the MP3, I couldn’t get it to work. I thought it had loaded, but it wouldn’t play back. I turned every knob and pushed every button on the thing, but it never worked for me.
“Damnit! Why doesn’t this thing work? I don’t know how they can be selling this defective piece of cr..” I muttered to myself.
The day before the birthday, I gave it to María, telling her, “Please make sure that it works before you give it to Victor. I don’t want to give him a broken present.”
She promised that she would test it, but on Victor’s birthday, she gave him the MP3, broken or not.
Being a curious eleven-year old, he somehow discovered how to work the thing that butter-fingered, technological dinosaur me couldn’t figure out.
María told me later, “Victor really liked the gift. He liked the music and your voice.”
“Yes, arguing with the machine.”
Apparently, I’d managed to record myself, cursing at the thing while I was trying to get it to work. I suppose young Victor will be expanding his English vocabulary, thanks to my technological ineptitude.
Happy Birthday, Victor!