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He’s forgotten how long he’s been polishing moccasins, lacing shoelaces and burnishing leather sandals. He isn’t 30 yet but he knows it’ll be difficult for him to get any other type of work. He is sure of this because his son, who has inherited the wisdom of his years in the street, can already recognise a customer with a fat wallet and has become an expert in making it possible for such a customer to see his moustache reflected in his shoes after the job. He has taught him well. Lighting a cigarette with the previous one, he imagines what life would be like with a full- time job, an office and a desk of his own.

Entering early every day and chain- smoking Marlboros. He doesn’t think he’d like it, except for the American tobacco. He has gotten used to squatting for hours, to entering and leaving the cafés of the centre and to the cigarette burning down between his lips as he brushes and shines the pairs of shoes. He usually rests between one customer and another, leaning his back against the wall. He then gently removes the filter of the cigarette from his mouth and exhales a large puff, enjoying it as if it were the first one.

Life is hard, but at that moment it becomes simple and coherent, as if everything fit together and instead of Cleopatras he smoked Yankee tobacco. His son often looks at his hands and then at his own to compare them. His palms and fingers are black from shoe polish, no matter how many times he scrubs them with the esparto. The dye has penetrated so deeply into the skin that it now forms part of it. Like the smell of the petroleum of the oils and the texture of the greases.

His black hands shine with the colour of the thousands of shoes he has polished and remind him that he will probably always be a bootblack. But he looks at his son observing his hands whose palms are still the colour of desert sand and thinks that perhaps, only perhaps they have made it possible for him to still have time to obtain an office and a desk and air conditioning and to smoke American tobacco.

by Nuria tesón