a woman balancing a basket on her head;
pickup truck loaded with entire living room set,
an ox-drawn cart;
family of 3 or more on a motorcycle, extra points if anyone wears helmets or mom rides sidesaddle;
maíz drying by the side of road;
an open manhole, bonus if there’s a branch propped in front to serve as a warning.
Our Lotería is not El Mariachi, La Chalupa, El Nopal, not the smoke-filled bingo lounge of the Miccousukee Reservation, inky fingers dead set on winning, though the American dollar is our currency, ours is not El Apache, La Pera, El Catrín. For Salvadorans, all days are a Lotería. When we drive past someone laid out on the grass of the median we think 1) is he napping midday? 2) passed out drunk? 3) dead? And all three possibilities are highly likely.
a boy on bike shepherding sad-eyed cows;
a Sunday borracho, extra point for an unsheathed machete;
cement eagles or lions on entryway columns;
road kill, bonus if it’s a horse and it’s being picked at by buzzards;
“Pinchazo” sign painted on a giant truck tire;
muddy trickle of a river, bonus if kids are swimming or women are washing clothes.
At the stoplight will there be fire-eaters or clowns juggling machetes, will the man on the bus look leery or guilty as he slips his hand up the woman’s skirt, is that asphalt smear the body of a stray dog or an old carpet, the boys tapping on the glass huffing paint with strange gold auras around their mouths: window-washers or phone thieves? We know to tuck our real purse under the passenger seat, have the fake one ready to hand over without a whimper. Our faces like the facades of our houses: bars on windows, broken glass embedded into the walls, electrified wires, coils of razor.
restaurant and clothing store ads in full English;
three car washes or three auto-hotels in a row;
shacks bannered with Coca-Cola or Diana signs;
camión loaded with sugarcane, bonus if workers ride on top;
graffiti, only if it’s not related to gangs or political parties;
volcano, extra points if it’s smoking.
We answer these riddles every day: El Hambre, La Navaja, El Machete, La Tortilla. A tablero of 9 chances to fill your board, because when there’s an accident, though a clown in a Cipitio hat was directing traffic, and a car hits a tree—you can be certain Salvadorans will quickly make the most out of that bad turn. For us, luck depends not on guessing, but betting on what we know to be true. Out of nowhere people will come with machetes and dismember the branches, load them in wheelbarrows and cart them off for firewood, a woman will stand by the side of the road, next to the smashed car, pressing her hand to her bright red cheekbone, and seeping through her fingers, the day’s first ¡Lotería!: La Rosa in full bloom.