The Lemonade Sellers


by Frank Thomas Smith



Most children are happy when summer vacation time comes. First of all, they don't have to go to school. They go away with their parents to the sea or to the mountains, so it's easy to understand why they look forward to summer.

            María was different. She didn't like summer vacation because she had nothing to do except hang around the house and watch television. She liked school and thought that the summer vacation was too long.

            Her family had no money with which to go away on vacation because her father had lost his job when he was hurt in an accident while working. Her mother cleaned other people's houses and she had to work all year round or they would have nothing to eat. María's father said that they should not complain because other people were much worse off than they were and that they should have faith in God. María had faith in God and she always said her prayers at night, but she looked forward with dread to the coming summer vacation anyway.

            The other children in her class had already begun to talk about what they would do during the vacation. Some were going to Córdoba, others to Mar del Plata. And others would at least be going to colonias de verano every day. María listened and said nothing.

            During recess one day Mónica said, "Where are you going on vacation, María?" Mónica knew that María wasn't going anywhere, but she wanted to embarrass her in front of the others because María was a better student and always got higher marks.

            "I'm not going anywhere," María said.

            "Why not?" Mónica asked and the others girls looked at her curiously.

            María felt tears rise in her eyes. "None of your business," she said and ran into the school.

            Her teacher was writing something on the blackboard when María came rushing in and sat at her desk. She took a book from her backpack and pretended to read.

            "There are still ten minutes of recess left, María," her teacher said.

            María didn't answer.

            The teacher turned and looked at her and thought: "Something is wrong with María lately. I should find out what it is." But she had her own problems and her own plans for vacation so she forgot about María.     

            On Wednesday of the first week of vacation, María's doorbell rang quite early in the morning. Her father was drinking mate and reading the newspaper. María was washing some dishes. She answered the doorbell and was surprised to see that it was Marcos, a boy in the class above hers. He stood in the hallway with his hands in his pockets and said nothing. María didn't know what to say to him either, so they both just stood there.

            "Who is it?" María's father called.

            "Marcos, from school," María called back.

            "Well, ask him to come in."

            Marcos stood in the kitchen staring at the floor. María's father asked him if he wanted something to drink and he said no. He was obviously uncomfortable. It was not usual for boys of Marcos's age (he was eleven) to play with girls. They were still at the age when girls and boys did things separately and a boy was in danger of being teased by his friends if he had anything to do with a girl. But Marcos decided that he had come this far so he would go all the way.

            "I heard you say during recess one day that you weren't going anywhere during vacation," he said to María without quite looking at her.

            María nodded.

            "Well, I thought...you see...well, I'm not going anywhere either so I thought we might, er..

            "That's a wonderful idea!" María's father exclaimed. "You two stay-at-homes can keep each other company. Is that what you mean, Marcos?"

            "Yes, sir," Marcos answered and blushed.

            "What do you say to that, María?" her father asked.

            María blushed as well. "I think it's a good idea, too."

            "Fine. I suggest you two go into the living-room and discuss what you're going to do together. And María, don't you worry about me, as long as I have my mate and my newspaper I'm fine."

            The two children went into the living-room and sat on the floor facing each other. "What did you think we could do together, Marcos?" María asked.

            "I don't know. Do you play chess?"

            "No, but I'd like to learn."

            "Okay, that's one thing we can do. I'll teach you to play. Hardly anyone in school knows how to play. Did you know that in Russia it's a regular subject, like Math or History?"

            "That's why the Russians are such good players then."

            "Yes, but did you ever hear of Bobby Fischer?"

            "The name sounds familiar," María said, which was true.

            "Well, he's American and he was better than all the Russians put together and he never learned to play in school."

            María didn't know what to say to that and there was silence for a few moments.

            "You don't happen to have a chess set?" Marcos asked.


            "I'll bring mine tomorrow."

            "Maybe we could go to the movies," María said after another pause.

            "That costs money," Marcos said. "Do you have any?"

            "No," María said, wishing she hadn't made the suggestion.

            "Neither do I, so that leaves that out."

            "Maybe we could earn some money," María said.


            "I don't know, sell something."


            "Before Marcos could throw cold water on the idea, María said that she had seen an old movie on televison where some children in America sold lemonade on the street and made enough money to go to the movies. 

            "Do you know how to make lemonade?" Marcos asked.

            "Sure," María said. "It's only water with some lemon-juice and sugar mixed in."

            "Well," Marcos said doubtfully, "we could try."

            The next day, a Saturday, the children were in front of María's house painting a sign on a piece of cardboard. It read: ICE COLD LEMONADE - 10 CENTAVOS. They tacked the sign in front of an old wooden crate they were using as a sales counter. On top of the crate was a large washtub borrowed from María's mother full of homemade lemonade in which swam several large chunks of ice. The sat behind the counter and waited for customers, and waited, and waited, but none came.

            "The trouble is that nobody passes your house," Marcos said. "Maybe we should go somewhere else."

            "But where? and how?" María asked. "This tub is very heavy."

            "Wait here, I'll be right back," Marcos said and ran off down the block and turned right toward his house. A few minutes later he returned pulling an empty pushcart. María didn't ask him where he got it, so he didn't have to say that his father and he had used it to collect scrap and used bottles until his father got a job in a bakery.

            They put the washtub full of lemonade, the crates and the sign in the cart and pushed it down the street. The sun was like an orange ball painted on a cloudless blue sky. It was very hot and the two children knew that people must be thirsty and thirsty people shold want to drink their lemonade - if they could only find them.

            They came to the orphanage where a group of children were playing ball behind the iron fence. "Marcos," María said. "There are our first customers."

            "You mean the orphans?"


            "But they don't have any money."

            "No, but they'll really appreciate it and we can always make more lemonade."

            Before Marcos could protest some children had run up to them and stood staring on the other side of the orphanage gate.

            "Would you like some lemonade?" María asked them.

            A little girl nodded with her thumb in her mouth. Maria poured her a glass and handed it through the gate. When she finished, María filled it again and handed it to a little boy with a runny nose. Soon a long line formed inside the gate and a teacher ran out to find out what was happening. She stood watching them for a while, then said, "They can't pay you, you know."

            "That's all right," Marcos said. The children's happy faces had made him forget about the money.

            When all the children had had some lemonade the teacher asked for a glass too. María handed her one with the last of their lemonade. The teacher gave her ten centavos, drank up and said, "Now you have no lemonade left, what are you going to do?"

            "Make some more," María said.

            "There's a football game starting at the plaza soon," the teachers said. "Maybe you could sell some there."

            "That's a good idea," Marcos said, "Thanks."

            "We thank you," the teacher said. "By the way, I suggest you get some plastic cups. Some people may not want to drink from the same glass."

            "Oh, we didn't think of that," María said. "But where can we get them. We have no money."

            "Wait here a minute," the teacher said. She turned and walked into the orphanage building and returned in a few minutes with six plastic cups which she handed to Marcos through the gate.

            "This is a present. You gave us a very nice present, so we are giving you one in return."

            The children ran home, refilled the tub with water, put more ice in it and collected lemons from the trees which they squeezed into the water. They added another smaller tub to wash the cups in. Then they pushed the cart to the plaza where the game was already in progress. About twenty or thirty people were watching. They set up their crates near the middle of the field and waited. Not for long. The first customer, the referee, asked for a cup and said he'd pay them later. He gulped down the drink and rushed back to the game. Everyone saw him do it and some of the spectators came over from curiosity. They all bought lemonade and some paid them twenty centavos, some twenty-five and one even gave them fifty centavos and told them with a smile to keep the change.

            At half-time the players came and stood on line and drank up all the lemonade. María and Marcos pushed the cart away and a little boy asked them if they were coming back. He had a ten centavo coin in his hand, but there was no more lemonade. María said yes, they would come back.

            When they returned over an hour later the game was over and the only customer left was the little boy who sat alone under a jacarand  waiting for them. 

            "They said you wouldn't come back, but I knew you would," he said.

            María poured out a cup of lemonade and gave it to the little boy. Marcos was about to tell him that the lemonade was free, but then he saw that the boy wanted to pay for it, so he took the ten centavos. Then he asked the boy if he would like to help them sell lemonade the next day and the boy said yes. He was only eight years old, but he could help, he said. His name was Nahuel.

            That summer the three children, María, Marcos and Nahuel, sold lemonade every day. That is, they sometimes sold it and they sometimes gave it away. They always passed the orphanage and gave the children there lemonade free. Then, towards the end of the summer, they realized that the price of ten centavos was not accurate. True, some people paid them ten centavos, but most gave them more or nothing. Marcos calculated that in any case they collected an average of ten centavos per cup. So they crossed out the TEN CENTAVOS on their sign and when people asked them how much the lemonade was, they said it cost whatever the customer wanted to pay. They made more this way than when they charged ten centavos.

            Marcos never had time to teach María to play chess and they only went to the movies once, all three together, to see Shreck II, which they all liked.

            When school started again, all the children had to give reports about what they had done during the summer vacation. Some children had gone to the mountains, others to the sea, one had even gone to Disney World in the United States. But the most interesting reports were those of the lemonade sellers. Their teachers gave them the best marks and the other children opened their eyes widest when they spoke.

            María is already looking forward to next summer.

© Frank Thomas Smith