Amina returns with a small cake box filled with seven luxuriously frosted cupcakes. Ali peeks into the box, assesses the fairness of the trade, and sends Amina back to the vendor with the last of the sambusas.
Two weeks later, I return to the San Diego Public Market on a Wednesday morning. I don’t see Ali in her usual spot. After asking around, I find her in a back corner, selling not from a tent but from her new truck. It is shiny and clean, white and chrome.
“I’m not making any money at all,” she says, leaning out the window. “I have to pay for gas, and the people don’t know me, so I’m selling less.”
This morning, she wears a purple head-wrap, purple sweater, and an orange dress. Hamsa stands beside her. Drum-and-bass music plays overhead. Aside from a few shoppers and a handful of school groups, the market is quiet.
Ali explains that she had to start using the truck because she was cited for not having the $500 permit required to sell out of the tent. The truck is already permitted.
“I’m losing money,” she says again. “If I were a normal person, I’d go sit at home. But if I sit in the house, I’ll get anxiety attacks, and they’ll have to take me to the emergency room every week. Here, when I work, the anxiety goes away.”
After another two months, I again return to the market, and again I cannot find Ali. The truck is not there. But she has seen me looking for her and calls out, “Look who’s here!” I turn to find her waving from a tented booth. The truck, she tells me, was getting too expensive.
“Did you sell it?” I ask.
“No!” she says. “Who would buy it?” ■
— Elizabeth Salaam