A cursory look at the conclusion of El Tonto Del Barrio would show that there are no clear winners or losers in the story. There are reasons for this perception. Romero Estrada might be a little “touched” or an oddball, but his relationship with the community of Golden Heights Centro could be considered cordial and harmonious, even mutually beneficial. As the author aptly puts it, there appears to be an agreement, albeit unwritten, between Romero and the community for him to clean the sidewalks in exchange for the people looking after most of his needs.
For instance, the barber (Barelas) gives him an occasional haircut, the produce market provides him with fruit (although overripe), and the Tortilleria contributes bread and a viand called “menudo. ” Even his occasional beer in the evenings is usually free. Both parties are clearly satisfied with the unwritten agreement as evidenced by the fact that Romero is a respected citizen of Golden Heights Centro in spite of his mental state and has in fact fitted well into the life of the community.
The peace is however disturbed with the arrival of Seferino, Barelas’ son who has just graduated from high school and is about to enter Harvard University. Seferino raises the issue of Romero’s dignity and starts paying him for his labor, an arrangement which his father opposes without success. Barelas fears that paying Romero might prove damaging to Romero’s stability and unduly injure the harmonious relationship that exists between him and the community.
As it turns out, Barelas has correctly read the situation. The salary that Romero receives from Seferino finally gets into his head and radically alters his outlook and consequently his behavior. He starts feeling self-important. A mere couple of weeks into his new arrangement with Seferino and Romero is already applying for credit with the grocery store. Seferino interprets his action as a sign of growing self-confidence and boasts to his father that he has done right with Romero.
However, on the fourth week Romero shocks Seferino with his demand for a wage hike. When he is turned down by Seferino, the trouble in Golden Heights Centro begins and the peace is shattered, as Barelas has predicted. Romero gets mad at Seferino for turning him down and severs his arrangement with him. Very soon after, behavioral changes are observed in him. He continues to sweep the sidewalk but excludes the portion fronting the barber shop. He withdraws into himself, becomes irritable, and neglects his hygiene.
He even starts disturbing the peace by the rather high volume of his television, stops traffic in the streets, and pulls at the passing women’s skirts as he sits by the curbside. The Romero of old – cheerful, helpful, and peaceable – ceases to exist. The disturbing change in him forces the townspeople to consider having him confined in a mental facility for fear that he might harm himself. They want Barelas to initiate a petition for the purpose. However, Barelas refuses to give in to their demand.
Just as he has disagreed with Seferino in altering the state of things in the community because he knows that money will corrupt Romero, he also disagrees with the plan of the townsfolk because he believes that the day will come when Romero will revert to his old cheerful and helpful self. It turns out that Barelas is again accurate in his reading. When Seferino leaves for Harvard, Romero miraculously returns to his old self. He goes back to his self-assigned task of sweeping the whole sidewalk and resumes singing with gusto.
In other words, because of the departure of Seferino, the old Romero is back, peace reigns once more in the community, and the residents of Golden Heights Centro are once again secured in the company of a crazy on whom they could depend. As to the question whether there are clear winners or losers in the story, the answer is yes, there is one clear winner in the person of Barelas, the town barber. He is the only character in the story who has accurately predicted that paying Romero will corrupt him. He is also alone in his belief that Romero will revert to his old personality in due time.