It was just a normal day for Mercedes when she found out that she had won the US$1.27 million lottery jackpot. Starting at 9am every day, she would stand on a street corner for the next five hours in Alicante (Spain) begging for money, clothes and food. When she was done that day, Mercedes headed over to the tobacco shop where she bought her lottery tickets every day. “I think the numbers on TV are the same as the ones on my ticket,” she told shop owner Mari Ángeles Torregrosa, “… what does that mean?” A few days later, with the prize money safe in the bank, Mercedes told Torregrosa, “I’ve been crying non-stop… I’ve never cried from joy before.”
Life hasn’t been easy for Mercedes. Torregrosa and her husband, Eugenio Agorreta, run the store located near the main road leading south from Alicante. “She used to come every day for four or five years to beg” on the sidewalk near their store, said Agorreta. The patrons of a nearby bar, who would occasionally bring her their old clothing, described her as petite, black-haired woman who is “very kind and polite.” Torregrosa said that Mercedes keeps coming around to the same places where she used to beg, basking in the congratulations of the people who know her. “The first thing she did was buy a pair of inexpensive shoes to wear around the house,” Torregrosa recalls. “She came and showed them to me, saying ‘You changed my life,’ as we hugged.”
The lucky winner lives in a quiet, working-class neighborhood wedged between the old Madrid highway, the train tracks and the municipal cemetery. Her home is down an alley that ends at a wall with a railway on the other side. The modest homes are dotted with satellite dishes and have all their blinds drawn to block the heat. When we call Mercedes on the phone, her partner answers but declines to speak with us. Agorreta says she has lived with him for many years and have five children together, including two daughters who are often seen around the neighborhood. Her neighbors have been observing Mercedes since she won the lottery, and say she keeps on going to the same places where she used to beg. “She would complain about how bad things were,” says a woman who used to give her money, “especially since the pandemic.” We wait at the bar where someone would always treat Mercedes to a cup of coffee. “She came by earlier this week to ask for a glass of water, and I told her that she could afford to buy something now,” jokes the owner.
When Torregrosa and her husband were notified that they had sold the winning ticket, they waited the next morning for the lucky person to come into the store. Agorreta said, “We ruled out Mercedes because she was begging in her usual spot next to the bank.” Before returning home, Mercedes stopped by to ask about her numbers and the mystery was solved. It was the first jackpot winner for their store, although they have sold tickets that won smaller prizes. “The machine is hot,” touts Agorreta, “it knows how to make winners.”