Last night Walter drove into Lima to have dinner with Mary and friends. I was content to stay in Cieneguilla and actually relished the time alone. At about 7:00 he calls. “I’m having a guilty conscience,” he says. I rack my brains trying to think of something he’d have to feel guilty about with regard to me. Maybe he told someone my hair was always frizzy? Well, it’s true. I’m coming up with nothing. I wait with the phone to my ear. “I feel bad not inviting you to come along for spaghetti. I know it’s hard not to have friends. So I was thinking maybe you could come into town tomorrow morning and I’ll take you to the oldest hotel in Lima for some wine, to Barranco, and to see the sea again.”
“That sounds like fun.” Why the heck not? I do have friends, by the way. Really good ones. Also I made a slew of new ones last week here in Peru all on my own. Mis amigos.“How about meeting around 11:00 or 11:30 in front of our spot The Haiti?” he asks. “After all, this is Peru.”
“Sounds good.” I confirm directions and hang up.In the morning I eat breakfast, pack my snacks, gossip some with Geraldine about some of the Casa de Gringo guests, make sure I have some soles to pay for the bus fare and walk down to the bus stop. It’s a holiday. The Dia de los Pescadores. Which I finally get someone to say is in celebration of Peter and Paul. I guess James and John, those Sons of Thunder, and the other fishermen don’t count. Too bad. Maybe they have their own holiday some other time in the year. You don’t want to use up all your saints on one day, I suppose. I shrug. Good enough for me. I’m always down with days off work. For everyone.
Along the roadway through Cieneguilla people have set up stands decked out with kites. I don’t know if this is a special tradition for this particular holiday or if all holidays are a good reason to sell kites. I love kites. I think back to the time my dad and mom took all us kids to the park and we flew this great and tricky box kite and another fancy long tailed kite which I might actually still have unless I threw it away because it smelled like mothballs.
There’s something really magical about kites. Maybe it’s just because of Mary Poppins, but I almost get off the bus to buy a kite and go stand in some open space to fly it.
I make it to the meet up spot just as Walter calls to find out where I am. Perfect timing. I jump in the back seat of his Mercedes and we drive down to the market, which is a street of shops. They’re looking for a potato masher to take to a friend in the States. The rule here is never buy from the first place first. The price must be compared and possibly bargained down. The quality of the masher needs to be evaluated. Finally a purchase is made. Walter and Mary have scheduled a tanning session so that when they go to Miami next week they don’t look too white. I leave my sleeves down and think if Mary thinks she’s too white then I must be Caspar. Good lord. What was it that Solomon said in Ecclesiastes, “All is vanity?” I think of the sun against my skin and sigh a little for my abandoned summer.
I get the option to wander the streets of Mira Flores alone or go to wait for an hour while they tan. I opt for wandering. I go by the Flying Dog Hostal. I’m supposed to find some adventurous souls to take a trip with Walter and me sometime at the beginning of August by car. I’m scouting out the tourists spots to see if I can find some fun travel companions who have money to split costs with us. I get buzzed inside the locked gate of the Flying Dog and wander through the Hostal and then sit and talk with a girl from Holland. I also pick up some information about some places to stay in Cusco since I’m leaving for there next week.
I’ve been staying up too late and have a headache. I buy a bottle of water and then decide to go against my usual no caffeine stance and find a place to have an espresso. I’d walked by the Beirut Café before and liked it for the danger the word Beirut elicits in my mind. Silly sure, but there you have it. I scan the menu and feel a surge of delight when I see Hummus. The ingredients listed are all on my Good to Eat list. So I sit and order some hummus and an espresso.The waiter is friendly. He brings me my headache thwarter and asks, “De que parte eres? (Where are you from?)"
“Tejas.” I tell him.
“Te gusta los caballos? (Do you like the horses?)"It’s funny, but even in the States when I’ve told people I was from Texas they all assume I grew up on a ranch, wore cowboy boots, chaps and a Stetson and rode to school on a horse. Or if I say I’m from Dallas they get this crazy look and ask, “Do you know who shot J.R.?” I’ve never seen the show, but I have driven by Southfork Ranch plenty of times. Sorry kids, that’s as good as it gets from me.
When I pay my bill and get up to leave the waiter asks when he’ll see me again. I smile and just tell him, “Chau” (which I think is the way to spell Ciao here in Peru) and make my escape.Across the street at the park, after I wander for a time, I find a seat and people watch.
A guy crosses in front of me, stops and asks, “You speak English, right?”“Yes,” I tell him.
Percy’s an artistic type with tattoos and a leather bracelet on his wrist. He speaks very good English and makes himself right at home beside me. He asks all the usual questions. Where are you from? Why are you here? What do you do? How old are you? He writes poetry and puts it to music, “Like Jim Morrison,” he tells me. “I lead trips in the jungle,” he goes on, changing the subject.“Oh?”
“Sure, if you want me to be your guide, you speak Spanish?”
“I get by,” I say.
“I could translate for you and show you around Peru.”
I don’t find him to be good guide material, but that’s just me.
Percy asks me more about my writing and then says, “We could go out some time, get some drinks.”
I shrug, “I don’t drink much.”
“You smoke some weed?”
“I don’t smoke,” I say, with a wry smile.“That’s weird, right? Writers drink and smoke to get their stories.”
A good majority of them do, I’m sure, but I don’t get into all that with him. He finally stands after offering his jungle guide services once again and walks away. He leaves the little plaza and heads down the steps where he immediately begins talking to another foreign looking guy. I’m sure his first words are, “You speak English?”
I inch around the circular bench to take a covert picture of Percy with his new English speaking victim. This moves me closer to a man who’d offered to read my fortune when I first stepped on the platform to sit. His mustache is nicotine stained and I unfairly assume he’ll smell like booze if I’m near enough to catch an odor off his body. While I’m settling back to resume my people watching an orange cat walks behind me, stops a moment to bat my hair and then moves on past. The cat heads over to the fortune teller and I try to catch a picture of the cat rubbing up against him.
The fortune teller looks over at me.“El gato (the cat),” I tell him to account for me taking the picture.
He nods, smiles and scoots over near me. I look at his deck of cards and ask him if he does card tricks or fortunes.
“Fortunes,” he tells me in very good English.“How much do you charge?” I’m sincerely curious.
“Five soles for three questions,” he says. He has fortune telling packages for up to 150 soles which he tells me is straight Tarot. I spin the idea of giving him five soles for three questions but I can’t think of anything I’d want to know from cards. To quote a character in my own book, “We make our own fate.”His name is Javier. He spent five years studying and working in Houston, Texas. He tells me he once drove from New York to California and that when he was in St. Paul, Minnesota all the girls said, “Wow!” because of his dark hair and his black eyes. “They were all very white there.” He comes to the Mira Flores park every day to read fortunes. “I have nothing else to do and I don’t like TV.”
“Look at the cat now,” Javier tells me, pointing. That yellow cat eases down into a crouch and stalks some pigeons that are oblivious to danger and eating their afternoon snack of popcorn. “You should take a picture of that.” So I do.
A man on the bench opposite us stands and goes to shoo the cat away before he can get near enough to even try a pounce.
“Ah, a man who loves the birds,” Javier says. Even though his hair has turned from black to gray and his eyes may not be as black as they once were, I’m kind of in love with Javier. Just for being human.That’s life, right?