“You’ve outdone yourself,” Walter says. I’m packing my computer up for the day and thinking that watching TV would be nice. That’s how tired I am. I’m not exactly sure what he’s talking about since he often starts conversations with off the wall comments. I wait. “It’s epic!” Oh, got it. He’s talking about the parts of his memoirs that I’ve sent him to read.
|Walter back in the day|
“You like it then?”“It’ll probably have to be published as fiction,” he says. I cringe. I’ve tried to keep his story to what he’s told me. I haven’t embellished it to make the writing easier on me, I’ve gone painstakingly by his outline and then gone back to confirm the details with him, and I’ve nearly pulled out my hair trying to put things in chronological order. Shoot, I think, I guess I’ve strayed off point.
He grins. “I mean, no one will believe any of it.”
Belief? Forgetaboutit. That’s the least of my worries. I’ve worked ninety-one pages of his life so far and am about one third of the way through. My, perhaps overly ambitious, goal is to have a complete rough and first draft by the end of August. Then I can wash my hands of the project, so to speak. If he wants to add more, or polish his life story up then he can knock himself out. But I’m relieved to know the hours I’ve put into it are not in vain. “I’ll keep working on it if you like the way it’s going.”
“It’s great. You’re making it all come together and it reads like a real book.”
“I’m glad you’re liking it.” And I am.He spreads out his hands as if to embrace me. “Thanks to you!” he says.
I raise my eyebrows and give him a half smile. “I’m heading into Lima tomorrow morning for the writers’ group,” I tell him. “Do you just want me to let myself out?” A couple weeks ago he showed me where the key for the front gate padlock is kept so he wouldn’t have to get up early to let me out. This access to a key gives me a wonderful sense of freedom. Everything is so incredibly locked up here. So many fences. So many bars. So many walls.“That’s fine. Have fun.”
I fix my dinner and go watch thirty minutes of Law and Order on TV in English before I write a blog entry and then go to sleep.This morning I let myself out the gate and walk through the light drizzle to the bus stop. I catch the Molinero 49 as usual. The bus is crowded and I hover over an old nun who’s seated in the front row with another older woman. We’re packed in so tight I almost don’t need to hold on to anything to keep my balance. After a few stops the bus empties out a little. “Señorita,” the old nun says, “Have a seat.” She points to the console space between the driver and passenger seat.
“Gracias,” I say and I sit.Some days I feel I’m a part of this world, like I blend in, like I belong. Some days I feel like an outsider. Today I feel like an outsider. I’m not sure what makes the difference. Maybe it’s the fact that I’ve been inundated with English because of all the work I’m doing on Walter’s book, in writing my blogs, watching Law and Order and no longer having Geraldine to give me my daily dose of brilliant Castellano conversation.
“Pasajes (fares),” the Cobrador says. He has a row of coins in his right hand that he jingles together as he squeezes among us to collect the fares and hand out the little paper tickets that prove a passenger has paid. The coin jingle is a practice used by most of the Cobradors to let people know they need to get their money out. It’s an unmistakable sound. It’s nearly musical. I think the Cobradors must learn it in Bus School because I know I’d be dropping the change all the time. Coins are used more often than bills here in Peru, they’re preferred anyways. Peruvians are very distrustful of paper money because there is, I’ve heard, quite a problem with counterfeiting.
I hand him 2.20 soles and say, “Bajo en la Via Expresa (I’ll get off at the Via Expresa).”
“What?”Do I sound that foreign? I take a breath to repeat it.
“Via Expresa,” the man beside me tells the Cobrador. I let out my breath. The Cobrador checks the amount I gave him and rips the little ticket off his book and hands it to me. I don’t feel so outlandish, someone understands.The girl across from me hands her coins to the Cobrador and says, “Moli-centro.”
“What?” the Cobrador asks.It’s not just me. I feel a little less like a sore thumb.
I tune in to the Cobrador as he calls out stops and keeps the driver informed on when to go. “Baja, baja , baja, sube, sube, ya vamos (one to get off, one to get on, okay go).” I’m facing the passengers from my spot at the front and I feel their gazes on me. I stare out the window to avoid random awkward eye contact. I’m feeling self-conscious, I suppose. We stop and a little old lady gets on the bus. The reserved seat for senior citizens, children and mothers, and the disabled is already taken. All the seats are filled. I stand and offer her my seat. The girl across from me gives me an approving nod. She smiles actually.“Gracias,” the old lady says as she works her way around me and settles down on the console.
I do belong.I get off at the Via Expresa and walk down the street, across the bridge and into the Express bus terminal. It’s really a concrete building with turnstiles. Almost similar to a subway station. I catch the B bus and get off at Ricardo Palma. Eight blocks down Ricardo Palma, about five blocks down Commandante Espinar and I’m Madre Natura where the writers’ group meets.
Katrina, Rodney, Oswaldo (who’s joining us today), and I chitchat while we wait for Victoria to arrive.“Just to warn you guys,” I say. “I have to leave here about 1:20. I’m supposed to meet a friend about 1:45.” We’ve been known to stay late in the afternoons and I don’t want to just jump up and run off without explanation in order to meet my friend on time.
“Your friend Mei Leung...” Rodney starts.“Yeah, Mei,” I say.
“I saw it on her Facebook status this morning,” Rodney explains to Katrina. “
“I remember her,” Katrina says. “It’s so weird how we know everything about you from your blog and Facebook.”It is kind of weird.
I eat the bananas I bought on my way in from a side street shop. Then I go order a muffin and a Café Americano from the restaurant. We have our meetings in the outside patio of Madre Natura. I’m not sure if the whole place is owned by one person but inside there’s a vegetarian restaurant, a shop with natural soaps, gifts, and other hippy type stuff that I totally dig, and a bread shop (whose constant aroma is the smell version of a Siren’s song and wonderfully intoxicating). The lady calls my name and I go collect my order and come back to the table.“I’m going to quit teaching English,” Katrina says. “And I’m going to start a life of crime.”
“Oh?” I ask. I break off a piece of muffin and gaze at the raisins inside.“Really?” Rodney asks.
Oswaldo just shakes his head.“I learned that you can steal up to one thousand soles without getting a criminal record. It’s not enough for them to bother with charging you for a crime. I could steal money, cell phones, any item that doesn’t equal up to one thousand soles and never get tagged for it.”
Oswaldo bursts her bubble. “You’d get tagged for being a repeat offender. Then you’d have a record.”“Really?” Katrina asks disappointedly. “I guess you’re right.”
My muffin gets eaten and my coffee drunk. Now a good day feels much better.Victoria breezes in apologizing for being late. She lives the farthest out. No wait, I live the farthest out, but buses are unpredictable and arrival times are subject to hopeful estimations no matter where one comes from. We assure her that all is well and not to worry about the time.
We go around the table and talk through writing woes and successes for the week and then proceed to mince Victoria’s story. When we’re done going line by line with our critiques she’s still proverbially standing and I even see a spark of delighted inspiration in her eyes. I’m glad. Receiving a critique can hurt.Victoria and her story have made it through the gauntlet and we’ve dissuaded Katrina from going into a life of crime so I think that today’s meeting is a ripping success. At 1:20 I kiss everyone goodbye and head back five blocks down Commandante Espinar and seven blocks over on Ricardo Palma to the ovalo of Mira Flores.
I’m three minutes early. I stand in front of the Haiti and wait for Mei. At 1:45 on the dot I see her.“Hey!” We greet each other Peruvian style and add in a hug for friendly good measure.
“Have you eaten?” I ask her.Apparently bananas, a muffin, coffee (and an avocado which I forgot to mention) were not enough to sate my appetite. But that was breakfast. It’s lunch time now.
“No,” Mei says. She’s hungry too. At the risk of becoming habitual and of having to talk with a waiter about why I’m not in Australia, I suggest the Café Beirut. I’m remembering the French Toast I’d had the other day and hoping they serve breakfast all day. Also the CB is more reasonably priced than some of the other restaurants I’ve menu-scouted in Mira Flores. I see the waiter I know and give him a friendly sort of smile which he returns. Mei and I aren’t sitting in his section so I avoid any new conversation with him.
“Tell me everything you’ve done since I last saw you,” I say.Mei has been in Peru for seven weeks now. She has lived most of that time in Cusco, taken an intensive Spanish course, seen Machu Picchu, spent time in the jungle with possums and giant spiders, been to Puno, visited Lake Titicaca (I’m sure all the jokes have been make about this name already, kids), traveled to Arequipa, lost a credit card in a bus, met a slew of interesting people, broke at least one heart, hung out with Rasta types at her hostel and is currently waiting for her replacement credit card to be sent from Hong Kong before she heads over to the beaches of Mancora to meet up with a friend.
She orders a hamburger and I order hummus, and rice with vegetables (breakfast is not served all day). In between bites we talk boys for a minute or two. This conversation is spoken under the Get Smart “Cone of Silence” and is not available for transcription purposes. However, the end result of the conversation is our agreement that “Boys are complicated.”
|The Cone of Silence|
As we walk I’m chattering away about Lima and the weather and about my soon to transpire plans of moving to the big city, and about working on Walter’s book. “I’m trying to get as much done by the end of the month as I can so I don’t have that project hanging over my head. I’ve been working hard to put it into chronological order, but…” I trail off and pause.
“It’s a bit of a kuffufel,” Mei says.Which it is. Exactly. But I stop dead in the middle of the sidewalk and hold out my hand to stop her too. “What was that word you just said?”
“Kuffufel?”“I’m going to have to write that down.” And I do. “Is that spelled right?” I show her my notebook.
“I think so,” Mei says.“And it means--”
“Like a pickle,” Mei says. “It’s a bit of a kuffufel. A mess.”“Yeah,” I say, thrilled to the core of my being. “Where does that word come from?”
Mei’s mom is from Australian and her dad is from Hong Kong so I don’t know if the word derives from either of those places or comes from somewhere else.“I don’t know. My sister said it one time and we’ve always said it.”
It’s one of the best words I’ve ever heard.She shows me around the hostel. She’s already told me about her roommates and the other guys that are staying there. “They do a lot of drugs and they drink and there are all these guys with dreadlocks and they’re painting murals on the walls. It’s a really chill place. I think some of these things I’ll just skip mentioning to my parents.” It’s fun getting the inside scoop and then seeing things for myself.
The tall American whose increasingly forward advances Mei’s staved off is kind enough to take our photo for us while we’re chilling on the rooftop lounge.
“I want a place like this,” I say. “If I were staying at this hostel I’d spend all my time up here.”
“That’s what I’ve been doing,” Mei says.
The day has sped by and I’ve got some buses to catch. We promise to keep up with each other via social networks and bid each other cuidate and chau.
I go home by way of a new bus to the corner of Arequipa and Javier Prado and then catch the old faithful Molinero 49. The driver drives. The Cobrador collects the fares. I doze. When I open my eyes I see it’s raining again. There’s a dense fog over the mountains from Lima to Cieneguilla. It reminds me of another bus ride where:The woman makes the sign of the cross
when she sits beside me
we both doze
when she wakes
and sees the clouds that have
descended down over the road
she says, oh my god
I stop at the market and buy a couples days’ worth of groceries and walk home in the just perceptible drizzle.
After I’ve cleaned up and eaten dinner, I take my dishes back into the main house and wash them. Walter is on the phone so I poke my head around the corner and whisper, “Chau.”“Hey, let me call you right back,” he tells the caller and hangs up. “So! I’m in Perugia now.” He’s referencing his memoirs. He’d lived in Perugia, Italy when he was just out of high school and then gone on to tour Europe. Walter reiterates that he’s liking the telling of his life.
“I’ve got about twenty more pages done that I’ll send you once I’ve got it to a stopping point,” I say. “I’m going to work on it some more the next couple of days and see how far I can get.”“I’m going to miss you when you’re gone,” he says. “Only two weeks more.”
“Yeah, I can’t believe I’ve been here two and a half months already. The time has gone by really fast. I’ll have to come back to Cieneguilla to visit after I move so I can be sure to get some sun.”“You’ll always have a home here. And to be a true Limeña you’ll have to have your country home to come to.”
We discuss this for a bit longer then he looks at me.“Did you take a shower?”
“Yeah,” I reply. It seems pretty obvious since my hair is wet.“What did you do roll around in Lima? You have a boyfriend there or what?”
I laugh at him, bid him goodnight and go write his words in my notebook as another example of: Inappropriate Comments by Walter.