Thursday, September 29, 2011

Free Hugs and Red Wine

September 29, 2011 – Free Hugs, Paragliding and Wine

I get off the bus at the Ovalo in Miraflores and trot over to where Rodney said he’d be waiting. We’ve got a 12:30 lunch date with the promise of writerly talk to accompany the meal. I’m proud of myself because I’m three minutes early. Rodney, despite having lived in Peru several years has not succumbed to stereotypical Latin American lateness. In fact, I’d bet money he’s already there and has been waiting at least twenty minutes. He likes to be early.
Sundays in Miraflores are busy times. Families, lovers, friends and loners all flock to Parque Kennedy for a day out. Today there are rollerblade rentals and a small tennis court set up for play. The exercise-dancers are packing up and leaving. In the distance where weekend lessons are given, Tango music mixes with the sounds of the children and the noise of cars. I make my way through vendors and visitors and locals and tourists. The church is ahead of me and all I have to do is turn to the right and I’m sure I’ll see Rodney. He’s an easy spot being one of the tallest men in Peru.

I’m galloping along and on the homestretch when something catches my eye--a sketchy looking skinny guy holding a sign that says in English “Free Hugs.” My community college Speech teacher told our class that humans need five hugs a day or they start to go insane. It was something about the power of human touch. She also told us she was personal friends with Quentin Tarantino. I believe everything she said. I have no reason not to. That Speech class was one of the best classes I ever took. And I had some great classes. It was memorable for several reasons; the least not being that my older sister took it with me or that as part of an assignment I went skydiving. At the end of the semester, as a final assignment, we had to give another student a gift. We drew names like a Secret Santa exchange. We had to try and get something for our person that would be special to them specifically. Give them something that we thought they’d like based on conversations we’d had throughout the semester. I can’t remember what I gave as a gift, but I remember what I received. The man who drew my name was from the Middle East, I’m pretty sure. I can’t remember his name. I wish I did. It might have been Mohammed. He was quiet, shy, yet calmly assured, confident without being boastful, timid without being weak, kind, and one of the most thoughtful human beings I’ve encountered. He was handsome, older and spoke softly. On the last day of class he handed me the gift, a flat, lightweight envelope, with an apology. “I’m sorry, I didn’t have much money. I’m sorry I couldn’t get you something bigger, something better. But after something you said, after the things you told me--I think you’ll like this.” He was nervous, afraid I’d be disappointed.
With a little trepidation and a quiver of fear that I would be disappointed I opened the envelope. I pulled out a laminated sheet with some decorative, certificate style swirls in soft blue and this quote in a pink-orange hue: Dreams take a little time, the Impossible… A little longer.

It was one of the most perfect gifts I’ve ever received. I hope Mohammed saw the emotion in my eyes. If he didn’t, I think, I hope, I told him how much it meant to me.
I kept that laminated paper hanging on the wall in my house for years and it was one of the few things that survived the 2011 Relentless Purging of Things. It’s partly because I try to live that saying out in my life that I’m here now in Peru. Words have power.

“Free Hugs!”

Words have power. Hugs have power. I usually attribute my craziness to genes or my artist temperament or just my eccentricity (which I am intentionally cultivating), but now I realize what my problem is. I’m way behind on my hug quota. I waffle, start to head the sketchy guy’s way, hesitate then pass him by because the path isn’t clear. There are too many people. A few steps later I run, nearly literally, into a beautiful little girl. Her unbrushed hair blows across her smiling face and she’s also holding a sign that advertises free hugs in Spanish.  

I give her a hug. I feel bad about passing the other guy by and start to go back when I’m caught up in the stream of humanity and carried along the way.
I figure the sketchy guy’s probably gotten his five hugs already and has avoided insanity for one day more. So I go on my way guiltlessly. I spot Rodney. He’s sitting on a tall cement lamppost base reading a book. I’m still about twenty feet away.

“Excuse me, do you speak English?”
My way is blocked by four high school aged girls.

“Uh, yeah, a little,” I say. A little?! What the heck? What language do I speak? Sure I don’t know all the words in English, but it is my native tongue. What a silly fool I am, caught unawares by questions.
“Would you mind taking part in our survey?”

“What’s it for?” I ask.
“We’re doing a school assignment,” they say.

“Oh. Okay. Sure.”
One girl readies a camera to record, one girl stands by, and the other two take turns asking me questions like, “How long have you been in Peru?” “What do you think of Peruvian food?” “What do you think of Peruvian buses?” “How do you find the Peruvian people?” “What languages do you speak?” “What do you like most about Peru?”

I answer and then we take some pictures and laugh and smile and take our leaves of each other.
I reorient myself and make a beeline to Rodney. I’m accosted by two more huggers. Now I’m only two hugs away from sanity for today and it’s only 12:31. I’m late.

“Hey!” I tell Rodney. He folds his book and stands up. “I was gonna be on time but I got interviewed and hugged and it made me late.” I have a twinkle in my eye. Maybe there is something to the power of human touch. “You haven’t been waiting a long time, have you?”
He assures me he hasn’t and tells me that he’d researched restaurants online and found a vegetarian restaurant that’s supposedly only blocks away from our meeting point.

“I didn’t even think to look one up,” I say. “You’re fantastic.” I seem to encounter a lot of incredibly thoughtful people. I’m really lucky. 
“Ready?” he asks. I am, so we walk and talk and at one point I stop and ask some hotel doormen if we’re headed the right way. I hold out the post-it note Rodney had written the address on for them to read and per their directions we do find the restaurant and it’s open.

After a brief conference we decide on an outside table. The sun is out. And I like the fresh air. I like the outdoors. The daily special is agreeable and we tell the waitress we’ll have it. We eat a garbanzo bean soup with small pieces of wholegrain bread. We chatter on and on about books and writing and friends and life and villains and evil. Rodney tells me about a story he’s going to write that was inspired by me. “I’m working on two short stories. Katrina’s ghost story and then your story. I’m going to tell you about it and I hope you’re not offended,” he says. He’s got that excited air of inspiration in his tone.
A butterfly-thought flits through my head. I wonder what I would be offended by? I’m distracted by my thought and totally intrigued by his introduction.

“It’s a story about a word-thief,” he says.
“A word-thief?” I ask. I might put my hands together with suppressed glee. I grin. I’m delighted. But I’m Gemini. One part of me immediately rises up and wants to defend my honor by saying, “I don’t steal words.” Oh, but I do, the other part of me contradicts. I write them down and I use them later. I record them and post them for the universe to read. I delight in phrases and half-sentences and emotion, and spoken thought, and arguments, conversations, turns of phrase, idioms, clichés and words, blessed words. Yes, I steal them, but eventually I give them back. You’re right, I say, to myself.

“Words, words. They’re all we have to go on,” as Guildenstern said in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead.
Rodney reads me the first paragraph of his story. I won’t quote it here. When it’s finished maybe then I’ll share it without robbery. For now, those are all his words and no one else’s.

The waitress brings us the main meal. There’s potato and something meat looking and rice. It’s artistically arranged on the plate. I forget to take a picture.
“What is this?” Rodney asks poking the meat thing with his fork.

“Maybe tofu?” I say. “I’m not really sure.”
“It’s not meat,” Rodney says. “I know that much.”

“It’s seitan,” a guy at the table across from us says in English.
“Seitan,” I say. “Oh yeah.” I’ve heard of seitain before. It’s pronounced like Satan. Which I find to be funny. My vegan friend Sarah bought some seitan based food when she and I went to New York City the summer of 2010. But I really have no idea what it is. “I’m a terrible vegan,” I tell Rodney and the man. “What exactly is seitan? I should know this.”

The man smiles. “It’s a gluten-based protein food. It’s mashed and processed and mashed again, very concentrated until it reaches this state.”
He’s from San Francisco. He’s in Lima for business and will be presenting at a conference about something Green that I can’t quite remember. His luggage got lost and we all cross our fingers that it’ll come tonight with the evening flight. I want to talk with him and I want to block him out. I want to include him in our conversation and I want to keep this time to just Rodney and me. It’s a weird contradiction. Without too much overall awkwardness, he pays for his meal and leaves before we do.

With Rodney, I feel like I’m talking a lot. I hope I’m not monopolizing the conversation or sounding like a fool. I have this trepidation at times. But I’m having a really good time. The food is tasty. The company is splendid.
“Excuse me,” a voice interrupts my (or Rodney’s) talking. “Do you guys speak English?”

A pretty, fit, braided-haired, American girl stops by the railing alongside our table.
“Sure,” this time I remember I do speak English.

“So sorry to bother you, but do you by any chance know where I can find some probiotics?” she asks. “I asked at the store across the street and the guy didn’t seem to understand or think he had any.”
The shop across the street is a whole-foods, health food store.

“Ooooh,” I say, thinking hard.
“I also already tried the little pharmacy around the corner.”

“Maybe try Fasa,” I say. It’s another little pharmacy. “One of my friends came to a party once with a container of probiotics so I know you can find them.” I feel like this is something I should know right off the bat as a health-minded and mostly vegan-vegetarian type. Every hippy should know where to locate their probiotics. If I were a real health-nut I’d have some in my bag. Damn it. I’m a failure.
“Try Vivanda,” Rodney suggests. “It’s that building right there on the corner.”

“Thanks so much,” she tells us. “Thanks for being willing to talk to me and in English and everything.”
“Good luck,” we wish her and she walks away.

“She should at least have a Spanish-English dictionary with her,” I tell Rodney. It’s a mean-spirited thing to say. I really do hope she finds some probiotics and fixes whatever ailments she’s having. Pobrecita (poor thing). I think I’m more annoyed at myself that I can’t tell her how to fix the problem right then and there. I’ve been here four months, I should know everything.
We finish our entrée and eat the little yogurt dessert thing our waitress brings us. Rodney treats me to lunch and we decide to go down to Larco Mar for coffee and a real live dessert.

The blocks we walk are nothing. We talk about writing programs and how sometimes they distract you from actually writing. We talk about the ocean and Larco Mar.
“I don’t usually like the touristy spots,” Rodney says. “But I like Mangos. They have great desserts. And the sea view from the patio is great.”
It’s full.
The maître-d tells us that it’ll be a twenty-five minute wait for a patio table but that we can sit at the bar.

We shrug and go sit at the patio bar.
“Do you want something?” Rodney asks.

“What are you going to get?” I ask in return.
“Red wine?”

“That sounds good.”
“Dos vasos de vino tinto,” Rodney orders for us from the bartender.

I lean across the bar to ask the bartender if we can have a patio table when one becomes available without realizing that Rodney is asking the same thing of the lady maître-d who’d followed us down the stairs.
Minutes later we have a table on the patio. Then not much longer after that, our glasses of wine find us.

In this spot the restaurant music is muted, more like background music to the sound of the sea. I like this. The ocean’s music is relaxing and I don’t feel I have to shout to be heard.
“Do you speak Spanish?” our waiter asks.

“More or less,” I tell him in Spanish. “We’re in Peru. We should speak Spanish. Claro (right)?”
He grins. “That’s great. Then when I go to the United States,” he tells me in English, “I’ll speak English.”

“Perfecto!” I say.
He calls me Señorita and Rodney Amigo.

We order dessert. I get some chocolate drowned cake thing with strawberries and caramel. Rodney gets Tiramisu.
“I’m totally throwing all my usual dietary restrictions,” I tell Rodney. “This is a decadent day.”

If that dessert was a sin, it would be worth going to hell for. The strawberries alone (probably my favorite food of all time) were enough to die over. The caramel crunch with the chocolate cake and the vanilla icecream. Well. Let me just say, omg.

This dessert was not vegan. But it was one of the best and most delightful things I’ve ever eaten. In my entire life. (And if you’re a male Peruvian who’s asking, I’m thirty-three.)

Rodney orders us a second glass of wine.
The wind coming off the ocean becomes chilly with the descent of the sun. I put my jacket on.

Rodney talks about how his novel villains seem to be taking over his story.
“I know just what you mean,” I say. “In my second book I have twins who are evil and they have more personality and character than my protagonist. I think there’s something in all of us that desires that evil. That we relate to. I don’t know if anyone other than another writer would understand this.”

Rodney nods. He’s a writer. He’s got dominating villains. He knows exactly what I mean.
We finish our desserts. We drink our wine. We watch the paragliders pass overhead. We talk about roommates, living alone, religion, family, parents. I tell him about my encounter with Franklin in the park the day before. He teases me about me giving out my number.

“I know. I know,” I say. “I should know better by now. But at least I didn’t give it out to him. The other guys, well, yeah.”
I pause.

“Do you want another glass of wine?” Rodney asks.
I do. I’m relaxed. I’m happy. I feel like I’m on vacation. I’m in good company.

“That’d be great,” I say. Maybe it’s the vino tinto that’s loosened my tongue. Or maybe I’m just more of a talker than I like to admit. “I’m not a drop-dead gorgeous girl. I know this. I have my moments, but...” I have a point, but it gets lost. I think I mean to say these men just hit on any American girl. They want their ticket to a richer life. Boys, please, let me just disillusion you now about me…
Rodney takes up from my pause to say kindly enough, “You are a good-looking woman. I was just trying to see what the color of your eyes to get it right for my story.” His word-thief story.

“What color are they?” I ask. “Green or blue?” They change depending on what I’m wearing.
I think he says they’re more green. “They call that hazel, right?”

“That’s what I put on my driver’s license,” I say.
A paraglider passes overhead.

“Did you see that?” I ask, pointing. There’s a girl hanging from a bar on the paraglider. She’s in perfect position. Her back arched just so. Her arms hanging down in good form. She’s wearing a leotard. She’s got to be freezing with her arms bare in this ocean-dusk air.
I get up and take some pictures. We’re amazed. I’m amazed.

“I think they’re advertising for the circus,” Rodney says. “It’s in town right now.”
The glider passes over again. Rodney reads the words on the sail. Sure enough, it’s for the circus. I’m still impressed. Athletes are amazing people. I’ve known a lot of them. I’ve been a mediocre one myself. Circus people are amazing people. The things the human body can do are magical, incredible, unfathomable. I have no problem believing this girl can hold a position like she does. I tell Rodney of some of the athletes I’ve known.

Rodney twirls his glass.
The sun has almost completely disappeared and I’m just wondering if I should tell him he’s more than welcome to call it a night. I don’t want to take up his whole day. But I personally don’t want the day to end. I don’t want tomorrow to be Monday. I want this moment, this time, this day-vacation to last forever.

“What would you think about one more glass?” Rodney asks.
The happiness I feel is more than just the wine. He’s having as much fun as I am.

“I would love another glass,” I say. “Even at the risk of being considered a lush.” We’d talked about lushes a little bit earlier.
Rodney waves our waiter down.

When Edgar comes to our table the paraglider is passing over again. “Can you believe that?” I ask him, pointing up.
“It’s a doll,” Edgar says in Spanish.

“No!” I protest. I don’t want it to be a doll. At this moment I want Pinocchio to be a real boy, I want to clap and say, “I do believe in fairies,” and more than anything I want for the girl hanging from the paraglider bar to be alive and spectacular.
“It’s a doll,” he says again.

“I thought it was real!” I say. “It’s not a doll.”
“At first I thought it was real too,” Edgar says. “But you see her arms never move and she holds that position perfectly. The second time they passed over, I though two things: One, she’s dead. Two, she’s asleep. Besides she’d freeze up there if she were really bare-armed like that.” He moves off to go get our fourth and final glasses of wine leaving me with doubt.

Rodney and I crane our necks back to watch the paraglider as it passes by again and this time even lower.
“It is a doll,” I say, sadly, disenchanted.

“When I talk about it in my blog,” Rodney says, “She’ll be real. She won’t be a doll.”
I can’t do that. I have to say things like I see them. If I know the truth I have to tell it. I sigh. There’s something to be said for ignorance. While I’m thinking this, the girl I’d imagined to be real on that paragliding bar crashes with the girl Yamilet I’d been trying to write a story about.

“Oh, Yamilet,” I think. “You’re a circus performer, are you? Now I know. Now maybe I can write your story.”
It’s only taken two trips to a church, four attempts at a short story, some agonizing thought, a truly decadent dessert, four glasses of wine, some leading conversation and a circus advertisement for me to get the combined inspiration to tell a story.

Yamilet’s story isn’t written yet. I’ve got to leave off the truth and go hang out in a fictional world for a while to get her story completely out. But she’s there over me, hovering, hanging--her limbs aching, goose bumps shivering over her skin, and, in her mind, thoughts that you wouldn’t believe.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

In the Company of Trees

September 27, 2011 – In the Company of Trees
I have a need for trees. To hear them talk, gossip, whisper. To watch them sway, dance. Under their bark, inside their trunks, in the veins of their leaves, trees seem to embody the idea of tranquilidad which doesn’t quite translate into the English for me. Tranquilidad is more than just peacefulness or calmness, more than the English word tranquility. Just a little bit more. Tranquilidad. It’s what I told Jorge (the very persistent barfly in Cusco) I wanted out of life. He’d told me that tranquilidad had to be found inside oneself, that one couldn’t look for it. I think this is true, but I can tap into mine much better when I’m in certain environments. For instance, when I’m in the company of trees.
The city of Lima has been pounding its beat into my head for the past 28 days. It’s been feeding me with its frenetic energy. It only shares its momentary calms with me when I happened to wake up in the hours between 2:00 and 5:00 AM. Then I listen to the silence with an intense longing, almost with fear, until it’s broken once again. When I remember to breathe, when I remember to relax my furrowed forehead, when I let the tension fall from my tensed up muscles, I long for the trees.

My need for trees, i.e., peace, is as great as my need for solitude, and as great as my contradictory need to connect with others. So when the sun comes out on Saturday I lock the apartment and head over to the park.
When I get there, I nod to the trees. I say “Buenos Dias” to the wind. I bless the sun. I smile without reserve.

I don't trust the grass to sit on because of all the dogs I'm watching use it as their grand toilet, so I take a bench seat and turn my face upwards. If I were to come back in my next life as a flower I’m sure I’d be a Sunflower. I photosynthesize. I make the most of the available light.

I people-watch over the edges of the book I brought along. I grin at the sight of three little terrier dogs chasing each other across the park lawn. They run back to check in with their human, stop for the touch of her hand, for a friendly word from her, then they dart away to play again. The most feisty one snags his sibling-dog’s sweater in his teeth and with a practice twist flips him over onto the grass. They wrestle in fun, separate and start all over again.
I muse about the similarities between humans beans (as the characters in Pogo say) and animals with regards to packs and herds and families. Pandas are the anomaly, I think.

Pogo and Friends
With this thought in mind, I smile at a little child who’s passing by hand-in-hand with his father. He’s a tiny little child. His steps brand new to him. His balance still a bit unsteady. His trust in his father implicit. It makes me happy to see these two together. I can tell the father loves his son. And children, they’re quick and complete to love until they’re taught not to. I let my glance rise to give the father a polite, "Yes, I was smiling at your child and he’s very cute," smile before I go back to my book.
I read and watch the sun and reflect. Remember…

Tuesday night I meet back up with Sarah.
We’d caught each other online the night before and she’d said, “Hey so i can't wait to hang out tomorrow!”

me: I know!
Sarah: I'm really looking forward to it. I wanted to ask you something though. Are you okay if my friend Will comes along too?

me: that's cool
Sarah: so i was thinking all three of us could hang out- i think you guys would totally get along

me: absolutely!
Sarah: oh cool! I think you guys would totally get along! he just seems into meeting new people

me: sure. the more the merrier and it's fun knowing more people
Sarah: oh awesome!

We get it all arranged and then on Tuesday, I go straight from work to Sarah’s hostel and wait in the dining room while she finishes up an online class. My Colorado friend Jo Ann had sent me four Dick Francis books.
The package had arrived the day before, and book-starved as I am, I’m devouring one of them. So while I wait, I read and eat the sweet potato and rice dinner I’d brought along.

Soon enough, Sarah is finished with her class and 8:00 rolls around. Sarah’s friend Will picks us up [in non-Peruvian on-timeness] in his car and drives us to Barranco.

Will greets me with a handshake, not a kiss. Fine by me. Sarah had said we could talk in Spanish, but he starts off in English and we never deviate. He's tall and thin. His skin is lighter than the majority of Peruvians and he has a tragic light in the back of his eyes which speaks of distant sadness. His English is impeccable and in it I hear a European, not a Peruvian, accent. His vocabulary is impressive and I'm jealous. I judge my own language ability against the people I meet by the words they use that I have no clue how to translate. He uses a lot that I don’t know. I make a pact with myself to enrich my Spanish vocabulary. I want to know words like grim, conquest, frantic, seagoing, plea, nomad and introspection. I’ll buy some 3x5 cards and make flashcards and memorize new words on my daily bus rides. I want to sound intelligent too.
Barranco is a bohemian place known for drawing to itself musician and artist types. So I’ve heard. I’d equate what people have said about Barranco to places like Austin, Texas or Boulder, Colorado--places with a flavor of their own. Barranco is supposed to have its own flavor too. I've been in Peru for four months and have yet to visit this artistic district. Not for lack of desire, mind you. So I'm excited to finally go, and with a new friend and a local, no less.

Sarah and Will had discussed going to see a Woody Allen movie in San Isidro or going to Barranco. Barranco wins out and we cruise over to get coffee and have conversation.
I think he and I both feel a little subdued. Both of us want to monopolize Sarah’s attention and yet neither of us wants to be rude. I try to make talk with him that will get a three-way conversation going. We succeed somewhat when we talk about the idea of appearing in strangers’ photographs and how there is a developing technology which will allow us to identify unknown people in photographs by an online search. These conversations start, lose steam and then peter to a halt. It's not uncomfortable, but we’re not entirely at ease. The coffee shop is just closing so we finish up our drinks and head outside.

Barranco is…

It doesn't feel like any of the Peru that I know. Not like Lima. Not like Cieneguilla. Not like Cusco. Not like the Sacred Valley. It’s calm for now. It’s not quite the bohemian musical local I’d expected, though I hear the drifting music from a rich restaurant below us. It's dark--a comforting dark. I can't put my finger on why Barranco seems so foreign. It feels more European. How would I know? I've never been to Europe. It feel more first world, maybe? Geared to the wealthy. I catch a whiff of that bohemian vibe in the air. It fills the atmosphere with moisture from the sea, it's almost trendy. Almost commercial. It feels more familiar, like something I know. Maybe that's what makes Barranco seem strange. The familiar is now foreign; the foreign is now familiar. Add a few colonial buildings to the street where I grew up and that's almost what this place is like. At least in the dark.
We wander. The median is lined with tall and intertwined-limbed, canopy-providing trees.

"These are really old trees," Will says.

I've been eyeing them. Maybe that’s what’s so different. That one thing I can’t really quite put my finger on still. The trees. The tall, old trees. Suddenly, I can't remember if Peru, the Peru I know, has trees. Of course it does, I'm being silly, but it's these long lines of orderly and ancient copses that I haven't seen, that I haven't been among in a while.

“She had the most desired trees." I say this a lot in my head. It’s a sentence my parents’ across the street neighbor had said one time about another neighbor. If I could have something that was the most desired thing what would I want that to be? Something so deeply rooted like a tree? Maybe. These are ficus trees. Stately, rooty and inviting. I send them “nice to meet you” thoughts. I take their picture. I try to draw some of their calmness into my soul.
We turn off the main road. It’s dark. I don’t know that I’d walk these streets alone, but with Will and Sarah it’s okay.

“There weren’t all these gates and fences last time I was here,” Will says. “You could go stand by the sea if you wanted.”

We try to go through one guarded gate, but the guard growls at us that the entrance is one gate down. The next guard lets us in. “Looking like tourists helps,” Will says. “I was just trying to work out an argument in my head for letting us in.”
We head past the residences inside the gated area and go stand on the grass, against the railing to stare at the sea. With the trees and the strange-familiar feeling, and the ocean I feel at home, I want to stay there forever. The water pulls and pushes with the aid of the moon’s tidal impulse, the lights of the Jesus Statue glow, the stars might even peak out from behind the clouds.
“I don't know what seems so different about this place," I say to Sarah.
“It's quiet,” she says. “Maybe that's it.”

It is very quiet.

No car noise. Just the hum of the ocean, the sounds our voices, a suspect whisper of the leaves. We wander more. We talk. Then we leave, take our pictures on the Sighing Bridge, and get back in Will's car. He drives us slowly and carefully (this in itself is totally foreign to my Peruvian experience) and all the while criticizes the Lima drivers. He's kind enough to take me home and then take Sarah back to her hostel. It was a fun and strange and…
At the Sighing Bridge
My musing is interrupted by a voice. “No va a molestar a usted si nosotros sentar aqui (it won’t bother you if we sit here will it)?”
I look up. It’s the man and his child.

"No, it won't bother me."

I turn back to my book. Out of the corner of my eye I watch them settle in. The dad pierces the top of a juice box with a straw and hands it to the boy. The boy looks over the box at me timidly.
“Hola,” I whisper.

The little boy doesn’t respond, but his dad does. “El es un poco timido (He’s a little bit shy). He doesn’t speak much yet. He doesn’t understand a whole lot yet either.”
“How old is he?” I know how to make a little bit of small talk.

“One and a half.”
There’s a pause. I put my nose back in my book. I turn a page.

“Where are you from?” he asks me in Spanish.
Here it is. Question #1. This isn’t an innocent sit down after all. This isn’t just a place to refresh his little son with a juice box snack. I always assume the innocent way first, how preciously naïve I am. A friendly smile from one human to another to him means a possible opening. They grasp at straws, these men. Or, he’s just a human-animal looking for a herd-pack connection.

“The United States.”

His face lights up. “I lived in Chicago for three years. From when I was thirty-eight, thirty-nine and forty. Now I have forty-five years. I’m, how do you say? Un hombre mayor.” He’s speaking to me in a mixture of English and Spanish.

“An old man?” I suggest with raised eyebrows and a laugh.
He points a finger at me and laughs too. “How old are you?”

“Treinta y tres (thirty-three).”
His eyebrows go up. “Three three? Thirty-three?”

I nod.
“You don’t look it. I thought maybe you were twenty-two.”

We’re all twenty-two year old cocktail waitresses without last names, I think, misquoting a line from You’ve Got Mail.
And what? You were planning on robbing the proverbial cradle while holding real cradle fodder in your arms? My thoughts are often more scathing than my words.

This dad is not wearing a wedding band, but then again, many Peruvian men don’t.

“Thanks for saying so,” I say.
“Are you here alone?” He’s following the traditional pattern of questions. It’s like all these guys get handed a script when they leave the house. Fortunately, I have the right responses to keep the act going.

He gets serious. Turns his body a little. Adjusts the little boy. “You have to be very careful here.” He looks severe, worried, fatherly. He holds up his fingers to emphasize his words. “Never go to La Victoria or to Surquillo. Miraflores is okay. San Isidro is okay. Jesus María is so so.”

“Thanks, I’ll be careful.”
“My name is Franklin, this is Frank.” We shake hands across Frank’s back. “He’s my only son.”

“He’s very precious,” I say politely. Are all Latin boys Juniors?
“Do you have any babies?”

I shake my head no.
“Why not?” Franklin asks.

A million responses collide in my head and there’s a sudden traffic jam with words. I shrug.
He looks sad for me. He gets quiet for a moment, still sad. “I understand.”

No. No, I don’t think you really do. But it’s easier just to let him think whatever it is he’s thinking.
When his moment of silence is up, Franklin tells me all about his time in Chicago. How it’s a place of history. How the new alcalde (mayor) of Chicago had told all the mafia and gángsters to get lost, including Al Capone (he says it Caponeigh). “In Chicago,” he says after my history lesson. “It’s fucking cold, man.” He looks at me to see if by swearing he’s secured our solidarity.

Al Capone
“It is cold there,” I agree. I’m not solidified. Friendly, sure, but not of one mind.

“Talking with you makes me remember that wonderful part of my life,” he says. “Of your beautiful país (country). I loved it there. My boss loved me too. When I told him I had to go back to my country because of my family he told me, “Don’t go, Frank, you’re a good worker and I like you.’ But I had to for my family. He threw me a big going-away party. He told me anytime I come back I have a job with him. He was good people.”

“That’s really nice.”
“Now I have my son.”

“And does your wife work?” I ask.
He looks at me as if we’re not speaking the same two languages. Then enlightenment strikes. “We’re separated,” he says.

Uh-huh. You were on the prowl after all, I think, while shaking my head. Tsk-tsk. I want to ask him a score of questions. How did he meet her? Where is she now? Does he always watch his son? Were they even married actually? Is he just leasing this child to make it easier to talk to (apparently) single women in the park?
Frank interrupts my mental inquisition. “Do you have a phone or mail?”

I need to practice lying. I’m not very good at it. “Yes, I do.”
“I’ll give you my number and my email. I work as a bodyguard,” he tells me. “I have a gun and everything. Anywhere you want to go, you tell me and I’ll take you.”

“Thanks,” I say. He writes his number and his email on a piece of paper and gives it to me. Well, one step forward for me, I didn’t give him my information. That’s something. I might just be learning. One step at a time. I don’t pat myself on the back though.
Frank has pushed the juice box straw down into the box. He holds it up sadly to his dad.

“I can’t get it out, Frank. Sorry, man.”
Frank looks disheartened. Franklin can’t bear it. He cuts the edge of the box with his teeth and helps Frank take a sip. Franklin kisses his son on the head and says in English, “I love you, Frank, I love you so much.”

I gaze out into the distance, past the green of the trees to the buildings that block the sky.
“Do you like motorcycles?” Franklin asks.

“Um,” I start.
“I have a black one. Una negra. You tell me where and I’ll take you. You have to wear a helmet. For your safety, but not just for your safety, if you don’t wear one the police give you a ticket. I don’t like tickets. The fucking po-po, like they say in Chicago, right?”

“Right. Do you ever think you’ll go back to Chicago?” I ask him.
“I want to,” he says. “But one year after I came back to Peru my house got robbed. Everything was taken. Everything everything. Even my passport and visa. ‘Sorry, Frank,’ the police told me. They never got my things back. I was out of my mind crazy-mad for a year after that.”

I guess it’s not easy to get a replacement passport.
“I’m sorry.”

Frank is fading fast. His head finds a pillow of his father’s shoulder. “I’d better go,” Frank says, assessing the back of his son’s head. “It was nice to meet you.”
We shake hands. I hold the juice box while Franklin stands.

I hand him the juice and he thanks me.

I go back to my book. I’m thinking about going to get some groceries and then heading home and wondering just how sunburned my face is going to be after two hours in the afternoon sunshine.

I’m not used to hearing my name called. Like so many of the comments and honks and whistles I receive I pay it no mind.

“Amanda! Come here,” the voice says. This time I do turn.
Oh lord. It’s Franklin on his black motorcycle. With his helmet on. He motions me over with a flick of his wrist. I hope he doesn’t expect me to go for a ride right now. I practice my lines, “I’m so sorry, I’m supposed to meet someone in five minutes.” “I’m sorry, I don’t know you well enough.” “I’m sorry, I just can’t.”

“This is my bike,” he says proudly.
“It’s black,” I say. “Just like you said.”

He reaches into a pocket and pulls out his wallet. “Here is my bodyguard certification card and my DNI card.” He hands them to me. The DNI card is the Peruvian ID card like our social security cards. More or less. I check out the name and the pictures. “So you know I’m legit,” he says.
According to his cards he really is a bodyguard. I do not ask to see his gun.

“What places in Peru do you know?”
“I’ve been here in Lima and to Cusco.”

“Where else do you want to go?”
“I’d really like to see the Nasca Lines,” I say. I really would like to.
Then he tells me that if I go to the Amazon I have to be really careful not to go in the water or I’ll get some god-awful parasites that sneak in through any orifice and can even climb in your body underneath your fingernails. “I saw it on the Discovery Channel,” he says. “Be careful with the water in the North.”
I shiver. “I’ll be careful,” I promise.

“And only eat the food that you know. Don’t just try any food. The food here is okay. But there, ten mucho cuidado (be very careful).”
Sir, yes, sir. I want to say. But he’s being nice.

“I forgot to ask you how long you’ve been here,” he says.
“Four months,” I tell him. Where has the time gone?

“Oh, wow,” he says. “Call me, if you want to go anywhere I’ll take you. I have to go now,” he glances at the time on his phone. “I have to go. Cuidate, chau.”

I go back to my bench. I finish my book in the company of the trees. Then I pack up, go get some groceries from Metro, and head back to my apartment. The trees bow their boughs as I walk by and laugh at me. I laugh along with them. They mock me for my silliness a little bit. But it’s okay, they know, as I do, that I’ll be back to visit them. I can’t stay away.

Friday, September 23, 2011

September 23, 2011 – Reach Out and Touch Someone
I’m washing vegetables when my phone rings. Shaking the water from my fingers and wiping my hands on my jeans I lean over the dining room table to check the caller ID (passive-avoidantly enough) before I answer. There’s at least one person whose calls I’m ignoring.
“Hey!” I say, picking up. I’m genuinely happy to receive this call. It’s Walter.

I’d emailed him several days ago to check in and say hi. We haven’t talked since he brought my luggage in for me from Cieneguilla nearly four weeks ago. I hadn’t heard back from him and a vague worry had been hovering about in my mind.
“Hey, how’s it going?” he starts. And then without any further preamble he asks, “How’s your sex life?”

I laugh. There are three certain things in life: death, taxes and inappropriate remarks from Walter. “I’m gonna say, ‘No comment’ to that,” I tell him even while thinking of the phrase “It’s none of your business” which I’d taught Giancarlo the week before and he’d used today as a joke when I asked him what he had planned for the weekend.
Walter chuckles. “I got your email the other day. You know how I am with computers so I thought I’d better call. But I didn’t have any saldo so I had to wait until now.” Saldo is the prepaid minutes we buy so we can use our phones to call out. It’s very common to be out of saldo. Actually it’s probably more unusual to have saldo than not to. That’s just the way it is.

“That’s why I hadn’t called you,” I say. “I didn’t have any saldo. I’m glad you called.”
“So have you met any interesting people?” he asks.

You have no idea, I think. I don’t even know where to start with that one so I take the simple route. “Yes, I really have.” Names and faces run like a ticker tape through my mind: Peru’s Next Great Novelist (the little story-telling boy on the bus), Yamilet (who is both fictional and elusive), my old friend Julio, Sarah, Will Crookshank, Angél, a lady in the park named Maura, Wilmer the waiter at Don Mamino, a lady on the bus from Piura, the old man who pushes his little granddaughter to the park in her stroller, a creepy dude, the doorman at the gated community where I teach.  
Then I switch gears. “What are you up to?”

“I’m getting ready to go to Piura.” Piura is the town where Walter has some property that’s all caught up in a legal jumble because of problems with squatters. The lawsuit he filed and the struggle he’s put up to resolve things has been going on for upwards of seven years and has been a drain on Walter’s energy and pocketbook.
“Oh yeah? How long will you be there?”

“Hopefully just a week.”
“Have you made any progress with things?”

“That’s what I’m going to go check on. If it doesn’t work out this time I’m going to drop it all. I’m getting tired of the hassle.”
“What will happen if you do that?”

“I’ll live happily ever after,” he says only half-way tongue in cheek.
“There you go then,” I say. “Sounds like a good thing to do.”

“I’ve given myself a deadline and then I’ll be through with it.”
“That’s smart.”

It’s his turn to shift gears. “It’s Friday night so what are you up to?” He used to get worried about me for not going out all the time especially after Geraldine put a worry-bug in his ear. “Geraldine is worried about you,” he told me once. “She says all you do is work and that you’re going to wear out your hands. She says you never go out and that you should stay in Lima when you go and not worry about coming back here so quickly.” This seemed funny to me because since I’ve been in Peru I’ve been more social than I probably had been the past five years of my life.
I’ve been out all week working and meeting and connecting with people. This night at home is very welcome but I still feel a little sheepish when I say, “Well, I actually have a class tomorrow and I’m working on the lesson plan.” I don’t tell him I’m thinking about putting a movie on a little later and having a glass of cheap red wine and a packet of chifles alone. “How’s Casa Del Gringo? How are the dogs?”

“Everyone’s fine. The sun has been coming out every day here. Coming up about six-thirty in the morning and staying all day.”
That sounds like heaven. “When I get done with this busy month I may need to come there for a couple days to get my head back.” The constant noise of the city hugs me like a clingy child, ties me down, becomes tangible, alive with its beeps and sirens and voices and engines and rumblings. The unyielding garúa keeps the sun under cloak most of the time. It wears me out. I don’t yet know how to feed off the energy. I love and hate it.

“You know you’re welcome anytime,” he says. His voice is sincere. It’s more than just a Mi Casa es Su Casa sentiment. It’s heartfelt. Familial. From one friend to another. Every once in a while I feel like one of his daughters; safe and loved.
“Call me when you get back,” I say. “Let me know how it all goes.”
“I will. Take care, girl. Chau. Chau-chau.”

There’s a smile on my face as I head into the kitchen and get back to making my dinner. Reach out and Touch Someone. It’s easy to do. In spite of, or rather because of all I know about Walter’s life—I can truly say I like him. I consider him a friend, an odd friend, but a friend. Chau-chau indeed.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

In Which I Whistle at Two Peruvian Men

September 21, 2011 – In Which I Whistle at Two Peruvian Men
Andy Warren taught me how to whistle during a Lakewood Presbyterian Knights basketball game in the mid-1990s. My younger sister was playing and I was tired of losing my voice multiple times a week when I went to watch her or my brothers’ games. One of the dads always yelled out the same stupid phrase, “Watch for the bad pass!” and I wanted to be much cooler than him by whistling my support instead of shouting the obvious. Andy showed me how to place the first two fingers of both hands against the edges of my tongue, where to curl the tip of my tongue against the roof of my mouth and how much breath to expel when I was ready to make some noise. It was no easy thing to learn. But I stuck with it and to my joy I was soon the proud owner of a loud whistle.
Over the years and despite my grandmother’s warning that, “A whistling woman and a crowing hen are bound to come to no good end,” I’ve whistled at sporting events and concerts. I might have used my whistle to try and call back my recalcitrant, fence-climbing dog, Kira, who escaped at every possible opportunity. I may have once or twice stuck my fingers in my mouth to get a friend’s attention from far away. And, like my ability to drive a standard transmission car, being able to whistle loudly is a thing I’m probably a little overly proud of. ( and

Sunday afternoon I don’t make use of my skills when Sarah and I encounter a Creepy Dude. We’re deep into a conversation about the vagaries of life when a strange voice from behind us says, “Hello.
Where are you from?”

I crane my neck around. A shadow chills me and the form I espy looks suspiciously questionable. His arms are crossed over his skinny chest and he exudes a strong creep vibe. Seriously, dude? You’re trying to start a conversation from that vantage point? From behind us? I wouldn’t trust your own mother with you, I think. Neither my whistling skills nor my manual transmission driving skills come in useful at all at this moment.

Nevertheless, I groan and answer, “The United States.” When will I ever learn to just completely ignore these unwanted advances? That’s a skill I need to practice. Sigh.
“What part?” he continues, “How long are you here? Where are you staying?”

Sarah and I exchange a look. In this instance Sarah possesses a skill much greater than any I have; the ability to tell someone off.
“We’re kind of having a private conversation,” she says.

“Sorry, I don’t mean to bother you,” Creepy Dude responds.
“Yeah, thanks,” I say. Sarah and I avoid looking back at him. We don’t want to encourage him to stick around.

He creeps away.
“Thank you!” I tell her. We both shake off the heebie-jeebies. “I was just trying to figure out how to say the exact same thing to him.”

“That was really awkward,” she says.
“Totally. He was really creepy.”

“I thought so too!”
It takes a moment for us to get our conversation back on its roll. We take our words and walk down the rest of Miraflores’s touristy coastline then head back towards the Ovalo.

We’ve walked and talked away the afternoon and we’re both hungry. I fall back on my old reliable haunts and suggest going to the Café Beirut. She’s amiable to the idea. Before we get there I stop to read a menu to a small Italian place. I want to see if there are any vegetarian options.
While I’m thumbing through the menu on the stand outside the restaurant a little waiter comes out.

“Do you have any vegetarian food?” I ask him. “Without any kind of meat?” I clarify. Sometimes chicken or fish don’t count as meat to Peruvians.
“Claro qué sí (of course we do),” he says. “Come in, sit down, we have really good food.”

Sarah looks over my shoulder at the menu.
“Maybe we could split a vegetarian pizza?” I ask her. I normally avoid dairy products, but hunger and convenience talk a very persuasive talk. Also I still have a love for pizza in my heart. It’s hard to purge myself of that.

“Sounds great,” she says.
The waiter gets us settled in at our table.

“You want something besides water to drink?” I ask. We’d discussed adult beverages earlier on.
“I haven’t tried a Pisco Sour yet,” Sarah says.

“Of course you have to try a Pisco Sour.” We look at the prices. They’re not unreasonable, but we’re both on a budget. “You want to share one?” I ask her.
“That’d be great,” she replies.

The waiter flits back over. He’s short, precious and old. He wears a bowtie. His smile is engaging. “Have you decided?” he asks. His hand is poised over his notepad ready to write our order down.
“We’ll have the vegetarian pizza to share, water without gas, and one Pisco Sour.” I put my hand out to stop him before he leaves. “But seco (dry). Not sweet.”

“Oh,” he says with a delighted smile. “You know how to order your Pisco Sour. Of course, we’ll make it just right for you. My name is Angél, just call me if you need anything.”
He vanishes like a sprite and I turn back to Sarah. I’m talking a mile a minute. I know I am.  We’re discussing Karma and Buddhism and Religion and Atheism and Money. “Tell me to stop if I’m blabbing too much,” I say with a little embarrassment at my loquacity.

“No,” she assures me. “It’s refreshing to talk to you about all these things.”
She’s quit her job and come to Peru for two months to do volunteer work as a nurse and I admire her for this. It’s a gutsy thing to do. We talk about this and the omniscient worry of funds.

We eat our pizza and drink the water and Pisco. I try to remember a quote my dad had told me after he’d read a blog I’d posted about just breathing. It’s on the tip of my mind, just there, but each time I say it, it comes out wrong. Then I remember that I’ve written it in my notebook. It makes me think of the line in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade where Sean Connery says, “I wrote them down in my Diary so I wouldn’t have to remember.”

I pull out my notebook and flip through the pages. “Here it is!” I say. I read it out loud. “Just breathe,” my dad had emailed me. “Jesse [my oldest sister] shared Joseph Campbell with me. He said rather than search for meaning in life we should search for the experience of being alive. Just breathe.”
That sums up Sarah’s and my conversation.

We’ve hit it off like Roy Hobbes did the cover of the ball in The Natural and also finished our dinner.

I ask Angél for the check.
“You can’t have it,” he says with a smile. “You have to stay. Until tomorrow.”

Sarah takes a picture of him and me. She thinks it’s funny that he’s taken such a liking to me. Despite his desire that we stay, we pay our bill and bid Angél goodbye.
“Come back soon,” he says.

We wave and smile and head out to walk some more.
“I could go for a coffee.” I say, feeling quite the glutton.

“That sounds great,” Sarah agrees.
So we head over to the Café Beirut after all.

I don’t need my whistle there either. The waiter knows me. I’d brought my friend Mei to this café before and he’d served us lunch.
“Hola, linda (hello, beautiful),” he says with recognition as he seats us. He shakes my hand and reaches over to shake Sarah’s hand too. I ask him if it’s okay if we just order coffee. He says, “Of course,” and goes to get them for us.

She and I talk and talk and talk.
Our coffees go the way of all good drinks. Eventually, we’ve loitered long enough. Sarah has to get back to her hotel to send a class assignment by email before eleven o’clock eastern time. I don’t see our waiter just then, but catch the eye of another employee. “Could you get us the check?” I ask.

“It’s eight soles,” he tells me.
“Is it eight soles to get the check or is it eight soles for the check?” I ask him with a grin, joking around.

Our waiter hears and he and the other man laugh.
“Your Spanish is very correct,” the waiter says. “You say things the right way.”

This inflates my ego just a tad, but I know I still have a lot of Spanish to learn. The bill is eight soles and we pay it.
“Come back anytime. You’re always welcome here,” they say to us as we leave.

I feel like I know everyone in Miraflores. They’re all my friends. I’m their special gringa.
“Do you want to come back to the hotel?” Sarah asks. “I have to email the assignment but we could hang out a little more after.”

“The night is young!” I think in the words of my good childhood friend Joseph Drake. I write notes from the day while Sarah takes care of her school stuff. Just when I’m thinking maybe I should gather my things and go outside to figure out what bus to take home Sarah shuts her computer down and picks up a slip of paper off the desk.
“I have a free drink from the bar,” she says. “I have to use it tonight. Do you want to see if they have some red wine?”

“Okay, why sure!” I say. The night is young. So we head over to the hotel’s upstairs bar.
The free drink doesn’t apply to red wine, just to Pisco Sours. Sarah orders one free one and charges another to her room. We find a corner spot. It overlooks Lima. The lights shine like terrestrial stars. The city glows like a constellation. “Lima looks beautiful from here,” I say, almost amazed. I’ve nearly forgotten that even dirty, busy, noisy cities can be beautiful too.

We talk about our parents. About love and friendship, relationships and friendships, divorce and cheating. I don’t need my whistling skills here.
Though if I’d had any sense I might could (to use a Texan term) have used my whistle (somehow) to deflect the attention of the waiter Maurilano who takes a liking to both me and Sarah. When he finds out that Sarah is going to leave in a few days but that I live in Lima, he hones in on me and wants my phone number so he can call and remind me to come visit him while he works. “I work every night from seven until two,” he says. “Come back any night and I’ll give you a free drink. In fact, when you finish that Pisco Sour,” he points to my drink, “I’ll bring you another one on me.”

He wafts off.
“He likes you,” Sarah says.

These guys like any girl. I’m not flattered or impressed. If anything I’m skeptical.

We talk more. Fireworks light up the Lima sky. “Did you see that?” I ask. I don’t know what is being celebrated. Without the sound, fireworks are splendid. We gaze out the window. The waiter brings back the second drink Sarah had ordered and, a bit later, brings me one on the house.
“Thanks…” I start to read his name tag.

“Julio,” he says, “My name is Julio. Give me your number and then you can come back one day and I’ll give you a gift. A lucky charm. I’ll give you one for you and one for you to give your friend when she returns to Lima.”
He hands over a pad of paper. I scrawl my phone number on the paper (will I NEVER learn?). But I don’t really have my phone memorized, so I’m not sure if I put the right one down or not. I hope I don’t.

When he leaves, Sarah reprimands me. “You should have told him you don’t have a number and taken his instead. That way when you never call it’s not the same as him calling you and bugging you.”
“You’re so smart,” I tell her. Sometimes I’m so naïve and silly. Okay, not just sometimes.

I’m about 90% sure I wrote my number incorrectly, but by this time the slight effects of the Pisco are dimming the edges of my photostatic memory. Oh well, I think. While I’m planning on avoiding any future calls from unknown numbers I’m also trying to see in my mind’s eye if I know what corner I need to go stand on in order to catch a bus back to my apartment. I’m not exactly sure. Also it’s Sunday night and I’m not really sure how late the buses run.
“If you just want to stay the night--I have that giant king-sized bed,” Sarah says as if reading my mind. “We could both stretch completely out and probably not even touch.”

This is a welcome offer. We’ve both had two and a half Pisco Sours by this point. A comfortable bed sounds like a much better place than a cold street corner or a crowded bus. We make our slightly tipsy-edged way over to the elevator.
“Don’t forget to come back to visit me.” Julio calls after us. “Have a good night.”

When we get back into the room Sarah looks at the bed. “This is weird,” she points at two little boxes at the foot of the bed. “I don’t think these were here when we left earlier.” Apparently the hotel staff has been in the room and has left little individually boxed chocolates. “Yesterday they only left me one. Someone must have called them and told them I had a friend over. I wonder what they think?” she wonders with a half laugh.
I find it to be amusing as well.
“Last night I stayed in to do some school work,” she says, Sarah is working on a nurse’s certification program through an online course. “I ate all these granola bars and drank nearly a six pack of beer. Who knows what they thought then and what they think now?”
“I’m sure they’ve seen a lot worse than granola wrappers and empty beer bottles,” I say with a laugh. Also I don’t think that the Peruvian mind immediately jumps to homosexual thoughts the way American minds might. Who knows? I’ll have to interview my neighbors to find this out.

From our extreme positions in the giant bed with a stream of pillows between us, we stay up well into the morning talking.
I’ve had maybe four hours of sleep when I turn my alarm off and get up. I bid Sarah goodbye and go out to catch a bus. I stop to ask a policeman at the corner which bus will take me back to San Felipe just as a bus I recognize comes into view. It’s the infamous (as in the ‘more than famous’ per The Three Amigos) 19 that Juan Carlos and Victoria had joked with me about before saying that it went everywhere. “Never mind,” I tell the official. “Thank you. This one goes there.”

Half an hour later I’m in my apartment getting cleaned up and making my meals for the rest of the day.
I’m happy from a good time with a new friend and looking forward to catching up again with Sarah the next night. She doesn’t have to leave until Wednesday morning and had suggested maybe meeting up again.

I’m up and dressed before the time that I usually get out of bed. I utilize the extra minutes. I talk with my mom via Skype, shower, and pack my things for the day. I take the IO-50 to Surco. Teach class to Giancarlo. Eat my lunch at Metro and encounter a lady in the park while I’m killing time. These events are sub-stories too long to recount here. I should be exhausted. Although I take a fifteen minute nap at the table in Metro I’m buzzed off of life. When five o’clock nears, I go and teach Ivonna. She has a lot of reading to do and I stay half an hour later than usual.
The sky is dark and it’s started to rain again when I bid my front gate guard-friend goodnight. “Hasta luego,” I say. I zip my jacket up to my chin and shuffle my bags around so I can clasp my arms across my chest for warmth.

“Cuidense,” he tells me formally. “Hasta luego.”
It’s nearing seven o’clock and just as I’m approaching the bus stop corner I see the IO-26 passing. Damn, I think, Now I’ll have to wait for who knows how long.”

Almost without thought, my fingers fly up to my mouth. A piercing whistle strikes the night air. The Cobrador, leaning out the window, glances back and sees me. My hand is out waving the already passed bus down without much hope that it’ll actually stop. 
But it does.

The Cobrador yells out to me to run.
I cross the street without getting killed, and, short of breath, climb into the combi.

“Thank you,” I say between puffs.
The Cobrador and the driver are both laughing. “What a great set of lungs you have,” the Cobrador tells me.

I grin. I can’t help myself. I am proud of my whistle. What can I say? After all this time, it’s served me well. I try to stay humble and matter-of-fact. But it doesn’t work.

I glow the whole way home.