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.

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