October 24, 2011 – A Day in the Old Country
I’ve got to get out of the city. I need something that I can’t quite put my finger on. I’m locked inside my own head and getting antsy. So Tuesday morning I email Walter and ask if I can come spend Wednesday afternoon at Casa Del Gringo. He emails me back, “My house is your house.”Bueno! I think. Wednesday morning after a breakfast of quinoa and banana I pack some snacks, a book and my flip flops and go catch the old familiar Molinero 49. It’s been just shy of eight weeks since I moved into the big city and this is my first time back, but I still know the way. I watch the sky clear as we head over the mountains and then down into Cieneguilla. It’s like traveling to a different country. It’s like instantly transitioning from winter to summer. Here there isn’t a cloud to be had, the garúa is a distant memory, the sun, as they say, always shines in Cieneguilla. Today that’s definitely true.
I get off at the ovalo and walk the rest of the way. The air feels fresher, the omnipresent noise of the city is gone like a bad dream, even the dirt seems just a little bit cleaner. Negra greets me at the front gate, pressing her nose through the bars to say hi, wagging her stubby tail with delight. “Well met, old friend,” I say. I ring the bell, and soon a woman I’ve never seen rounds the corner and walks toward me.“I’m Amanda, a friend of Walter’s,” I tell her in Spanish when she’s close. Walter had said he’d let everyone know I was going to come because he had some business in Lima in the morning and wasn’t sure if he’d be back before I arrived. I didn’t know he’d hired someone new.
“I’m Gisa,” she says.“So nice to meet you. You’re working here now? How do you like it?” I’m chattering foolishly. “Is Jose here?”
“It’s his day off,” Gisa says.Of course it is. And it’s too early for Mariela to be here. Walter’s car is not in the driveway so I know he’s not back yet. Looks like I’ll have the place to myself. I’m delighted.
“Thanks for letting me in,” I say. Lulu has joined us and the dogs and I walk to my favorite spot at the table by the pool.It’s just the paradise I remember.
Why did I ever leave? What possessed me to move into the city? What was I thinking?
The dogs turn their circles and lie near my feet. Peggy sees me from across the pool but doesn’t find me important enough to come over to greet. I’m not sure where Gringo is--probably sensibly in the shade. I take my tennis shoes off, remove my jacket, roll my jeans up to my knees, pull out my book and prop my bare feet on the table.Next time I’ll remember sunscreen, shorts, and maybe my swim suit.
I catch myself thinking of later and I chastise myself. This moment, here, there is nothing more important than watching a leaf fall from its height down into the pool’s water.The avocado tree is in bloom. There’s a large lemon sitting yellow in the grass under the lemon tree. After a while I’ll go pick it up and take it inside. I read for a bit. I think for a bit. I save a moth from drowning in the pool and listen to the birds sing and gossip above me.
Looking around I realize what it is that I’ve been missing so much in Lima. Contrast. This place is rich in color; blues, greens, yellows, browns, ochres, tans, grays, gray-blues, reds, soft oranges. In Lima it’s always gray, always white like the brick wall of the building I see outside my living room window. I’m thinking in absolutes and I know it’s not true, but it seems that way.
I take my small towel and go lie belly down on the grass. I watch the bugs, smell the green scent of the earth, swat the flies away, doze in the warmth. When I’ve communed enough with the ground, I take my place at the table again.
Mariela arrives dressed in her school uniform. She doesn’t see me as she walks by and I decide to let her get changed before I call across the yard to her.I’m feeling moody and content to be alone. I’m deep into The Master by Colm Tóibín, a fantastic and wistful telling of Henry James’s life. I find almost too much of myself in the words, in the depiction of a writer’s world; the selfishness of a word thief, the craving for solitude, the joy in certain friendships, the delicate balance between loneliness and societal glutting. I read a paragraph or two at a time then put the book down. Then I pick it back up again.
Later I climb the avocado tree. I go up high, stretch over a flimsy limb, wrap a leg around a thin trunk so I can use both hands to reach as far as I can. My fingertips graze the fruit; they’re fat and tantalizing. I pull the branches down to bring them closer, snag the ones I can and covet the ones I can’t. I get a few for Walter too. That seems only fair. Half way down the tree, my avocado greed urges me to climb even higher on the opposite side. See those! it cries. Climb, get, take, have. My rational self vetoes the plan. The branches don’t look supportive enough, I’ve got enough for now, it’s a long way down.
I leave Walter’s avocados with the lemon on the kitchen counter.I’ve got my nose back in The Master when Mariela darts around the corner of the house. “Amanda!” she calls. She’s smiling. I smile back and go to meet her half way. We press our cheeks together and then she pulls me into an enthusiastic hug. “Gisa was saying that we had a guest--an Amanda. And then I was like, ‘Amanda!’ so I had to come and say hi! How is Lima? How’ve you been? Have you talked with Geraldine? How is your teaching going? Are you going to stay the night?”
I answer the barrage of questions and ask about the same amount back.When we’ve gotten up to speed, Mariela goes back to her work and I go back to my book. I’m starting to think about the bus ride home. I’ve eaten my snacks and although I’m not hungry, I’m also thinking about dinner. Walter still hasn’t returned and I’ve just decided to go write him a note and leave when I hear the jingle of the front gate chains. A moment later the blue nose of his Mercedes pulls in followed by the rest of the car.
I watch as Walter goes about his getting home rituals. When he’s finished he comes and sits with me by the pool. While he’s talking, telling me about the never-ending drama of the land related lawsuits and money worries and car troubles he’s all caught up in, I remember why I chose to move. He’s easier to take in small doses.
“Do you have a parking garage at your apartment?” he asks.“There’s one outside my window.” I hear the car alarms every day.
“Do you have a car?”“No.” He should know this.
“Does your roommate have a car?”“No, we take the buses.” We’d be insane to drive in this nest of snakes.
“Do you have a parking space with your apartment?”“I’m not sure, why do you ask?” Where are all these questions leading to?
“I got an Order to Capture from the police for both my cars. They want me to pay nine hundred soles. I already parked my white car at Terry’s apartment but I need a place to hide the blue one. I saw the order and it’s real, they have permission to cut the locks on the gate and come inside to get the cars.”“Why? How can they do that? What is the nine hundred soles for? What are you supposed to do?”
“That’s what I have to find out.”All these things are such a mystery. I’m never exactly sure when Walter tells me these stories if the government is just corrupt, if he’s not paying things he should be, if it’s a misunderstanding or a combination of all of the above.
“I’ll ask my roommate about the parking space and get back with you.”Walter stands. “That reminds me that I need to go call my lawyer.”
“I picked some avocados,” I tell him as he starts to walk off. “I hope you don’t mind. I left you a couple in the kitchen. Next time I come I’ll climb up with some clippers so I can get the ones farther out. I didn’t get very many, most of them were just out of reach. My arms aren’t long enough.”
He goes away and I read for a bit longer. The magic has dissipated a little bit, the sun is thinking about setting and I’m ready to go.
Mariela walks by with her backpack on.“Are you leaving?” I ask.
“Yes,” she replies. “How long are you staying?”“Not much longer. Maybe ten minutes.”
“If you leave now we can walk to the bus stop together,” she says.Sounds like a good plan. I go in to tell Walter goodbye.
He walks out on to the patio with me. “You don’t look any different,” he tells me.“That’s good,” I say.
“Have you been exercising?”“I just started working out again this week. I don’t want to get fat.”
“You’ve got to watch the butt,” Walter says. “That’s where it all starts.”
I’ve got to get back to the city.