I got off the plane in Lima and tried to change money. The day before I’d been paid 1,293 Mexican pesos. This is about $71 USD, or 230 Peruvian soles. My goal was to trade these pesos mexicanos for Peruvian soles, and lose as little money as possible in the process. I’d asked about Peruvian soles in the Mexico City airport and the woman looked at me and said, “I have 10.” I said, “No, thank you.” She said, “Have a nice day.” I said, “You also.”
But at a different place in the Mexico City airport I didn’t ask about Peruvian soles. I asked about dollars. And this person had more welcome news. “I’ll give you $69 cold, brittle American dollars for your Mexican pesos,” he said (paraphrasing). I said, “Sir, that is wonderful news. What other wonderful news do you have for me today?” (again, paraphrasing). He said, “Kindest of sirs. I understand you’re going to the South American capital city of Lima, Peru. May I ask, kind sir, what you intend to do there?” (slightly paraphrasing). “That is a wonderful question,” I said, and I proceeded to give him an explanation in which I invoked the following elements, not necessarily in this order: Sir Isaac Newton, the strength of the Yen, hopscotch (the game; not the book by Julio Cortazar), compact objects, black coffee, tamales dulces de rajas, foxholes, rabbit holes, jell-o (sp?), continental breakfasts, Amazon (the company, not the rainforest), the Peruvian national soccer team, the US national soccer team, Christian Pulisic, Borussia Dortmund, Prussia, Swabia (a region in Southwestern Germany), Baden Baden, and finally, chess. He handed me the dollars and I was on my way.
On my way to Lima.
Children playing soccer at a school on the Lima waterfront.
The next night I was sitting in my Airbnb when a Venezuelan woman who’s also staying there walked through the living room on her way out to the street to buy some bread. I don’t know how we got to talking, (in my advancing years I’m less and less loquacious), but we did, and it was a charming conversation. Ah, yes, now I remember: I asked her how her job had gone. I’d learned previously she takes care of seven children in the afternoon, and I asked her how that had gone. I told her I didn’t think I could do it, even though at the exact moment of pronouncing these words I knew it was a lie. I was trying to ingratiate myself with her. Of course I could take care of seven children. It wouldn’t be at the top of my list of favorite things to do. I’d probably rather lie on a beach and look into Adriana Lima’s eyes or watch a Dortmund game alone, from the comfort of my couch, screaming at the computer screen, but I know logistically, if I were tasked with taking care of seven children, I could definitely do it.
“I don’t really like kids that much,” I said, “Except my siblings’ kids. I have seven nieces and nephews.”
“But could you change a diaper?” she said.
“Yeah, I mean, I probably could. I don’t think I would love it, but I’m sure I could.”
“What I’m really asking is: Do you want to be a father? I’m asking because I want to be a mother.”
The way she phrased it it felt as if she were saying, “Do you want to be a father in the next 15 minutes? Because I want to be a mother in the next 15 minutes,” but of course I knew this wasn’t what she was saying. And I said, “Yes, one day I would like to be a father.”
“All in good time,” she said. “You’re still young.”
“Not that young,” I said. “I have a lot of gray hair now. I’ve gotten so many gray hairs over the last three months in Mexico!”
She asked how old I was and I said 34. I immediately thought about how she might be older than me, and if I said I felt old at 34 it could be taken as me saying she was ancient at whatever age she was. It turned out she was 38. Her name was Cristy, and she was from Caracas. We didn’t talk much about Venezuela. The only said, “Things aren’t that good there right now,” and I didn’t ask more. I actually would like to go to Venezuela, and would like to go soon, but it didn’t seem like a prudent time to mention this.
We talked for a little longer and I found myself wanting to talk more, but she had to go buy bread and I had to return to my job of rating Instagram for the same cold, brittle American dollars I’d exchanged the day before. After finishing the job I went out to look for food, and found some in the form of two pieces of bread with oregano and meat at the grocery store for about 30 cents. Then, after talking to my wonderful Airbnb hosts Clara and Gabriela, I went back out to look for even more food, which, at their urgings, I found in the form of two empanadas from a place called Bon Ami. The empanadas were delicious. I ate them out of their styrofoam container on the way home, dodging traffic, dodging an old dog who looked like he’d been in a few fights and survived them all and had no grudges to bear against the world, enjoying the Lima night that’s never too cold, at least at this time of year. Then when I got home I hung out in the kitchen a bit talking to Clara and Gabriela, and they told me about various sights in Lima. I wished Cristy were there, so we could continue our conversation. But she was already in her room, talking on the phone. Eventually I went to my room, where I watched chess videos and read my book about uncontacted tribes in Brazil. And then, at precisely 11:30pm, I put my phone in airplane mode, stopped reading, had one last drink of water, and turned off the light.
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