Tuesday, 31 July 2007

Chapters 15-17

While I'm at it, here's a few more, if you're really looking for summer reading.

Chapter 15
Field Sources : the Condor and the Fox

The roadshow hits Laikapampa today, a community close to the highway, not really isolated, merely desolate. The ancient mud church is shut tight, windows boarded over, the door padlocked by corroding metal clasps. It’s eroding into a geological feature.
“Any chance of a look inside,” I enquire, supposing that interest will enhance my standing with the locals.
“The church contains colonial paintings of some value to collectors, it would seem,” our guide stiffly explains. “We keep the temple closed so that the paintings cannot be stolen.” He raises both palms high, a gesture that allows me to place him - Don Alejandro, joker and medicine-man who, on that stormy night by the Lake, employed incantations and cane-alcohol to haul the Toyota from its ditch. He changes to what I trust is wit; “Should you enter now, you will be blamed for the theft, whenever it occurs.”
“And if I’m hundreds of kilometers away.”
The twinkle within his squint. “Then we would say that you planned it all the more cunningly.” Subtle needling. Can you picture me hanging their grime-encrusted saints and madonnas on the wall of my beautiful bedroom?
Don Alejandro then points out the effects of a recent, unseasonal frost. We inspect the shrivelled, blackened, ex-foliage of the potato crop. Waist-high heaps of stones border each plot. “A great stone harvest is predicted for this year,” he jokes, kicking one pile
Well into the third week of field-tripping, I’ve found that when in the campo certain factors must be taken into account. The state of the roads, whether blocked by fits of nature (swollen rivers, landslides, ice), or by human interference (amateur banditry, accidents, tolls). Supplies are also vital; food, cigarettes and water for survival during the inevitable delays, and coca to offer, to share. The urban visits are fairly routine, but here on the altiplano, tradition prevails.
“We are pleased and honoured to receive a delegation from the office,” states the old jilakata, fixing us in time and space - tolerated intruders. He’s the police force from colonial times, wears a horn to summon and a whip to chastise. Purely ceremonial, Alberto whispers, shake his hand.
Still I find our welcome among Laikapampans ominous. Nothing is freely given on this scoured plain; not the weavings hung to shield us from the wind and sun, not the bench we sit on while our hosts stand, nor the applause and confetti, nor the crate of beer - not unless we’re being wrapped in bonds of reciprocal obligation.
My colleagues are basking in the attention. Alberto, buddha-chubby and cheerful, responds the speech of welcome. Elvira stacks notebooks on the table to remind the community that she’s checked the accounts. I’m holding a long, thin roll of paper, which, despite Elvira’s disapproval, I twirl, bat, use as a telescope, aim as a blow-pipe to pass the time The rolled sheet is a map of the world.
I’m becoming used to the tensions at every meeting mounting to anger, real or assumed. How the crisis is handled depends on who’s present. Ana assumes an intellectual cloak when under pressure, Oswaldo will manipulate, Edmundo charms, Faustino buys them off. Alberto and Elvira are decent if uninspired.
The Laikas want to build a bridge and a school-house on borrowed cement. Now, because of the frost, they are also requesting an emergency seed-fund. Elvira reminds them of outstanding Copcap loans, including their struggling chicken farm, a poultry excuse of a project. The grumbling swells. Men lean on their bicycles, youths kick stones, the women look away.
Alberto tries explaining, but it’s all quantum physics to his audience, parallel credit lines meeting at infinity, which is where the community may finally settle its debts. He intuits the need for a comedy-break. “Why don’t we continue these discussions later? Our volunteer, Jaime, has prepared a very interesting talk.”
Disregarding the unrest, I unfurl the mapamundi. They can only pummel and castrate me when this misfires.
“Here in the heartland of the continent of South America,” I begin, the public mood prowls between lukewarm and ugly. No-one steps forward to indicate our position on the map, though I do ask. A twig from the bushes over there, please, and I’ll show you where we are. Not possible, someone shouts. OK, I can use the shadow of my finger. But pointing while clutching the map in the breeze is an acrobatic skill.
“And so, Columbus set out for India in search of spices.” The Laika men and women, clustered in separate groups, stare at other horizons. “What he didn’t expect, was a continent in the way, this one. When the ships landed here, the Spaniards thought they’d reached India and called the native inhabitants, indios.” The taboo word just pops out. And hovers. Suddenly one hundred heads swivel my way, two hundred eyes are locked into mine, five hundred years of abuse ride the open plain, caballero.
“Say that again,” is part challenge, part plea. “You mean este carajo arrived in the wrong place?” The crowd has woken up, agile minds peer through the shutters of indifference. They push closer to hear an account quite different from the usual victors’ textbook tale. They know about the discovery/ invention/ invasion of America, empire as looting, oppression lasting till now. But circling round that contemptuous label ‘indio’, what a surprise. Far from disparaging them, it actually marks the ignorance of the invaders.
A tall, known figure disengages from the group. I recognize Mario’s friend, the one who lectured me sober that night. In his brown and black striped poncho, white scarf, black trousers, Rigoberto really looks the condor, in colouring and in posture. He shakes my hand and compliments me, a stepping-stone to addressing the crowd in Aymara. Alberto hisses angrily, “I won’t have this rabble-rouser turn the meeting into a recruitment campaign,” and against all custom, tries to interrupt the speaker. Rigoberto continues haranguing. Out front, many heads bob in assent.
The agenda has irrevocably swung from credit to the outreaches of indignation. Nerves are touched, embers of ’52 flicker - insurrection, peasant militias, the torching the exploiters.
During the pause for rustic buffet, I ask the jilakata about the large adobe building behind us, which in contrast to the padlocked church is open, gapingly so. “Ex-hacienda,” is his terse reply - the landowners’ house.
“Why’s it empty?” I persist.
Alberto, between mouthfuls of potato and beans, translates the ponderous reply. “We prefer never to use those rooms.” Yet, while the place is gutted and shunned, there’s fresh whitewash on the walls and a complete set of red rooftiles.
I haven’t a chance to consider the implications because, straight after the meal, the communards shove me into a football game. From the small pitch jut stones, perfect for kneecapping unwary foreigners. Banana-skin Jim, a hero for our times, skidding, gasping, spewing up his pack-a-day habit, every antic prompting further laughter. My constant sipping of bottled water sets the wags heckling, “Jaime, try the beer; water’s for fish.” Can’t help it if I dehydrate at altitude. The taunts simply reinforce a sweaty resolve until my jeans tear to general amusement and cheers.
The jilakata has granted permission, gravely, to view the hacienda building, but declines to enter. I’m flanked by an escort of medicine-man and agitator. The meeting can continue without me, though later I’ll be called to account for this lapse of teamwork. Right now I’m on a high, buoyant, popular and successful, unaware of the forces ranged around.
Teaching or learning? We enter the hacienda. The empty patio matches the Hackney Academy; both have those echoes of cultured dementia.
“You’ve heard of Melgarejo?”
Rigoberto’s habit of rifling questions.
“A military dictator of the nineteenth century who used a very simple trick to confiscate our lands. Issued a decree that all communities had to register their property within a month.”
“So, why didn’t they register?”
It’s Alejandro, the mystical half of the act, who clarifies my thickness: “How many of us could read in those days?”
And Rigoberto who adds: “Melarejo gifted the entire altiplano to his friemds and turned us into their slaves.”
Room after bare room. In one high-ceilinged salon we find a relic of former times, a dark magazine photo of the Kaiser and family, pasted upside-down on peeling plaster. I try imagining the ladies in crinoline and silk, the gentlemen in dinner-jackets, who waltzed while their serfs crouched in hovels. Fools to imagine they could dine indefinitely off the backs of subsistence farmers.
“Last year in La Paz,” says Alejandro, spitting on the dry earth, “I met the son of the family that owned us. He knew me at once. We used to play together when we were kids. Still looked rich enough. Things don’t change - except now they can’t beat or whip me.”
“Why don’t you knock this damned building down?”
Rigoberto takes my arm and marches me to the low bushes I’d noticed before. A gigantic web unites bush, scrub and weed. Jiggling it, he makes dozens of spiders appear. A spider colony, the first I’ve ever seen. To think, I’d almost grabbed a branch during my talk
“That’s very much how we Aymara see ourselves, sharing and waiting. Meanwhile we remember.”
The Toyota horn blares. Luis has resurfaced and, as usual, the vehicle, which set off empty this morning, is now loaded with tightly bound bales and bundles and boxes. All office supplies, Luis claims. I suspect he’s a master smuggler.
The meeting has disintegrated, though in the golden flushes of late afternoon Elvira still lectures to a reduced circle. She’s glancing this way, probably sore at me for distorting the day’s business only to neglect it. But then a woozy Alberto’s also heading for censure; the beer-crates are empty. Sure enough, as the last passengers clamber around the cargo, first recriminations are being swapped in the cabin.
I fake sleep, floating on thoughts of the sturdy altiplano race that has resisted Incan empire, Spanish conquest and hostile takeover by europeanized Bolivians. I’m exempted from this dissolute list, aren’t I? Today the Laikas called me Viracocha, the bronze-aged, blue-eyed, golden-haired god who reputedly introduced agriculture and technology to the Andes. See, I’m no longer a horseman.
I’ll admit to admiring the Aymaras, their obstinacy and courage. Which is why the doctor’s comments, the very next day, floor me so completely.

Chapter 16
Sitting With the Doc at Bay

“Don’t make me laugh,” scoffs Dr. Beto Villegas. “They’re stupid, lazy animals, an evolutionary mistake.” Thoroughly enjoying my shock, he leans against the rickety table, prodding the limits of acceptable opinion. “The Indians are why this country is so backward. It costs us to drag them into the modern world,” though which branch of modernity Villegas represents is not apparent.
You know, I must be missing the Ché gene, the one that’d compel me either to eliminate this class-enemy or bury him in well-chosen insults, at least walk out. Geordie would blacken the scoundrel’s puffy eyes, but I can’t summon the passion. He’s a relic, an aberration, of no importance.
I sit on a broken chair, marvelling at the state of the Copcap clinic. A film of dust coats the metal stand where the few medicines languish. Packets of pills are scattered, red and white, blue and gold, like soldiers in ragged uniforms guarding some farthest frontier. I’ve seen doll’s-houses with first-aid kits of greater viability. Below the shelves, Ignatz’s blessed vaccines, unopened.
Dr.Villegas isn’t offering his filter cigarettes, so I light an Astoria. We shroud the clinic in smoke, but this morning there aren’t any patients to incovenience. Having nothing particular to express, I flick through the newspaper. And though the news is rather sad, well I just have to laugh. Minister of Labour admits to owning a fleet of trucks contrabandeando from the Chilean coast - La Paz mayor caught selling designated green areas to his pals - the president’s nephew revealed as head of the mafia, though el coronelito claims never to have met him - oh boy.
The doctor retrieves and folds the newspaper. “It’s simple to guess what you’re thinking. But let me inform you that,” he pronounces each word precisely, “Bolivia depends on corruption. Without a little greasing of the palms, we’d be bogged down in bureaucracy.” He’s barely begun, again.
“I know your type. Come here wanting to help and get suckered into admiring our native population. Then they’ll pull you into their quarrels and schemes. Dios mio, would you like the Indians to take over?”
Just as his preposterous barbs start to irritate, the nurse enters. A frisson of fabulous proportions passes between them, indicating just why an ageing, racist doctor would choose to bury himself in this shady little health project. Naughty Beto, playing Romeo in a tin-roofed, adobe love-shack. Darkly elegant, she’s worth it, she adds form to his vacuity.
Credit the doc, he camouflages his passion with a dry “Ah, nurse.”
And then both Beto and Vanesa jump, I swear they do, at the sound of the timid knock. A patient has managed to locate the clinic. He reacts first; “Pasé no más,” but whoever’s outside doesn’t enter. At the second knock, the nurse wrenches the door open, revealing the most weary of women, crying baby on her back, a girl of 8 or 9 whimpering in tow.
“Qué cosa?” snaps the doctor, willing them to disappear. “Well, don’t stand there wasting my time,” though we’ve done anything all morning except smoke. Exasperated, he retires to his desk. It’s Vanesa who unwraps the awayo cloth, tut-tutting and wrinkling her nose. The baby’s body is covered with bruises and welts.
“Do they have the slightest idea how to care for their young?” Villegas grumbles, ignoring the mother whose face is also cut and discoloured. And then to my astonishment, the prejudiced old rogue turns and interrogates her in fluent Aymara. The woman responds readily. “Says she fell down the stairs last night in the dark,” he snorts.
Vanesa recalls her training and the gears of the Copcap health project grind. The baby’s weighed, cleaned, doused with salves, gauzed. No questions are asked, the team clearly don’t relish inquiring into the abuse they’ve stumbled on. For good measure, both woman and girl receive a needle in the bum.
“Antibiotics,” explains the doc, responding to my raised eyebrow. “They don’t feel attended to unless we administer some sort of injection.” The mother is indeed appreciative, nodding her head during Beto’s finger-wagging lecture. “Si, doctor ....... no, doctor ....... muchas gracias, doctor.”
Doctor? Titles, titles, compulsory here in Bolivia, merited or not, especially when not. The way the office staff always refer to Edmundo as ‘licensiado’ cracks me up. Meaning, I’m informed, nothing more licentious than his university degree, but the way he ushers that secretary into the Trail Blazer each workday evening, does tend to encourage punning.
Beto fetches some Vitamin B capsules, sell-by date uncertain, slops a spoonful of cough-lotion down the daughter’s throat and blouse, before escorting the patients, with a caricature of respect, to the door. He has charged the poor woman the equivalent of half a dollar.
And now you’ll clearly expect, nay demand, that I storm out and denounce the whole offensive incident. Instead, an hour later, you’ll find the three of us still drinking coffee, smoking and chatting.
To excuse the inexcusable, let me just say that since coming to the Alto, I’ve been confronted by such solid folk, a regular phalanx of them, whose games I don’t comprehend and whose motives I distrust. With these two, fully trapped in their own world of fantasy, I find I can suddenly relax.
I have a deep curiosity about couples and their folly. As a child, I’d look up from my books and observe Joanne’s lovers parade through our house, strut and depart. Don’t be daft, she’d assure me, none of them is your father. Not that I pined for a pseudo-dad. My flower-maiden of a mother, so dependent on her independence, so scornful of lasting relationships, was a capable, dotty, loving parent. But, still, I did wonder.
This pair is classic; a true romance, quicksand for the soul.
What topics do we cover?
“My divorce is coming along fine,” says Vanesa, “considering the obstacles in a Catholic country.” And Beto, is he free? “I poisoned my wife, years ago.” Very funny, very likely.
That burst of Aymara? Beto grew up in the countryside, the son of an hacienda-owning family, shared his playtime with the native kids. “Until my parents sent me to a school in the city and then on to university. By the time I graduated, the Indians had ransacked the place, never been back there since.”
I mention the misdeeds of Melgarejo. “An ancestor of mine,” says Beto. “They malign him but, actualmente,” (favorite word), “he had the finest sense of humour in Bolivian history. The British ambassador refused to share chicha with him,” (fair enough, I treckon; the chicha corn-beer is fermented with human spittle). “Well, for that insolence, he had the grand gentleman exhibited next day around the streets of La Paz, seated backwards a donkey. Ha-ha.” When Beto cackles, brittle yellow teeth emerge like sodium crystals.
Some joke; I check the story later and discover that Beto has overlooked the sting in the tale. Queen Victoria, unamused, scratched Bolivia from her atlas. “This country no longer exists,” she shrilled and sure enough, five years later, the British incited Chile to take Bolivia’s Pacific coast. Actually.
Beto sits on his desk, Vanesa braves the swaying chair, her closeness mellowing his cynicism. I’m stretched on the rigid, narrow bed that slants downwards alarmingly. It’s hard to imagine where they get their loving done and I don’t ask. By the door, a fly feasts on the puddle of cough lotion.
Issues not discussed; whether rumours that Beto was struck from the medical register have any foundation, his views on this absurd health project, indeed his thoughts on the whole Copcap masquerade. I hope, one day, that he can enlighten me.
There is talk, though, of Club Always Ready and the tour of England:
“1961. I recall only fog and coal-dust. In Bolivia, we were known as ‘los Millionarios’. Over there they took us for paupers and freaks.” At the whine of resentment, she reaches for his hand. Enough - Joanne is right; how overloving couples stifle freedom, like they’re waltzing in a wardrobe. Beto/Van not composing, decomposing. Bye.
But I step from one irreality to the next. Here, by the airfield, the mad priest hasn’t waited for neighbourhoods to appear before tethering his latest churches to vacant lots. The anger I’ve dammed all morning bursts. Couldn’t Ignatz consider building a hospital?
Beto gambling on love, Ignatz who fails to see faith as an opthalmic condition and, of course, myself. We are insubstantial intruders. What business do we have on the Alto stage?

Chapter 17
Decent Proposals

You too must know; high on this desert plain, the streets have no names. The police patrol sporadically in Chinese-donated vehicles, they’ll even investigate if paid, but a complainant needs to guide them to the door. No mail deliveries, gas is sold from a roving truck, the (Spanish) electricity and (Argentinian) water companies have devised codes to identify their customers. Numbers, letters and dates abound – Calle 6, Avenida G, Villa 15 de febrero- it’s names which are scarce.
In fact, for me the streets mostly register as long gaps between the walls, access, space leftover. Since the Alto is a dance of rectangular infinities, the Choque family compound remains elusive, especially since the landmark chapel is now dwarfed by a 5-storey brick shell and my distinctive pothole lies under mud.. Still, asking around the grid, I will arrive.
So, what’s on offer this Saturday afternoon? Sections of the population are getting drunk, others are chained to tv, a religious minority chant and pray, but always allow for a pair of working hands like Dona Rosa’s.
She’s brushing her unbraided hair, snatching a breather after the rites of food preparation. Corn boils in a pot, quinua grain dries under the sun, strips of salted meat hang from the clothes-line. A moment of intimacy, an idyllic scene, except Rosa is suffering the occupational hazard of stay-at-home Alto women - she’s renegando – someone has irritated her.
Nevertheless, I receive an enthusiastic welcome, which the little kids ape, Ana’s kids most of all, hanging onto my jeans and raiding the pockets for chocolate. A word from Rosa sends them scampering back to the junkheaps of the yard.
Next jump the dogs. Bobby is the big, black dozy one that slobbers, his name a snipe at the Scottish engineers who bossed the building of the railroads last century. The spotted, white bitch is sneakier; once she attacked me after accepting a treat. Appropriately she’s called Goni, in honour of the previous president who sold bite-sized portions of the country to favoured bidders. Among the dispossessed, the naming of dogs is clearly a form of resistance.
“Bien, joven Jaime, dondé te has perdido?” Where have you lost yourself, she asks, a standard question if I don’t visit often enough. I’ve brought a pre-prepared reply; ‘I’m never lost. I always known where I am,’ but she frowns. The joke’s far too glib to use on a dignified matriarch and, in a wider sense, do I know my whereabouts?
Rosa turns on one of the teenagers running to the yard toilet. He’s forgotten his greetings. “No sabes saludar, Ricardo?” she bellows at the lad on his return. “Take Jaime in and present him, como gente.” Pretend you’re a person, she’s saying.
Their den, where the posters of Jesus and Ché are squaring up for the martyrweight championship of the world, is lit, as ever, by the throb of the tv screen. Now showing, a mellow massacre video, sponsored by the peace-loving citizens of Hollywood, USA. Hi kids. Hi, they manage, before re-tuning to the megadeath.
At last Rosa has concluded her tasks and leads me to the sanctum of her own room. Tea-time with an Earth Mother incarnate, the only Bolivian to remember that I take unsugared tea. But she’s upset, she’s chewing over her gripes of wrath. The woman I admire, complaining about a catalogue of minor sins, a lioness scratching at fleas.
“You’ll have to excuse me, Jaime. That daughter-in-law of mine, me ha hecho renegar,” she has made me get angry, classic cumbia claims, blanket blame. “She doesn’t cook, doesn’t wash the clothes, she doesn’t save money. La malcriada answers back, her kids are being brought up all wrong, and she’s talking to the neighbours about me.”
Women attacking other women is a sure sign of oppression. I don’t hear one word against Diego the drunk, only against the wife he batters. Mothers, dazzled by the brilliance of their sons, digging pits.
A baby’s cry. Rosa warms milk, collects the child and sets it sucking at a bottle. All the small kids have followed her in, seat themselves expectantly around the table. This tea ceremony seems to clear Rosa’s resentment.
“Knew you were coming,” she smiles. “I had a dream last night.”
“Good or bad?” For her everything is an omen, usually ominous.
Aymara and Quechua dreams work on symbolism, no room for interpretation. Turbulent waters mean danger, a mirror is betrayal, a black dog - watch out for thieves. And then the reversals; if you laugh in the dream, you’ll cry during the day, giving means losing, eating leads to hunger. Not for the first time, I sense the oppressive rigidity of this culture boxing me in.
“You were crossing a muddy river, laughing.” The children, dip bread in the steaming mugs, slurp and gobble contentedly. “There’s trouble in store, Jaime.” C’mon, why’s the news inevitably bad?
In my dreamworld, I replay the goals from another camera-angle, seeing both the wood and the trees. Last night I dreamt of pixie Sarah astride her 2-ton laser clock. She stared at me for a long time and then swung agilely onto the station platform.
As I’m recalling the dream, the electric cuckoo-clock above Rosa’s bed chooses to celebrate the hour with a warped, digital melody, mock Mozart - Sarah’s favorite composer. Synchronicity strikes. Pay attention, the moment is advising, a key event about to occur.
What, here?
The kids are tolerated as long as they conform to the harmony of the place but, once they start squabbling, Rosa banishes them, the baby too. First, they must thank each person in the room for the food, then they can tumble into the yard. Well brought up, if you like that kind of conformity. On her knees, Rosa wipes crumbs and liquids while our silence stretches into significance.
Eventually this declaration: “Usted es una persona muy recta,” a very straight person. Straight, indeed. I suppose integrity is what she means, but I almost giggle, almost confess to lusting after Julio. That might revise her opinion.
“You remind me of my husband Juán,” she continues, “muy recto. He was a mine worker, a man of strong principles, an organizer and a leader in the mining union. They killed him, you know.” The range of emotions contained in that short statement - disbelief, anger, pride, not bitterness.
. “In the massacre?”
“Later, in the 1970s”
“No, that would be some kind of mystery. We know very well who was responsible for his death. There was only one brute in charge of the country at the time.” Oh - el coronelito.
She recounts her path from there to here, of wandering and survival, rainy days spent washing the clothes of others, market-days, kids lost or grown. Moving to the Alto, squatting the land, founding and defending this neighbourhood against the military and thieves. Her sons and daughter were expected to endure, but instead, they have added to the pain.
My gaze out of the window at Ana’s two boys must be very obvious.
“And if you’re wondering about their father - good riddance. Threw him out herself.”
“I’ve never heard the story.”
“Then she will tell it to you herself, as she wishes.”
“But we’re hardly talking these days. There’s some kind of barrier between us. In fact, I’m very surprised she invited me over today.”
“Did she, now?” Doña Rosa trembles slightly, then calms herself.
“You have to understand how Ana feels about men. They were students - there was another woman - it was a terrible shock. And the kids to look after.” Romantic illusion without contraception is a common ailment in this country. Fortunately, I’m shielded from such nonsense (thanks, Joanne), unless the assault comes from the blind-side.
“She’d marry you, if you asked her.”
Do I blush like a beetroot or a tomato? More like a radish - the red face covers palid shock within. Because I discern a truth; Ana might well give herself to me, but only forever, on no other condition, and with a mandate that would be both tender and utterly dictatorial. A hell worse than fate.
The tumult in the yard saves me from analyzing this awful prospect. A woman and a teenage girl are grappling over a bag of cosmetics. The younger I remember, Viviana, who was goading her brothers to join the army last San Juan. The other, with the scraggly hair and a residual black-eye, is the daughter-in-law who has so offended Rosa. She’s Diego’s wife and it’s somehow typical of her low status that I never do discover her name.
Mother and daughter are scratching and screeching, spitting like wildcats. Rosa bolts from the room, the missing lynx, pulled into the fight. Three generations of squabbling women. Has to be a everyday occurrence, since the little kids don’t interrupt their game.
When my idol, panting and glaring, has forfeited enough dignity, she returns to rest those feet of clay. I’m still not eager to explore her startling proposal, so it’s convenient that Ana herself barges in, scattering files and papers on the table.
A kiss for Mama, handshake for me, the kettle put to boil again, but Doña Rosa doesn’t settle. She has an anxious question for her daughter.
“Pancho’s been in touch, hasn’t he? Dios mio,”she wails.
Another symptom of her growing weakness is that Rosa has recently discovered the Lord. After resisting the military and their mob, to succumb to the preacherman is a disappointment, even to herself. She breaks into sobs and these tears aren’t tactical like so many hereabouts. Rather, they are a seepage of inner strength. For Rosa, life has long since ceased to be a rose-coloured spectacle.
“The first time I saw Jaime, I knew this would happen, that sooner or later Pancho would want to contact him.”
“Mamita, let me deal with this in my own way.”
“Why do you always need to drag people in?”
Excuse me, my dears, but I happen to be present. When you’ve finished hugging and moaning, a summary of the melodrama might help. An absent son/brother, isn’t it?
“You have met him, briefly.”
“Yes, during San Juan. He was quite evasive.”
Ana considers not replying, then sighs. “Pancho has to be, living en la clandestinidad.” On the run, underground - how exciting! My sense of risk, honed on the historically authenticated adventures of Alice and Don Quixote, is stirred. Exactly what I was warned to avoid and all the more reason to proceed blindly.
“Cuidado - my Pancho is really persuasive,” pleads Rosa in tempting tones. “This is something you don’t need to get into, Jaime.” Oh, but I do, I do. Otherwise I might spend my days nattering to Beto by his dry river-bed or isolate myself within walls and turn to rust.
Really, it’s me he wants to meet?
Shoulders are shrugged.
Doña Rosa bobs her head in a circle, tortoise-fashion, which I take to indicate anywhere and everywhere. El Alto - featureless city, full of design - the perfect hideaway.
Ana says, “You will be notified.”
Why me?
Because I’m game - because I’m fair game.

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