A ponche vendor whose face cracks into wrinkles when he hands me the plastic cup, and who slaps P on the shoulder and throws his head back, laughing, after P attaches a miniature stuffed koala to his trolley door. Quietness, stillness, respect. Elderly men seated beside each other in the Plaza Grande, one with parasol extended above him and his friends, and, elsewhere in the historical centre, a barber in his seventies whose shop houses studded pedestal chairs with gold curlicue footrests, an aftershave atomiser bottle and framed black-and-white photos that sit skewiff on the discoloured walls. His customer is as old as he and has just arrived by way of a bow-legged gait. He leaned on his daughter’s proffered crooked arm as his adolescent grandson loped ahead, ear buds in place.
Listening to M, who is the reason we are here, with the feeling of wanting to sit, cross-legged, at her feet. It has been seven years since we last saw each other in Spain, and still this feeling. Trying to express myself on her topics of gender and feminism and how these intersect with environment management, about identity and perspectives and cultural difference — and the constant hovering of frustration, of falling short. About obstetrical violence, and the high maternal mortality rate in hospitals here, about the exorbitant cost of giving birth in a private hospital, especially if there are complications, which has her worried (she touches her stomach). About trying not to swear here, and failing. The missing home desperately. About offering therapy, often free, because she knows her clients don’t have the money (never mind that she doesn’t, either, that this is why she has moved half way across the world). My wanting to stay right here, to have time warp and stretch so that I might.
Watching Ecuador draw 0-0 against France, in a plaza, all the TV screens of the bars turned out to the street. The swell of the yellow-clad crowd every time Ecuador comes close to kicking a goal. The man with a white, yellow-sunglasses-sporting hare draped languidly across his right shoulder; it looks down its nose, front paws dangling neatly down its human’s shirt front. A woman at the plaza drawing close; Could she join us for a little while? She can’t find her friends; there are so many people; she is alone. The anxiety lifting off her, soon eased by her flutter of conversation and her animation, the effort at extroversion a bid to caer bien. Police with German Shepherds. Their expressions a constant frown. They nod the once, slowly, when members of the crowd approach and ask to pat the dogs.
Leaving at dawn.
~ ~ ~
Now, nearing the end of our second day in Arequipa for, let me count it now, the sixth time in ten years, a confusing flatness, a still-waking-at-3 am maladjustment and a looking around and thinking, Oh yes, this. Opening up Brian Castro’s Stepper (1997) and falling headlong into it:
It was a long flight from Sydney and my heart is beating strangely…the plane shuddering too much and I, drifting in and out of bad movies thinking about Victor Stepper. In the Narita terminal, yellow chrysanthemums cascade between the escalators. Rub my shoe against the back of my trousers. A return was always a loss.
That last line, hitting me between the eyes.