An Encounter of the Stranger Kind

I was sitting by La Catedral del Cuzco, the massive 17th century Roman Catholic Church that dominates the North-Eastern side of La Plaza de Armas. When not visiting nearby ruins or museums, I spent most of my free time in the Plaza, reading, writing and taking photographs of seemingly mundane events and slightly less mundane people. I had just bought the English edition of Eduardo Galeano’s “Patas arriba: la escuela del mundo al revés” and tried, but failed, to treat his words as being those uttered by a mere mortal. For me, reading Galeano can be compared to being in Frankenstein’s monster’s skin: You are alone, frightened, seeking someone, anywhere, who would perhaps give you shelter. You do not like the search but know that without it you will not find.

It is perhaps fitting that, as I laid there in a perfectly odd area of the world, I would be approached by an even odder character. The man in question couldn’t have been older than 40 years old. He walked silently from the top of the steps and, slowly, towards me. His eyes were focused on me and, in a mixture of uneasiness and curiousness, mine on his. He was clearly a beggar, a castaway from the noisy sea of the city. His clothes were torn and colorless and his shoes barely shoes. He had a glass eye and no teeth. He sat down next to me and stayed there. I tried to ignore him but it was hard to ignore the only person next to you. The Plaza is so big that we might as well have been locked up in a cage together. I didn’t enjoy his presence, to say the least. I had finally been able to get some rest and read a book I’ve been wanting to read for a long time.

When I finally asked him who he was and what did he want from me, he replied with some hand signs. He was deaf-mute. “Sir, you are bothering me” I told him. He didn’t seem to understand at first but soon enough got on his feet, shook my hand three times and started walking away. He then turned back and sat back at the exact same position he was before standing up. He looked at me once again and told me that he wanted food. “I don’t have any,” I said. What about money? he signed. “I don’t have any on me, I’m sorry,” I replied. I wasn’t lying, Galeano’s book emptied my pockets for the day. He smiled, looked at me, looked at every corners of my face, stood up and left.

Watching him leave, I turned my eyes back to my book and, for the next few hours, didn’t pay attention to anyone else.

Also found on CowBird

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