By Zach W. Watson
The dark Peruvian man just asked me if I wanted my shoes shined as I put my backpack and ass down on this forest green bench in the center of the Plaza de Armas. Every Peruvian city has a Plaza de Armas, but the Cusco plaza is special. It is the only plaza in Peru where I can look over my shoulder and see a young kid with a computer in his lap after the sun has gone down. I guess it’s because when I look over my other shoulder I can see a group of tourist police standing in a circle chatting.
There is a beautifully clean McDonalds here, right next to some dirty old church with big green doors and two symmetrical steeples with big brass bells.
Lots of cars drive around the square; it seems continual, like they are driving around in circles. I know that they turn off of the plaza on some dark side street that leads to some end of town where the prostitutes crawl and the crack dealers peddle. No Gringo dares to go there, unless they’re looking for the wrong kind of kicks, the kind that end in bribing the tourist police at four o’clock in the morning.
Some Australian hippy girl looks at me and said, “Hola.”
Then, a Peruvian guy with a blue sweater just whistled, piercing the drums of my ears, you know, the kind of whistle where you don’t pucker your lips. I guess his friend was on the other side of the park. And now no one is around and I look up and see the changing neon lights of the fountain. Wow. No wonder people come here from around the world.
A tour bus just stopped across the street to drop a group of tired white tourists off. In the distance, from somewhere behind, I hear the Super Mario Bros. song, but it’s not polyphonic. It’s coming from a Peruvian instrument, the kind that looks like an upside down organ, but it’s not an organ because it’s small; it´s wooden; and it’s a flute.
This bench is dark green, and it’s next to some grass. Oh, there is the lady with a rolling garbage can. She’s wearing a blue uniform with yellow writing on the back that says, “Municipilidadldad de Cusco.” Now, my bench is by a garbage can that’s by a post with a standard street light on top.
There’s an older blonde lady with her arms full of shopping bags. Thank God, she has a pair of one hundred and twenty dollar Merrels because I don’t think a no-name brand would be able to support the weight of her bag full of South American handicrafts.
A backpacker wearing shorts walks by. He has a beanie on. He obviously acknowledged the weather by putting on a beanie, come on kid, put some pants on.
The shoe shine guy is back. He points at my Doc Martens.
“Un Sol,” he said
“Es necesario, ochenta centimos?”
“No tengo nada”
“Okay, my friend”
There are some flowers with long green stems all in a circular bunch. They are purple flowers and they are close to my bench.
This tall guy has a cigarette. I want one, but I have no money. I wasn’t lying to the shoe shine guy. I would have gotten a shoe shine for eighty centimos. It’s only twenty five cents.
The stores are open on the bottom floors of the old colonial buildings that line the square, bright fluorescent inside lights meet the dull yellow light from the streets.
Three older Americans talking about outfits and clothes.
A couple of guys with guitars.
A little girl with light up shoes.
An Argentinean couple on another green bench that’s not mine sits and kisses. I know he’s Argentinean because he has a good beard. They all have good beards.
Blonde French people just walked by, sounded like French, but they could have been Scandinavian.
Remember the street light? It just went out leaving me to write in darkness. I just can´t imagine this little lonely green bench with its twirly, viny arm rests and it´s forest green lacquered finish sitting here in the dark of the square alone when the people speaking funny languages go back to their finely pressed hotel linens and warm heat from vents to dream of airport stresses, and the guy selling watches goes home to a warm soup prepared by his slightly overweight wife, who always wanted to go to Lima to get a job on a cruise ship but couldn´t because the watch guy got her pregnant when she was sixteen, again at eighteen, and again at twenty-one.
Some blonde guy threw a water bottle in a rolling trashcan. He has tight pants that are too short, a Hawaiian shirt, and an average looking middle-aged girlfriend with a sweater tied around her neck. He must have money.
This thirty eight year old man with a hand full of watches, sits down next to me and I have to put my journal down.
I tell him I do not have money.
He simply wants a conversation.
I speak in Spanish.
He asks where I will be for Christmas and I say, “Chile”. Then he asks about my family. I say that right now I am only a traveler and in the future, when I have a family of my own, that I want to live by my parents. I do not know if this is true, but I can say it in Spanish.
He has a brother in Chile. He is from Lima, in Cusco for business. His business is selling fake watches.
Now, two dirty kids are rolling around on the ground as their two sisters laugh. Their mother with a multi- colored blanket tied around her neck, which is full of a baby, reaches down to pick her misbehaving children from the ground.
A beautiful young fair-skinned military woman with a green navy cap walks by; a fat guy with a grey wool sweater follows. I can hear a police whistle in the background, periodically, an annoying traffic tool, unnecessary for its use, only a constant reminder to the people of the power of the whistle, and unfortunately the person´s mouth it resides in.
Trash ladies back. She´s sweeping at my feet.
The light turns on.
A guy asks if I want Cocaine.
“Not tonight. Not tonight.”
Oh no. The street dogs are on the prowl looking for trouble. The spotted white dog pees on the lamp post by my bench.
A Peruvian street vendor walks by with a bag on her back full of useless toys or dolls, probably made in China, that will end up in some grand-daughters toy chest amongst mismatched legos and mutilated Barbie heads.
What happens to this bench, this muse, after I leave? Whose ass cheeks will be squeezed between the green wooden slats tomorrow, what dog will pee on the viny legs, and what pigeon will mark this beautiful forest green bench with a dirty white blob of shit.