Peru postcard

It’s going to be dark soon. Not maybe twenty minutes soon, more like three minutes soon. Past shadows of adobe homes, the road is above a plaza, voices below so I take the singletrack abajo. Crowd of smiling villagers, Sunday evening socializing, alcohol fueled Q&A lasts exceptionally long. The alcalde is leading the charge, when I finally repeat my inquiry about a hay shed or abandoned storage area to camp in, he beams, offers to open the town hall, an unbeautiful unfinished three story concrete and brick stack. He unlocks the double doors of the second floor to an entryway of a waiting area for four or five one room offices. He says I can sleep right there, gesturing at the middle of the room. But in the morning when the offices open? No problem, they’ll just work around you, tell them you’re a guest of the mayor, Ceasar. Is he picturing this the way I am?, townsfolk queuing in a spiral around me to pay their water bill or to get a building permit or whatever, snickering to my REM, a filthy gringo asleep in a down bag on the lobby floor next to a muddy Pugsley. Um, how about that third floor? It’s just a roof and pillars, window cuts and staircase without railing. Perfect. Ceasar shrugs amiably and invites me to sleep whatever I like.

* * *

I buy some juice and chocolate and make inquiries about beer. Everyone is both enthusiastic about my purchasing prospects and a little guarded about how it will go. Mystified, I consult Ceasar again, he’s still standing in the plaza with the older men, ask him if it is okay for me to buy beer and where. He says “of course” and sends me to an adobe house across the way that is definitely not a bodega. I travel in the assigned company of Rudi de la Cruz Almeida, a teenager, and his younger brother, Juan. We are going to see “beer girl” as they call her, and that has a pleasant suggestion of a quest about it. Indeed, she is young, early 20’s anyway, and she is finishing up washing her long jet black hair, a pink towel around her shoulders over a denim jacket. Before I can get a word in, the boys launch into a strange ellipsoid explanation, almost a supplication, that I am a USA cyclist who is camping on the unfinished third floor of town hall and that I am now a friend of the alcalde, and “he only wants one bottle…,” my brow is furrowed in bafflement looking back and forth as she impassively listens to this entreaty. Exasperated, I just smile charm sweetly and directly ask whether she has any beer for purchase, the boys stiffen inexplicably. She immediately darkens hostile and is slow to turn to me: she’s not sure, now is not a great time, could I come back later, what is going to happen to the bottle and its two Soles deposit?, she’d have to think about it, where will you be drinking it? I’m introspecting, whoa, beer girl, I’m simply trying to buy some fucking beer, what’s your malfunction?, a sixteenth note later, ah, I get it. Owing to causes I won’t comprehend, she controls the beer supply in the village (my esteem for you has instantaneously risen considerably, beer girl) and it is my role as someone desiring beer to be exceptionally nice. This realization in turn means that I won’t even have to fake it because now I’m thinking beer girl kicks ass and I want to pay deserved and appropriate respect.

I apologize, I see this is not a good time, I can come back shortly if you prefer or if beers sales are over for the day, I completely understand, it was rude of me to show up at this hour. “No, it is fine,” now she tries to disarm me with a shining smile. “When will you return the bottle?”
“Tomorrow morning, whenever you indicate.”
“Can you come early?”
“8:00?”
“Earlier.”
“Sure, 7.” Rudi almost whispers, “The bottles are collected on Mondays around 6!”
That’s going to hurt. “What if I return in, say, two hours?” She pauses. I add, “Will you be asleep?”
“No, of course I will not be asleep. Just a moment.” Rudi repeats, “just a moment!” Beer girl returns. We consider each other across the passed bottle, roles properly played.