El Nuevo Sombrero
By Simon Barget
The drive out is what I remember -- it’s where I want to be now. Going through the gates, leaving the others, finding my freedom; I’m sure they wanted out too. The group photo and the hugs and goodbyes and all the attention people waylaid on the dog. The perimeter was further than I remember. Entrada prohibida. A secure compound. Gone almost as soon as you came in, and it was only ten days. I wanted to be away, to be moving. We stopped by an old man; he intercepted us. His pained rictus, his dark leather scrapy skin and standing fixed by the passenger window, waiting, declaring his nuisance value, but yet something so different in the physiognomy to ours, something devoid of shame perhaps, just the simple show of poverty for what it is, living his life without being drawn into our vortex of opportunity and choice.
Jody then said: ‘I just made him an offer’. But how could he have owned land, and I’d misread the exchange. He had a head of hair that didn’t sit well with his frail sprightly figure. A flat straight mop-top, but furrowed skin, skin like a salamander, furrowed dark broody skin and pupils that had a glint, just a bare glint, and weren’t so much part of the face but more the only real distinguishing feature and the only thing which made you aware that what you were looking into was not just a flat pallet. It was so good to be going, to be leaving. It was the air warm and blowy and hot and fiery and the green morphing into roadside and block concrete houses and the tiendas seen over by their full figures lolloping outside, idle, just looking and waiting, blubbery babies and infants with bulges of fat and just really staring as we went past, but we didn’t matter to them, just curiosities, strange things, just doing nothing, they knew who we are and that we were from the centre. They sat on crates and hard plastic chairs or just the ground, somehow forming close pyramid shapes. We had an hour to go but I could have been in this jeep for ages, drawn into the freedom, the air, the environment, their beguilement. What would they understand of self-betterment and disposable income and spending ten times as much as they earned and being cooped away lying on hammocks and being cooked for and cleaned after and playing chess and Jenga and drinking weak herbal teas all day? What would they understand of the luxury of forced neurosis?
Jody drove with fierce commitment turning the wheel over each rut and tire track flicking it in and out of the crevasses, driving the vehicle up and through, then letting the chassis drop and the frame of the thing hopefully just following through allied to where the wheels were directing it, following it like it had no choice but could easily go a way of its own if it wanted. The mud had dried in configurations I fancied you couldn’t change for years and you just had to go with. These configurations were our mental patterns we were trying to rewire. He turned to Reese and told him he’d rented newer 4 by 4’s but this was as good as any, they didn’t make them like they used to. It was midday. On were the Terminator glasses which he clipped into a holder above the air vent when we pulled in for petrol. They said something on the arms like Polaroid or some make not particularly known or desirable, and he looked different with them on, harmless and much sweeter and more innocuous than was the desired effect, making the silhouette of his clean shaven pate thinner and softer and I saw the side that had lived consecutively with three different Peruvian women and couldn’t manage his children, the Jody that had come back late on Wednesday and ranted to Alicia that his work was his work and if she didn’t understand that then she could stuff it and find someone else to take care of them. The music in the back was too loud. I’d asked him to turn it down as we were meant to be taking it easy and I thought that the London connection might have worked in my favour, but I could never be sure how it all factored in. What it was, was that he was being different than at the centre, less making an effort to be soft, more no-nonsense and more of the we-didn’t-need-babying-anymore. We’re all different in each context, and the fact that he seemed to be trying to be cool left a bad taste in my mouth though it didn’t surprise me in the slightest. I was free and not under his auspices, and all that was left was the cash machine for 300 soles and being turfed out at your guest house never to be seen of again. Though the curanderos were supposed to be working on us remotely over the ether. I was glued to the vista, the air pouring over my face. The logos for the things they were selling just painted onto brick walls in reds and greens and blues. Tires and types of paint and lacquers. The road was a crumbling wafer of tarmac and you could see the margins, poorly edged in to the stones and gravel at the side. There was no seamless seam like we have at home.