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Hacktreks in South America


Conversation with Myself
Ken Lori
'Colas y leches y aguas'

An man in his fifties hobbles onto the bus in the valley between Zamora and Gualaquiza, a cooler in his hand, a grotty towel around his neck.
‘Leches y colas y aguas,’ he calls. His voice is thin, and high, songlike.
‘Leches y colas y aguas...’ You notice that he is ‘slow’ as your mother would say, that his mind isn’t as sharp as most, yet he grins a tiny grin in a chubby face under the bill of a dusty cap worn just off center. You watch him bumble down the aisle, jostled about by potholes on the cliffside of humility. He notices you noticing him.
Buy something off him. Don’t need anything.
Buy something anyway.
Don’t have change.
Come, give him ten cents. You and nine others earns him a whole dollar. He deserves it, he whose desperation has him before you in raggy clothes, with weathered hands, his precious coins, his product, his smile. Give it to him. Give him the ten cents.
Don't have it. Don't need what he’s selling.
But he needs you, that ten cents on a cigarette you’re going to give away in the city to someone who could do without your bad habit. Give it to him.
You have it. You have ten thousand ten-cent pieces to your name. Just one.
He’ll love you for it, and rejoice as he awaits the bus that takes him home. He’ll be a success today, more than he was yesterday. You’ve got it.
He needs it. Thats why he’s here, his floppy ears hanging out of the only baseball cap hes ever owned, standing over you now, eyeing you because he noticed you eyeing him. He noticed that ten cent potential. He told himself he might earn ten more cents if he comes to you and opens his cooler and shows you his colas, his aguas, his leches, of which he is so proud. Purchased those items just yesterday, he did, with hopes he could mark them up and sell them on the bus as it whized past his shack half standing in the tropical afternoon, grandchildren running about without pants or underwear, young men showering at the end of a pipe from the stream on the hill.
‘Colas y leches, y aguas,’ he calls softly, smiling to you.
Come now, spend what you earned in thirty seconds on the man who has half the chance, gives twice the effort, and recieves one-hundredth the pay.

Give it to him! He’ll be a thousand times more grateful to have your ten cents than you had been to earn it. Come now, he waits for you to reach into your pocket, flip through the tens, the fives, the ones, into the coin at the bottom... feel for the smallest, pull them out and place them into his hands. Watch him smile when your fingers touch his and he slips the coin into his apron. Watch him open the cooler quickly, to please you, to give you that cola two seconds faster. Watch him unscrew the cap with so much contentment it makes you sick because it’s that, that satisfaction, you’ve craved of eighteen years of school and six more in a respected profession; his grin is what you have been after, what you were promised by the elders who guided you into the world they loathed. Watch him wipe the cola because it is cold and dripping. Take it from him and watch his smile grow as he locks eyes with you and says thank you from the bottom of his heart pumping hard in a moment of glee; he can put another coin into his jar now, to pull out when his granddaughter asks for bread, or his family wants a bar of soap, or his wife needs to replace her two-year old toothbrush. Maybe he has saved enough then, can march proudly into his friend’s Farmacia, plunk his half-dollar onto the counter and skip home with a bag full of what couldn’t have been possible without your offering.

‘Colas y leches y aguas,’ he calls like a child in a voice that begs a moments notice. ‘Colas y leches y aguas.’ He walks away from you now because you waved him off. He looks back one last time, his eyes up and on you, hopeful.
‘Colas y leches y aguas...’

© Ken Lori June 2003


The Sad Foreigner
Ken Lori in Ecuador
Creeping Insanity on the trail

Ken Lori

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