At the checkpoint in Santa Maria, tesoro means “treasure,” and refrescos are refrescos
A woman puts down her bucket and sits next to me at the police checkpoint, where I am waiting for a ride.
“Flies,” she says, touching the itchy bumps on my back.
“Muchisimo,” I say.
A dog limps by on three legs. He has a fourth, he just won’t put it down. The wind shakes the trees and blows dust up from the road, which widens in front of me into the main square.
The buildings in Santa Maria are painted pink, green, cream and blue and have sloping tin roofs. The public bathroom is a hole in the ground with an outdoor sink where people come to wash themselves. A radio is playing somewhere but I can’t make out the words to any of the songs.
I ask the woman what her refrescos are called.
“Refrescos,” she says.
“Oh. Just refrescos?”
“Yes. Apple water,” she says.
“Is that different from juice?”
Half the stalls in the market are empty. The others all offer the same thing—bananas and avocado.
A van drives by with a tire, a rusted-up bicycle and some colourful sacks on the roof. Dust flies up from the road and from the square. The woman gets up with her bucket, shouting “Refrescos!” Other women stand up as well, offering their buckets to the people in the van.
I am still waiting for a truck headed for Cusco. “Solita?” the police ask me. “Sí, solita.” I did have a friend once, but he found another friend and left me to my own quiet hum.
A car comes from the other direction. The women in the market offer bananas and avocado. I’ve been here for hours.
The checkpoint, a small shack and two posts with a chain slung between them, is staffed by a man in a beige uniform and a boy in jeans and a striped orange T-shirt. When a vehicle comes, the boy lifts the chain to let it pass. Sometimes the man comes out and lifts the chain himself. From inside I hear voices and television.
The man who told me to sit here is wearing a blue uniform. He asks me questions. “You’re going to sacrifice your body just to save some money,” he jokes, referring to the truck I’m hoping to catch. I shrug, agree. Think, how many times have I sacrificed my heart, what’s a few bumps on a road, a freezing cold night through the highlands?
A man with his fly open stumbles in my direction, mumbling urgently. I keep repeating that I don’t understand him, getting annoyed, but he flops down beside me. I pick up my things and move around the corner. He stays there for over an hour, head hanging down between his knees.
Everyone back home says I should treasure this experience.
The man in the blue uniform goes off and talks to the women in the market. No one pays any attention to me.
It was my friend who taught me the Spanish word for “treasure.” “It’s what my grandmother used to call me,” he said, and I had to make him repeat it twice before I understood. Now I’ve taught myself a trick to remember the word. Taste the dust from the road. See the dark begin to rise over Santa Maria. Hear the far-off radio and the sound of your own heart in your ears, limping along.