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I waited for the girls to use the restroom inside the restaurant with my back against a dull yellow bollard, overexerted from a heavy lunch. It was then that I noticed the strange man approaching me. Strange how? The large plastic bag he held full of other plastic bags and items such as shoes, bottles, and cardboard threw me off. His eyes furthered my suspensions as they jolted to both sides of his head, gazing at everything all at once.
“Ey man, what’s going on?” he said, casually.
I kept my eyes towards the ground, sliding my hands into my pockets.
“I’m good,” I said, the nerves tickled the ends of my finger tips.
“You American?” he asked, staring at the doorman nearby.
I choked, struggling on the words to escape, “ye– No.”
“What?” He said, pulling up his sleeves. “You American or what, man?”
“Because I lived there for years, man. You see these?” He showed me the tattoos covering his arms. They were sporadically placed around his arm. Some resembled Christian dogma, some phrases few and in between, but what stood out the most were the dozens of area codes surrounding the images. “I did some time out there, man,” he said, snorting up some phlegm in his nose.
“What do you mean?”
“Call me Consuelo, man.”
“It means comfort, brother. You like cocaina?”
I gripped onto my phone and wallet.
“Fifty Soles, man. I hook you up.”
“I don’t have any money.”
“You have no money?”
“You like marijuana?”
“I do, but–”
“We grow it here in Peru, man. Real cheap.”
“I’d love to buy some–”
“Fifty Soles and I help you out.”
“I don’t have any money.”
“I know an ATM,” Consuelo said, pointing at the far corner of the square. “Right over there. We can go withdraw some cash.”
“No thanks,” I said.
“What, man?” He said. “You don’t have to worry. We’re safe.”
“I’m not going to an ATM with you.”
“Alright, alright,” he said, backing up a step. “How about twenty-five and I give you three grams?”
“Yeah. Lemme help you out.”
“Consuelo, dude, listen. I just spent all my money on lunch. I only have ten–”
“You have ten Soles?”
“Yes,” I said, my breath clung to the back of my throat.
“Okay, listen” he said, messing with a bag inside his bag, “how ‘bout a joint for ten?”
“Yeah,” he laughed, patting me on the shoulder, “I know Americans, man. You need some good weed. Consuelo got you.”
I forced a pathetic chuckle, “Uh huh, and where do you want to do this?”
His eyes darted around the square, his neck jerked to look behind me. “Over here,” he said, nudging his head in the direction he wanted to walk.
I saw Bella and Rose coming out of the restaurant in my peripheral as we started to walk around the building, out of clear sight. They followed me despite my attempt to keep them there through poor body language and lipreading.
“It’s great to see you again,” Consuelo said, loudly.
“Always good to see old American friends,” he said, digging through his bag.
“Yeah, it has to have been years,” I said, trying to humor the fake conversation.
I watched him rip a piece of plastic off one of his bags, wrap something around with it, and reach out for a handshake. I went to shake his hand, but he pulled me in for a hug. “Be good, man,” he said to my shoulder and walked away.
I analyzed the ball of plastic in my hand for a moment and pushed it into my pocket.
“What the hell?” Bella said, sounding annoyed as she approached me.
“He wanted to sell me some weed.”
“And you bought weed from a stranger?”
“Well, they’re all strange–”
“In broad daylight?” Rose chimed in.
“His name is Consuelo.”
“His name is comfort? Jesus fucking Christ.” Bella said.
“Relax, there’s people all–”
“Everywhere, exactly. Did you notice the police station across the street, too?”
“Stop telling me to relax,” Bella yelled.
And I did as the three of us stood in silence on the sidewalk, pedestrians walking by with studious eyes. I placed my hands back into my pockets, rolling the plastic ball between my fingers.
“Let’s just go home,” I said, reluctantly.
And we did. However, it was a silent agreement as the two kept ahead, neither saying a single word to me until–
“What are you doing?” Bella asked, watching me unravel layer upon layer of plastic wrappings at a bridge crossing.
“Hold on,” I said.
“Are you fucking–”
“I just want to see what he sold me.” I said, removing the last layer.
“Well?” Rose asked.
“It’s nice,” I said, laughing as I dissected my Peruvian weed. Underneath the plastic cocoon, I examined a bit of a cigarette torn off the filter.
“What is it?” Bella asked.
“An expensive cigarette.”
“Shows you right,” Rose chirped.
“Hustled for three dollars? Shows me nothing,” I said, tossing the remnants off the bridge. We each watched the heap of plastic, paper, and tobacco drift downward into the light stream below us.