You don’t know what it’s like to be alone until the day when your boyfriend, angry as a wasp, leaves you in the crowded plaza in the middle of Cuzco. You sit there, hugging your backpack and kicking your hiking boots against the dusty steps for a minute, and then an hour, and then two, until you’re wild with worry, strung out on fear. Because the sun is starting to set over the Spanish cathedral, and you’ve heard that you have to be careful, that gangs of feral boys will take everything but your underwear. And people are watching you: the hunched lady selling gourds engraved with stories of saints and heartbreak; and the extroverted shoe-shine kids, who come so close you can see the reflection of the sky in their jet hair. Their eyes are hungry. You can’t stay much longer.
But if you go, how will he ever find you again?
You wish, over and over, that you’d given him what he wanted, when all he wanted was for you to say yes, we should stay in that hostel, and yes, we should climb that mountain tomorrow, and yes, we should take our Pisco sours in that bar tonight. Your staunch refusal to be dragged around a foreign country like a child or a package tourist seems trifling. You wouldn’t have come to Peru alone.
You tell yourself: I have my passport and I have money. You flex your independence and haul the red behemoth over your shoulder, then walk briskly across the plaza to a café that’s been emanating wafts of papas fritas.
And that’s when you see him, staring at you from behind his cerveza, wondering how long it was going to take you to make the trip.
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This one-page (flash fiction) short was first published in Ten Pint Ted & Other Stories & Poems (Fish Anthology 2009)