Cuenca, Ecuador 1997
I spent the evening at my friend Brian’s house. His host parents were rich, a gigantic three-story house with a patio on every floor. It was set into a hillside on the Southeastern edge of town. It was dark when I got there and you could see every light in the city.
I left a little after 8pm. It was 20 minute walk home but I didn’t worry. The privilege of being a big dude in a small South American country.
Halfway home, I came upon a tiny old woman standing on the corner with a single crutch. She reeked of beer and only came up to my belly button.
She waved and asked if I could help her walk home. She said she had trouble walking alone and only lived 2 blocks away so I figured, okay. We walked for 10 or 15 minutes before I realized that we’d covered 6 blocks and changed streets several times. I was having a nice time though so I decided to ride it out.
She kept asking me the same questions over and over. Stuff like “So, you’re from New York, are you?” and I’d say “No, I’m from Oregon which is in the Northwest of the US.” and she’d say “Que lindo!” which all the women in Cuenca said all the time.
Then she’d ask how old I was and where I live and am I married and how she likes my hair (it was long back then). She’d finish up with asking how I like living in New York and then we’d start all over again.
She kept getting tired so we’d have to stop for rest. Every stop, she’d worry that she was taking up too much of my time and I’d tell her it was all fine.
I started to get worried that maybe she was homeless after 45 minutes of walking. We could end up walking around all night and we kept going into sketchier neighborhoods. At one point, we passed a couple of guys loading a pickup truck. I caught a glimpse into one of the boxes they were carrying, stuffed with plastic bags of white powder. I guess walking a little old lady around gives you a free pass though because they didn’t bat an eye.
It took over an hour but we made it to the small house where she lived, its front porch lit by a single bare bulb.
She thanked me and kissed my cheeks a thousand times before her son and daughter-in-law came out and led her back into the house. She had a tendency to wander and they had been waiting for her.
I only got a little bit lost on the way home. I collapsed into bed, exhausted with a terrible cramp in my left arm from walking bent over to hold her hand.