Vagabond Dreams Outtakes are “deleted scenes” from my book. Think of them as a “Special Features” disc of outtakes and curios. This incident took place in Guatemala…
On Saturday nights musicians played in the Park. The mournful brassy wail of their trumpets was the soul of Latin America expressed as a dirge. It reverberated with an ache that struck my soul, transmitting the feeling of desperate longing, of tarnished dreams, the dull hope that persists despite the reality of poverty — in short, the very feeling of a sad-eyed people at their lowest, most trampled-upon ebb. Anyone who has heard it and who has walked those streets will understand what I mean.
I was listening to an impromptu concert when two teenage guys fell onto the other half of my bench and tried to mix a drink. The one pouring brought the mouth of the bottle too close to the plastic cup and dumped the liquor onto the grass. The other cursed and slapped him.
They turned to look at me. “You want a drink, amigo?”
“What is it?”
They poured three inches of clear sugar cane liquor into a third cup and divided the last of the cola. It was barely enough to add color.
I tried not to choke as the burn slid down my throat and chewed at my stomach. As drunk as they were, they still coughed and sputtered.
“You speak Spanish?”
“I know many foreigners.” He thumped his chest. “From the Spanish school.”
He waited for a reply. I shrugged.
“We’re going to a club to dance. You wanna come?” They staggered to their feet. I sensed an undertone of hostility in their invitation; I wasn’t sure why. Perhaps they saw me as an evening’s worth of free drinks.
“Maybe later,” I said.
“Eh? Come on, we’re going to a club.”
“I’ll meet you there. After the music.”
They scowled and waved me off. Near the other side of the park they tripped and fell face down in a flowerbed. I turned my attention back to the concert.
Later, a homeless man in ragged clothes walked the nearby benches begging for money. The breeze announced his presence: an olfactory calling card that was a nauseating mix of urine and stale alcohol sweat.
“Buenas tardes, amigo,” he said, bowing slightly.
“Buenas tardes,” I replied.
“The music is very good, no?”
“Are you in Antigua long?”
I shrugged. “For a while I guess. It’s a nice place.”
He saw the cup in my hand. “What are you drinking?”
“Guaro. A couple kids gave it to me. Would you like it?”
His hands shook as he reached for the cup. Behind the light in his eyes I saw a pained revulsion, a struggle with nausea. He sat down and drank it in one long draught.
“Thank you, amigo.”
“De nada, senor.”
He slumped against the bench and his face creased with the weight of life, the weight of too many years.
“My name is Pablo,” he said. I told him my name and we shook hands. “I apologize for my appearance. I am an alcoholic.”
We sat quietly and listened to the music together. Under the influence of the notes his face relaxed and he seemed to forget his plight, but when the song ended the pained look returned. He got up to leave.
“Enjoy the music,” he said. “God bless you, amigo.”
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