#191 A Better Place

by Josephine Lara

The bus careens round a series of hair pin bends carrying us down into the valley, and I feel the woman’s eyes on me. I look at the floor, shrink into my thick woollen shawl and hope the brim of my black felt hat will protect me from her gaze.

Tourists frequently ask to take photos of us in native dress, preferably with an Andean mountain backdrop or a colourful weaving. Tourism here is the difference between bare subsistence and a more dignified way of life, so we smile shyly and wait for the click. I say “we”, but actually “I” can do nothing of the sort. My fair hair and blue eyes betray my foreignness, and I hide on market day.

We arrive, and the bus pulls away belching black fumes, the woman’s staring eyes gone with it. Rumi is waiting for me, and I fall into his arms and feel a relief almost as great as the first time he brought me here and I knew I could feel safe. Once I would have worried that the woman had recognised me from a “MISSING” poster, but years have passed.

We reach our house, and the children run to me and fix themselves round my neck. The maize is cooking in the pot, Maite is slicing fresh cheese, and I sit down with the children still attached and lean back into Rumi’s embrace. I never want to be anywhere else.

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