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Valentina & The Irishman

Valentina & The Irishman

Hello and good day!

Valentina is a 10-year-old girl who lives on the second floor of a thin two-story apartment building.

The framing of the building is iron poles planted into a three-foot-deep foundation filled with stones from the countryside. The iron poles are held in place, in between the foundation stones, by concrete. Grey square concrete columns are built up around the poles. Between the concrete columns, the walls are red brick.

Behind Valentina's house, down a grassy bank that ends at a tall supporting wall built of piled stones, is the Vilcanota River.

The Vilcanota runs through the entire Sacred Valley in southern Peru, from Pisaq to Aguas Calientes, the latter being the base town for the ascent to Machu Picchu.

In front of Valentina's home is a busy two-lane road, primarily transited by tour buses taking visitors to see the various Incan ruins throughout the valley.

Beyond the road, a gigantic craggy brown mountain covered in green shrubs shoots straight up into the air and its peak is covered by fluffy white clouds most days.

Behind the river is a wide and long field of yellow and brown farmland planted with corn. The corn fields stretch until they reach the base of the gigantic green winding mountain range that walls in the other side of the valley.

Almost every morning, around 5am, while it is still dark out, Valentina walks down the grey concrete stairs that lead from her second story apartment down to the road. At the road, she sits in an empty wheelbarrow and waits.

The road is quiet at this time of day and while she sits and waits, she can feel the wind blowing through the valley and hear the Vilcanota running smoothly behind her.

It isn't too long before a white four door station wagon pulls up in front of her. Valentina stands up from the wheelbarrow and walks around to the driver side of the car in the dark.

"How many today mommy?" asks the driver, a young man, twenty years old.

"Forty poppy," says Valentina.

Valentina hands two twenty soles bills to the driver.

He reaches into a full plastic bag that is sprawled across his passenger seat and counts forty woven bracelets.

"Here you go mommy. Good luck today," says the driver.

"Thank you poppy. You too," says Valentina.

Valentina runs back up the stairs and into her home, to eat breakfast and change out of her pajamas.

Soon she and her mother will walk three miles along the road to the Plaza de Armas of the little town of Pisaq.

Valentina's mother works as a maid in one of the town's many hotels and Valentina sells bracelets to tourists in the Plaza. She offers the bracelets for 5 soles, but she is prepared to be negotiated down to 2.

Dave is Irish, 60, and dealing with a midlife crisis by using his life savings to travel throughout Central and South America. His wife of 25 years asked for a divorce three years ago.

He quit his job as an attorney litigating insurance disputes two and a half years ago. Shortly thereafter, he booked a plane ticket to Guatemala, and he has been traveling from place to place since then, trying to figure out what to do with his life.

He has short cropped grey hair, bright blue eyes, is thin, and smokes nonstop.

On the day in question, Dave was sitting at an outdoor table in front of a coffee shop. The table and the chair were made of hard black metal and Dave had a ceramic ash tray in front of him.

It was early yet and he'd already drunken four cups of coffee and smoked ten cigarettes. He'd been in a bad mood for several days, ever since he threw his back out sleeping on a rock-hard bed in a cheap hostel in Cusco.

Thankfully, the Plaza de Armas of Pisaq was one of the most charming places he'd seen yet.

His back hurt and he was wired from coffee and cigarettes.

But when he saw the sun coming up over the unbelievably tall mountain range off to the left, and when he saw city workers sweeping the cobblestone walkways of the plaza with water and heavy brooms, and he saw the local Peruvian fruit women setting up all along the curbs that ran around the plaza's perimeter, and he smelled fresh baked bread coming out of the bakery, and he saw that many beautiful women from countries all over the world were sauntering through the square looking for a place to eat breakfast, he thought that maybe this would be a good day.

Maybe he would just sit there and smoke and drink coffee and watch all day long.

"Lovely," he thought to himself.

He breathed in a deep breath of fresh air. He lit a cigarette and signaled for the waiter to bring him another cup of coffee.

He turned in his chair to face the plaza so that he could more easily enjoy the scene, and that is when a little Peruvian girl with bracelets hanging from a stick that looked like a kabob skewer approached him.

She spoke Spanish and Dave was able to understand her perfectly well.

He could understand everything spoken to him in Spanish, but his own speaking was still spotty because he didn't fully understand the grammar.

"Would you like a bracelet sir? 5 soles," asked Valentina.

"No, thank you," said Dave, in Spanish.

Valentina gave him a practiced sad look that worked well for softening up tourists.

"Please sir?" she said in a baby voice.

"No thank you," said Dave.

He was already growing impatient.

"Four soles sir. Will you buy one for four soles?" asked Valentina.

"No. I no want for no price," said Dave.

"Three soles poppy. Three soles please. I'm poor," said Valentina.

She stuck out her bottom lip very far and managed to produce a welling of tears in her innocent brown eyes.

"No! I no want!"

Dave held up his arms to show his wrists.

"I no wear nothing on hands! Go away!" he yelled.

This was one of the things that Dave's wife always complained about.

He yelled too much and never apologized for it afterwards.

This time he yelled in front of a crowd.

Valentina was so startled that she jumped.

She was used to rejection, but she'd never been yelled at before.

Heads turned to look at Dave, and people gave him judgmental looks that silently scorned him for yelling at a little girl.

Valentina walked backwards slowly across the street and sat on a curb.

She hid her face in her arms which were resting on top of her knees.

"Aw hell. Now everybody thinks I'm the bad guy. It was her fault, not mine. I was minding my own business, and she came and started bothering me," thought Dave.

As that thought ran through his head, he remembered all of the times that he had used a similar justification after yelling at his wife and kids.

It was never his fault.

He looked across the road at Valentina.

The sun was up now, and it was already hot. The sky was blue and cloudy, and the majestic Andes ran down the valley on both sides of the plaza.

Dave stood up from his black metal chair and walked across the street to where Valentina was sitting.

His back hurt like hell when he sat down next to her on the curb.

"Girl. Forgive. I no use bracelet. I no want bracelet no price. Forgive. You like ice cream?"

Valentina looked up and wiped tears from her eyes.

"Yes poppy. I like ice cream," she said.

"Come. Instead bracelet, I buy ice cream for you," said Dave.


The two walked together to the local ice cream shop.

Dave bought a 5 soles ice cream cone for Valentina and several people from around the plaza gave him an approving look.

Dave returned to his seat, lit up a smoke, drank his coffee, which by that time had gone cold, and felt the best that he had felt in years.

"So that is what it feels like to admit when you are wrong, say you're sorry, and make amends. Damn. It feels pretty good," he thought to himself.

There are moments in life when you can change wrongly formed habits.

It is good to take advantage of those opportunities.

It is never too late to change.

Thank you so much for your time today.

I hope that you have a truly blessed day.


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