Cusco was the most prominent city near Machu Picchu, its pristine historic district meant before and after the trip to Machu Picchu tourists could idle their time away in one of the safest and most developed places in Perú.  A vicious circle evoked by a world wonder maintained the city.  Tourists brought money, their money kept the city well-maintained, and a well-maintained city brought in tourists.  The tourists made for especially good people-watching.

Older men, sunscreen-white faces and safari hats on, kept their cameras slung over their shoulder as though soldiers on patrol.  Their wives scouted with palpable enthusiasm, armed with Lonely Planet and pointing out “True Peruvian Fare” could be had just around the corner from Starbucks!

Younger couples abounded too.  Boyfriends with the heaviest rings they’d ever carried tucked away in their jacket pocket.  Girlfriends wondering if there have many proposals at Machu Picchu.  They were neatly dressed, khaki, leather boots, in the romantic vain of the first European explorers breaking into Africa, but modernized with sport bras and anti-microbial underwear.

The youngest tourists naturally didn’t think themselves tourists at all.  Most had an air of pretense, as though unlike the retirees and soon-to-be newlyweds, they were traveling for purer, loftier reasons – mainly to drink, post to Instagram, and feign humble omniscience.  They were better beings, which was why all the hostels they stayed at had signs to “Lock Your Things!”

Though I was a tourist myself, and similarly impossible to characterized, all the bubbly smiles and absorbed expressions made me uncomfortable.  As Pee-Wee Herman once said, “I’m a loner, Dottie.  A rebel.”  These people hadn’t been in the desert, they hadn’t hurried through slums with an over-sized baby carriage,  they hadn’t stumbled unbathed for a week into middle-of-nowhere restaurants.  I couldn’t knock the tourists for making the journey to Perú, they were leaving themselves open to a new culture which was leaps and bounds more adventurous than fear-bound sofa-sitters, but after all I’d been through, even historic districts felt a bit like Disney World.

For the week an old friend flew down from the States.  Julian was an old friend from high-school.  He cut his cloth as an environmentalist, which usually left him among construction crews, standing in fields watching over possibly hazardous piles of dirt.  He called himself a ‘birder’ ironically, not because he was an Eagles fan, but because at the sight of nearly every bird he felt a visceral need to stop, point, and identify.  Other than visiting Machu Picchu, Julian’s ultimate goal in Perú was to lay eyes on an Andean condor.  Something we’d done already actually – from behind a chainlink fence at a zoo.

Together, by Cusco’s central fountain, Julian and I waited for Shane, a cyclist I’d kept in touch with since meeting in Guatemala.  Shane would be emerging from the crowd at any moment.  He’d been laid up from a kidney infection so came to Cusco to rest then ended up waiting for me to arrive before getting on his bike again.  We were meeting for breakfast.

A local came up to us with a leather art portfolio.  The local, slightly crooked nose and about the same age as Julian and I, sat beside me.  “Hi, my friend.  Where are you from?” 

“The U.S.,” I answered dismissively, not giving the man more than a glance.

“I’m Jorge.  Can I show you my artwork?”  He tilted open his portfolio, revealing an abstract acrylic painting of Peruvian women in traditional wool.

My interest peaked and swept aside my dismissiveness.  Art was unrelentingly fascinating to me.  The skill to see something in one’s mind’s eye then translate it into something physical seemed as remarkable as transmuting lead into gold.  Perhaps my artist mother imbued an appreciation in me.

“These are yours?” I asked.

“Yes.  Every one is mine.”

Jorge revealed an oil painting of a cobblestone street and I couldn’t help but see myself twenty years later as an art collector, traveling the world, discovering great talents in obscure places.  I’d be an Alfred C. Barnes type, possessing such a rich collection that the only rightful thing to do would be to open a private museum with free admission.

“They’re nice,” I said more focused on the art than Jorge.

“Thank you.  I’m still learning.  I’m still a student.”

“Your English is good.  Where do you go to school?”

“Here in Cusco, there’s a school at the other end of the city.”  Jorge stopped at a painting.  “See this?  The paint cracks.”  He pointed to a dried out brushstroke and how the paint split apart to resemble a river flowing around a stone.

“You painted all of these yourself?”

“Yes, all of these are mine.”

His portfolio held a tremendous array of styles and mediums.  Watercolor, acrylic, oil.  Only an art student would have such a portfolio.

“This one is on alpaca.  Feel it.”

I rolled the corner of the canvas between my fingers, feeling the soft hide of alpaca, only just then realizing such a canvas existed.

“Which do you like?”

“I like them all.”

“They’re for sale.  Which do you like?”

“Well, let’s see.”  I touched my finger to the top of his collection, not wanting to grope at something someone put so much time into.  “May I?”

“Of course.”

Gently, I leafed through the paintings, removing the two which called to me most – a watercolor of a row of alpaca and the abstract acrylic of women.  “How much for these?”

Jorge took them from my hand and laid them out on the stone we were sitting on.  “The acrylic is large and takes a long time so two hundred soles.  The alpaca for one hundred.”

A woman police officer, ponytail pulling her hairline taught, beige riding pants vacuum sealed to her thighs, appeared in front of us and spoke to Jorge in Spanish.  “You have to leave.”

“One second.”

The police officer flicked her head, telling Jorge to let the tourist be.

“It’s alright, just one second,” I said to her.

She looked beyond Jorge and I with an unfocused stare then went after something, as though a robot set to another task.

I returned my attention to the paintings.  I wanted them, not so much for myself but to send something genuine and of interest back to my family.  I’d sent a few nicknacks to them while in Bogotá, wood carvings of fat men on horses, but paintings could be hung without hitting a guest over the head with their presence.  The paintings weren’t touristy, they didn’t have ‘Perú’ printed on them, and they didn’t have to be sat anywhere.  Also, they were from a young artist.  I identified with that.  I wanted to support him and be a part of his story.  “I really want to help you out,” I said.  “But three hundred soles is too much.”

“That’s alright.  How is one-eighty and eighty?  That’s two hundred and sixty soles.”

“Ah.  Too much.  I want to support you, but I just can’t pay that.”

“How much?”

“One-fifty for both.”


“How much?” Julian said beside me.

I turned to him.  “He wants two-hundred.”  Julian winced at the price.

“You think that’s too much?”

“I don’t know, man.  They’re nice paintings, but geez.”

Julian’s hesitation was the first thing to halt the romance playing in my head and turned me modestly more fiscal.  I went back to Jorge.  “I can’t do more than one-fifty.”


“I’m sorry, I don’t want to do you a disservice, I know you worked hard on your art, but I really can’t afford more than one-fifty.”

“One-sixty.  It’s only ten soles more.”

I considered.

He pulled out a calculator.  “Only ten soles more.  In dollars…forty-eight dollars.”


We jabbed our hands together in a hearty handshake.  I passed Jorge the money and he rolled the paintings into cardboard tubing.  “Very sturdy!” he said, hitting the cardboard tube against the edge of the step we were seated on.

“When do you have class?” I asked.

“Tonight.  I take a bus at two.”

Jorge stood and passed me the cardboard tubing with my paintings in it.  Behind him I spotted Shane, big grin on his face.  “Thanks brother,” I said to Jorge.  “I gotta go, meeting a friend for breakfast.”

“Cusco Coffee.  The best coffee in Cusco.  On the corner two blocks to the left.”

“Nice, thanks.”

Jorge gave me the thumbs up then gathered his things and was off.

“How much did you pay?” Julian asked.

“One-sixty for both.”

“Both?  You got two?  I thought you meant two-hundred for each.  That’s a great deal.”

Shane came up to us.  “There he is!”

We embraced in a hug.  It was strange seeing him.  We’d only actually been face to face for a few hours months ago so a picture of him wasn’t fully-formed in my mind.  He was just the same as I remembered, but fleshed out, with details – skin tinged red from the sun, frame of an ultra-marathoner, Australian accent.

“How you doing brother?” I asked.  “It’s been too long.”

“Good man.  Glad you made it!  How was the desert?”

“Not too bad actually.  Cool and windy for the most part.  Some damn long stretches of nothing though.”

I introduced Julian to Shane and Shane introduced another cyclist, Matt.  Matt had stringy hair and guessing by his mustache was at least a decade older than us.  He was well travelled, taught in China for three years and spoke fluent Spanish.  “Great to meet you.”

The four of us got talking, exchanging tales from Colombia, Ecuador, Central America.  We tossed around our opinions of Perú, finding consensus in our amazement that no one moved over on the sidewalk but simply shouldered by.

“I don’t understand it!  Move over!”  Shane threw out his hands.  “It takes one second!”

“Yes!  Yes!  Cusco!  My friends!”  Suddenly there was local standing in the middle of us.  A foot shorter than we gringos, his hand raised high above him as though a flag on pole.  “High-five!”

I returned the meekest, most perplexed high-five of my life.  Where had this man appeared from, and why?  Didn’t he see we were catching up?

“Cusco!  My friends!”  He somehow managed to be both excited and condescending simultaneously, as though making a joke of us merely being in Perú.

I looked to Julian, he laughed at the absurdity.  Then I looked to Shane.

“Let’s grab some breakfast,” he said.

The four of us flowed around the stranger as though he were an uninteresting fixture of the park.

“The guy we just met said there was a good coffee spot two blocks from here.  Cusco Coffee.”

We cut through the narrow and crowded streets.  Any distaste I felt about being in a Disney World historic district vanished as Shane and I caught up.

“Dude, how are you feeling?  You finished pissing blood?”

“Yea man, that was something.  They said it was a kidney infection.  Nothing too serious, nothing permanent at least.  What sucked about it was that I had to leave the mountains and go to a hospital in Lima.  Kind of screwed my plans.”

“But pissing blood man, Christ.”

Shane grinned, shrugged.  It was good to be with him again.  He was one of the few people I’d met since starting my walk I could actually see myself being friends with if we’d met at home.

“Perú has not been good to me,” he said.  “I’ve been sick four times since I’ve been here.”

“You take probiotics?”

“Some charcoal, that’s suppose to help.  But what about you?  How’s the walking been?  Haven’t been sick or anything?”

“Nah, I’ve been lucky with that.  I had a little something for about a day when I crossed in from Ecuador, but it didn’t do much, just a stomachache.  The water here is bad though.  I didn’t realize it at first.  Near the border there weren’t any stores so I was just drinking whatever I came across.  It wasn’t until a Peruvian friend told me no one drinks the tap water that I stopped.”

“Not exactly the most developed place.”

The four of us stopped at a corner.  Across the street from us was a coffee shop with enough artistic and capitalistic sensibility that it’d be doing good business anywhere in the world.   Vacationers hovered around the place like bees around pollen.

“Where’s this place at?” Matt asked.

“The guy who sold me the paintings said it was called Cusco Coffee and that it was two blocks from the square.  Should be right around here.”

“Yea, cause this is Jack’s.  All the tourists go here.”

“Looks good to me,” Julian said.

I nodded in agreement.  There was nothing remotely so Western while I was walking, a stack of six dollar hotcakes would be a welcome change to eggs and rice.  Still, I stepped across the cobblestone street to see if there was another cafe around, the one I thought Jorge told me about.  While surveying the store signs I noticed Jorge in an alley with his portfolio in arm.

“Yo!  Jorge!”  I went over to him.

“My friend!  Jack’s Café!”  He pointed over my shoulder.

“I thought it was Cusco Coffee?”

“Same thing.  It’s good.  Good coffee in there.  Lots of tourists in there.”

I turned to the group.  “Jack’s work for you guys?”


“Can I see that painting on alpaca?” I asked Jorge.

“Of course, of course.  This way, across the street so we have space.”

“You guys go in,” I said to the guys.  “I’m gonna buy one more painting from Jorge.”

Pleased with my first two paintings I wanted a third.  I enjoyed the novelty of a painting on alpaca hide.  It was probably too expensive, but once Julian returned home my window to have things brought to my family would be closed for a few months at least.

Julian, Shane, and Matt talked by the café entrance.  Jorge pulled out two paintings on alpaca.  “Feel, feel,” he said.

There was nothing incredible about the alpaca medium, it didn’t lend itself to remarkably smooth brushstrokes like aluminum or separate itself from any other canvas, but it was alpaca in Perú and that was enough.

“Alpaca is very nice, but because it’s difficult to paint on and expensive to buy, the painting is expensive.  Here, look.”  Jorge turned over the painting.  In the bottom left corner was -250- scrawled in black ink.

“Oh.  Oh.  I’m sorry Jorge I can’t afford that.”  And really, I couldn’t.  Two hundred and fifty soles was about eighty-five dollars.

“Wait.”  Jorge held the painting out to his side and stepped back to let me see it from afar.  The colorful women in the painting were sharper.

“It’s a great painting.”

“How’s two-hundred?”

“No, no.  Jorge, I can’t afford nearly that much.  Hold onto the painting and find someone who can pay what it’s worth.”

“How much can you pay?”

“It’s not enough.”  I patted Jorge on the shoulder.  “Find someone who can pay you better.”

“It’s fine.  Tell me a price.  Tell me what you can pay.”

I stretched backwards as my mind reached for what minuscule amount I could afford.  Mental contortions were necessary to get around the understanding Jorge put hours into the piece and not only was he a broke student, but a broke art student.  Most likely he’d never be earning good money.

“One hundred,” I said.

“Oh no, one-hundred is too low.  This is worth two-fifty.”

“I know, exactly.  I told you I couldn’t pay you enough.  Hold onto the painting.”

“One fifty.”

“Really, Jorge, I can’t pay more than one-hundred.  Keep it and sell it to someone who can pay what it’s worth.”

“Okay, okay.  One-hundred is good.”

“You’re sure?” I said in astonishment.

He was.  He rolled the painting into a cardboard tube and I passed him a hundred soles.  Perhaps he’d been holding onto that painting for too long or perhaps he was short on cash.  Either way I was glad to be sending back some more artwork.  Now I had one piece for each person in my family.

“Alright,” I said to Julian, Shane, and Matt.  “Ready to go.”

“What’d you get?”

“One of the paintings on alpaca.”

“Very cool.”

The four of us went inside.  The pervasive khaki and down jackets gave the café a distinctly non-Peruvian feel which I loved – nice to escape for a minute.  I found hot cakes on the menu and ordered them.  I ordered a chocolate milkshake too because damn it, I wanted a milkshake.

“So how long you staying in Cusco?” I asked Shane.

“We’re leaving after breakfast.”


“Yea mate, I’ve been stuck here too long, I’m going stir crazy doing the same thing every day.  Wake up for oats, lunch at the market, maybe oats again for dinner, and no change of scenery to show for it.”

When the bill came Julian and I paid for it.  Shane had passed his three weeks in Cusco in the cheapest room he could find, refusing to spend three dollars more a day for a window and wifi.  I thought he’d appreciate the break on breakfast.

Outside we said our goodbyes.

“When you back on the road?” Shane asked.

“Probably once I get back to Lima.  I need to tie up a few loose ends then it’s into the desert.  I might be heading into the jungle for a week though so I could be hanging around longer.”

“The jungle would be incredible, I haven’t been in there yet.”

“Yea, man.  Usually you need to take a boat or fly in, so I figure make it happen while I have a base in Lima.”

“Absolutely.  Sure it’ll be incredible.”

“Meet you down in Argentina?”

“Looking forward to it.”

We all shook hands then Shane and Matt disappeared down an alley towards their rooms.  I adjusted the camera I had slung over my shoulder.  “So what do ya feel like doing?” I said to Julian.

“Head back to the hostel for minute?  I want to shower, then maybe head to the ruins north of here.”

“Sounds like a plan.”

We turned down a side street heading toward the center square.  The Spanish-influenced buildings were all angled differently so that if I looked too closely it felt as though I were walking through a carnival ride.  Without focusing though the buildings created an orderly bubble unusual to the typical chaos of Perú.

Shop owners in doorways pushed their wares on the money passing by.  Colorful clothes draped around entrances were like portals to psychedelic dimensions.  Wood carvings of animals sat in windows.  “My friend, look at this puma, he represents courage.”

Julian and I wave off the vendor.

More shops, one of them minimal, selling fine alpaca clothing – caps with tassels like the locals wear, angular dystopian-esque coats for five-hundred dollars, the most comfortable winter gloves.  All of them beautiful and melted butter to touch, but so far beyond my price range.

Another vendor.  “My friend, I have paintings for one sole.”

My heart stopped – a young man, holding the same leather portfolio as Jorge, pushing the same paintings as Jorge.

“My friend, what do you like?  I’m an art student here, all the paintings are my own.  Paintings from one sole.”

I couldn’t see him.  I walked away and his voice became the same as the adults in Charlie Brown.  A pit broke open in my mind and my thoughts dropped through.  Jorge had gotten me.  Paintings from one sole. How could I have been so thoroughly scammed?  I’d walked from New Jersey.  I spent months in places few tourists travel.  At times I paid a few extra soles as a gringo tax, but I’d been aware and excepted it.  I was supposed to be worldly.

I looked back to Julian, who was talking with the vendor.

“It’s not so bad,” he said to me once he finished with the man.  “He was only selling one painting for a sole and it was the size of my thumb.”

“And what about the other paintings?”  I could feel my ears flushing.

“I don’t know.  How much did you pay for everything?”

“Eighty, ninety dollars.”


“Jorge got me.  Not only did he get me, but I went back and bought a third painting from him.”

“Yea.  They’re nice paintings though.”

We passed through an archway into a tiny residential courtyard with an art shop at its end.  Outside and inside the shop were a thousand paintings nearly identical to what I held in cardboard tubes.  It was like I stepped into the Twilight Zone, suddenly paintings were everywhere.

I followed Julian inside.  I wanted to know the truth.  How much were the paintings being sold for?  But I also didn’t want to know.  Just ten minutes before I’d been happy.

Inside the two rooms art was stacked by the hundred as though a warehouse for the “art students” to resupply their false wares.  Water color, oil, acrylic, pencil.  It was so obvious Jorge didn’t create all those paintings.  What a set of variety!  Did he have no favorite medium?  No style he was working towards?  There was no consistency between one piece of art to the next.  The alpacas were in water color, the abstract of women in oil, and the painting on alpaca hide done with acrylic.  How green was I!  He thought himself an art collector!

Julian was laughing at how badly I’d been ripped.  I saw the humor in it, but couldn’t yet separate myself enough to laugh at my folly.  I needed to know how much were they worth.  Then I’d have a measure.  How badly was I scammed?

I flicked through the paintings.  There were no price tags.

A woman hurried in wiping her mouth with a napkin.

“How much for this one?”  Julian help up a painting that could have been a copy to one of Jorge’s paintings.

“Eighty soles.”

“Eighty?” I said, more in a sigh than in words.

The woman nodded.

Eighty.  Eighty.  That meant someone savvy enough could talk her down to sixty, maybe even fifty.  And I paid one-sixty for two, actually not so terrible – full gringo price but not a complete shellacking.

“And what about the alpaca?” I asked the woman.

The owner tucked the napkin in her back pocket then lifted an alpaca painting smaller than the one I’d bought.



She confirmed passively, not half the salesman as Jorge.

“One-fifty!” I said to Julian.

“What did you pay?”

“One hundred.”

“Not so bad then.”

I walked back outside, doing the math.  I’d got a decent deal on the alpaca, but one of the paintings I bought was small, probably sold for twenty soles.  Jorge got me for maybe a hundred, a hundred and fifty soles.  I could live with that.

Julian and I started back towards our hostel.  Now there were dozens of Jorges, all with the same leather portfolio.

“My friend, my friend,” they said from church steps.

Julian was having fun with it.  “You’re a student?”

“Yes!  A student!”

“Oh look, Tom!  Another art student!”

With a measure of just how badly I’d been had I could see the humor in it now, still I couldn’t stop my mind from running down all the things I missed and what I should have done differently.  I should have checked the paintings’ signatures.  I should have been more suspicious when the cop came to kick Jorge away from me.  I should have noticed the different styles.

“God damn it, I want to see Jorge again.”

“The historic district is only a few blocks so maybe you will.  If he’s smart though he’s moved onto another area.”

“Damn Jorge.”

Julian shook his fist in the air with mock outrage.  “Jorge!”

I shook my fist in the air too.  “I’ll get you, Jorge!”

We continued, stopping at shops, in search of more souvenirs to send back.  I bought a backpack for my sister which I stubbornly talked down from fifty to twenty-three soles.

We found more art shops with more of the same art.

“I didn’t know,” I said.  “I thought I was buying something unique.”

“Yea man, you bought the first thing that came your way.”

“Stupid gringo starts drooling at the first art student to talk to him.”

“He told a good story.”

Julian bought a small piece of art for forty soles, then we cut across the center square.

“My friends.”

I turned around to see Jorge jogging towards us, portfolio underarm, smile wide.

Jorge,” I said with intent.  I looked to Julian with eyes to tell him we were about to play a game.

“How was the coffee?”

“Good, good.  When do you have class?”

“Not until two.”  Walking beside me Jorge seemed much smaller than when we first met.

“And you take a bus across town to get there?”

“Oh yes.  It’s a long bus, then a six hour class at night.”

“And you still have time to paint?”

“Well I like these styles of paintings, of the local culture, so it’s fun for me.”

“You think I could look at some more?”

Jorge’s eyes burst alive, greed written all over them.  Surely he couldn’t be right, the same fool three times in the same day?

“Let’s go somewhere quieter,” Jorge said, leading the way across the street to the outdoor corner of a quiet shop.

I sat on a step.  Jorge sat caddy corner to me.  Julian stood behind Jorge.  The crowd bustled about but other than as general background I didn’t notice them.  Shapes moved and cast shadows briefly over the paintings.

“Let’s see.”  I took hold of Jorge’s portfolio and slipped it from his hand.  “This one is nice.”  I handed a painting to Jorge.

“Whichever you like, my friend, hand them to me,” Jorge said in eager agreement.

“Oh this too.”  I handed another.  Then another.  As I leafed through his stack of paintings my hand began to shake.  The adrenaline was starting.  I knew what I had to do, but I needed the game to go on further, Jorge had to be honey potted.  I couldn’t have him getting suspicious and changing his mind about selling to me.

I pulled my hand back, slipping it in my jacket pocket until the adrenaline was arrested.

“I really liked all those paintings.  You’ve got tremendous talent.  You’re a great artist.”

“Thank you, sir.  They take me a long time to paint.  Which are you liking?”

I could see in Jorge’s posture that he was about to slip off the step he was seated on.  Far from suspicion, Jorge was possessed by the green-eyed monster.  Between his fingers he held nearly fifteen paintings.  He was so close.  How much would the sale be, three hundred dollars, four hundred?

“They’re all so nice.  Do you paint them in the morning or at night?”

“Oh, I like to paint at night, after class is the best time.”

“That’s right, your six hour art classes.”

I was regaining control of myself.  My pulse was slowing.  My hand was calming as the adrenaline spike declined.  I resumed my peruse through Jorge’s paintings, withdrawing nearly every other and handing it to Jorge.  A German man took a place over my shoulder and looked down at the paintings approvingly.  I wanted to tell him the paintings were fraudulent, Jorge was a liar!  Don’t buy anything!  But the ruse needed to go on.

“I think that’s enough,” I said, passing the portfolio to Jorge and taking the paintings from him.  “Now let’s see.”

“Lay down which ones you want to buy.”

“Not this one, not this one.”  I passed some paintings back to Jorge and stacked the ones I liked to my right, away from him.  After a bit I narrowed the selection to four.  The paintings had little value to me other than as a representative victory.  I’d already bought the three I wanted, and I wouldn’t know what to do with four more.  Maybe give some to my cousins.  Maybe Julian wanted another.

“Which do you like better Julian?”  I held up two paintings.

Julian held his chin to consider.  “Hmm…the one on the right.”

I passed the one on the left back to Jorge.  I had three paintings now.  “Well, I think that’s going to do it.”

“They’re nice paintings.”

I checked the signatures.  “Is this you?”  I pointed to the signature on the first, it read “YORS.”

“Yes, sir.  Yours, like Jorge, it’s my artist signature.”

Julian laughed.

I moved to the next painting.  “But this one is by Raphael?”

“That’s a classmate.”

“So you didn’t paint all of these?”

“Well, no, not all of them, but they’re all from my class.”

The first lie was exposed.  “You told me this morning you painted all of these yourself.”

Jorge didn’t say anything, his eyes darted to the paintings I was holding, possibly realizing what was developing.  My tone grew harsher.

“And what about this one?”  The third painting’s signature was Marie.  “You didn’t paint any of these, did you?”

“No, no! I did!”

“You didn’t!”  I pointed at him and shot my words like arrows.  “You lied to me.  You didn’t paint these and you overcharged me.”

“No, no.”  Jorge waved his hands in front of him to placate.  He had the dreadful look of an architect who was watching his bridge fail.  “What did you pay this morning?”

“One-sixty.  I could have bought them for a hundred.”

“No.  I know the other vendors.  No one would sell those two for a hundred.” 

“That’s what I was offered.”  It wasn’t true, but I was making a point.  “You ripped me off and you know it.  You said you painted these and you didn’t.  You said you were an art student and you aren’t.”

“Why didn’t you say something this morning?”

“I think I’m just going to take these and we’ll call it even,” I said, standing.


I switched to Spanish and pointed at him again.  “You ripped me off!  You’re a thief!  You haven’t spoke one true word since we’ve met!”

“Don’t take them!”  Jorge pleaded.  “Three is too much!”

By the fear in Jorge’s eyes I realized I could leave with any paintings I wanted with impunity.

“They’re the big ones.  Not the big ones!  Take a small one!”

“Nah, I like these.”

Jorge’s eyes were like a child’s in trouble, they didn’t barter, they begged.

“Here,” I handed a painting to Jorge.

“Please, not two big ones!”

I handed another painting to Jorge so I only had one left.  “I’m taking this.”

“No!  No!  Not the big one!”

I turned and started walking away.

“Not even fifty soles?  Fifty soles!  Twenty soles!”

Soon Julian and I were down the street, Jorge left behind.  I held the bright orange painting in front of me and realized just how much I loved it.

Julian mimicked Jorge.  “Fifty, twenty!”  He chuckled.  “Poor guy.  What was he thinking coming back to us for a third time!”

I tapped the painting.  “This is my victory, right here.  A gringo victory.  You know when you’re laying in bed at night after someone insulted you earlier and you come up with the perfect rebuttal but it’s too late?  I got my rebuttal.  That whole thing was like a dream.  It played out exactly as I imagined it.  And he had me too!  He got me for at least a hundred soles.  I really thought he was an artist.”

“He was playing a game so you played it back.  It’s not like you took his entire portfolio.  You learned your lesson then he learned his – don’t going chasing after the people you already scammed.”

I looked over the trails of black paint running over the orange.  From afar the painting was of four woman, but up close there was no discernible pattern.  Dopamine was bursting through my brain.  Even if I still overpaid for the paintings, the day was a success.  I felt worldly again.