The Meeting Place

The last of the summer volunteers had flown out in the morning. Scott, the cafe's owner, lived in another neighborhood of Cusco with his family. The two cooks had gone home for the day. So I spent the night of August 4th, 2013 alone in The Meeting Place.

In a way, I’d already spent the whole summer trying to be left alone—trying to forget that I was failing classes and on academic probation. In June, I told my parents that I was getting straight A’s, and that was the last they heard from me for two months. Traveling had seemed like the easiest way to escape the reality of my shame and loneliness. In July, the university mailed a stern letter of warning home. My mother tried to contact me. We love you, her email read. Will you please come home? I paid the boy at the counter un sol and ducked out of the internet cafe.

Now, shut up in that cafe, all by myself, I was finally getting what I’d asked for. I felt my loneliness smash into a much more literal and visceral solitude. It was an ugly feeling, really: a pitiless pang of abandonment and claustrophobia that only empty rooms and houses can produce. I wanted the Danish couple to come back and order more burgers and milkshakes. I wanted Scott to be behind the counter, making coffee or prying open a tub of vanilla ice cream. I wanted some beautiful, blonde Californian to come by and pin a thumbtack to San Fransisco on the map in the foyer. I wanted to stand in the doorway and look out into Plaza San Blas and see a wedding procession in front of the church. Instead, I went into the kitchen and tried to drown my dread in a plate of spaghetti. I took it upstairs, ate half of it, and fell asleep drooling in the pages of Erich Fromm’s The Art of Loving. A tourist had left it behind at my previous hostel.

As it turns out, loneliness is not the only thing that I distracted myself from that evening. I also neglected to padlock the cafe’s blue wrought iron gate. And while I slept that night, sprawled over a table, burglars forced the door and ransacked the place. They even tiptoed around me to get to the next room. The next morning, Scott, did his best to downplay the situation while I stared, stone-faced, at the bread strewn across the floor. “It’s happened before,” he said. “They probably come by every night to see if the gate’s locked. Glad you’re alright though.”

He made a call, hung up, and added, grinning, “If the locals around here found out, they’d form a mob and string the burglar up in the plaza. They love this place.” That made me feel better, for some reason. I looked at my watch. August 5th, 2013. I looked outside. A tourist was sitting on a bench. The sun was shining.


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