The man on the bus
“I’ll just take up a few minutes of your time,” he said.
The passengers groaned.
The man told us he was promoting a craft fair on Clock Square.
“Do you know where Clock Square is?” He asked, but nobody seemed to, despite most being natives of Sucre.
The local craftsmen would be joined by colleagues from Ecuador, Colombia and Paraguay, he explained before going on to tell a few jokes.
“What is a meat eater called?” - “Carnivore.”
“What is a fish eater called?” - “Piscivore.”
“What is an egg eater called?”
An egg in Spanish is ‘huevo’ and someone at the back shouted “Huevon” which means ‘idiot’ in Chilean slang and has nothing whatsoever to do with eggs. Everybody laughed, people were beginning to find the man entertaining.
“When does a woman have two hearts?” He continued. “When she is pregnant.”
“What is the name of the devil?”
A guy at the front quipped “Evo.” (He was referring to Evo Morales, the president of Bolivia.)
The man then asked a few questions about the fair he had told us about. Where was it? Which countries were the craftsmen from?
“To thank you for listening, I have a few presents for you.” He handed out wrist bands made from recycled bottles.
“Now I have a few precious coins, just a few, which I will give out to the first ten passengers who raise their hands.” Up went the hands, and he distributed the loot. He tried to give us one but we hadn’t raised our hand so refused it. He left us alone after that.
“What is he playing at?” I asked Franco. I was beginning to feel uncomfortable, nothing is for free in this world.
“Before I leave you alone, I have a few very pretty bronze medallions that I will give to the five who shout the loudest.”
“Is the fair in Clock Square?” - “Yes,” Shouted the passengers.
“Will there be craftsmen from Ecuador?” - “Yes.”
“Are you having fun?” - “Yes,” they chorused with one voice.
By now Franco and I were glaring at the guy.
“And now my last present: a silver chain.”
He handed out a cheap and nasty looking chain to most of the women on the bus. He avoided us.
“Will you come to the craft fair?”
Franco nudged me, “here it comes.”
“Of course nobody works for nothing, so if you have enjoyed my banter and presents, then you will support me?”
Stunned silence. At last our companions came to their senses and realised the guy was a conman.
“It takes a lot of work to make a chain,” he waffled. “So, 50 Bolivianos for the chain but I’ll give you a bargain, just 10 Bolivianos. Those who lift up their hand with a 10 B note receive an extra bracelet.”
The woman next to me was wearing a t-shirt and a blanket wrapped around her hips. She had no jewellery and her shoes were holed. She toyed with the chain, longingly. He had given it, she had been appreciative, and now he was going to take it away. She wasn't angry, just resigned.
I was furious.
People who hadn’t ask for anything, and didn't want, were now being made to feel they owed him.
As he collected up the chains, and some notes, he concluded:
“See, there is money in Bolivia, it just takes time to extract it.”
To us, he said:
“You are the only ones who haven't supported me. If you ever return to Bolivia, make sure you bring some money.”
We gave him the evil eye, cursing our lack of vocabulary to tell him what a piece of shit he was.
A pretty student who had hung the chain and medallion around her neck had no such difficulties, she gave him his stupid chain back and a piece of her mind, words which I choose not to repeat.