Written by: Larry J. Pitman
Some years ago, when I first moved to Barranco, I started having a problem with this guy who desperately wanted to shine my shoes.
I guess that he spent all his time on the street. That was where I saw him for the first time. I was walking around town doing some errands when I realized that he was following me, aggressively asserting his desire to shine my shoes. He was different from the others who shine shoes for a living. He was much older, middle-aged, in his forties, and mature in appearance.
His forehead was wrinkled in a fixed frown, which gave him a permanently puzzled look. He was very slender. He wore pants that were too large for him, held up by a belt that was too long, wrapped almost twice around his waist. Brown penetrating eyes, a narrow face, deeply furrowed gave him a scary look.
I never learned his name.
His gestures were jerky, almost agitated, betraying a latent energy that sometimes I took to be menacing. When we came across each other in the street, he was always pointing down at my shoes using two fingers in an inverse “V” position. Shouting,
He carried his shoe shine box with him ready to start working.
I never, ever agreed to let him shine my shoes. I would ignore his pleas and walk on because I believed that once I gave in, he would never let me have any peace. After our first encounter, however, it seemed like he was everywhere I went. It was always the same: he would demand to shine my shoes. It was the same routine every time we met. First he shouted the demand. Then he pointed at my shoes, in case I didn’t understand. Then when I didn’t agree he would give me a look which I took to be anger or disgust.
I noticed that he didn’t bother other people at all. Perhaps he thought that this gringo was rich and easy.
Unfortunately, every time we met, he would then pester me for blocks. He took the pleasure out of my walks. I took different, less direct routes to the store, sometimes walking far out of my way, but somehow he still found me. It was as though he was searching for me.
Finally, I was totally frustrated. I was at my wit’s end. I started wearing tennis shoes instead of regular shoes whenever I went out. Then I could say truthfully, “I’m sorry, but I don’t need a shoe shine.”
When he saw that I wouldn’t let him shine my shoes, his shoulders would slump and he would slink away, rejected again. Yes, I did feel sorry for him, but not enough to give in.
Unfortunately, the next day, he would be back. His behavior never changed. Every day was the same. He never seemed to get permanently discouraged.
One day things did change, for the worse.
I was walking with a friend from Holland down Avenida Grau, the main street in Barranco. We were busy talking. I was distracted. I confess that I wasn’t fully aware of what was going on around me. We paused for a moment to look at a building.
Before I realized it, the shoeshine man came up silently, grabbed my shoe and started daubing it with polish. At first, I was taken totally by surprise. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t want to make a scene in front of my friend so I decided to let him go ahead. That was a huge mistake. When he was finished, he demanded ten soles, far more than the usual price. He did so, so loudly that I was embarrassed. I gave in to the demand.
After that he wasn’t satisfied with just trying to shine my shoes. He became even more aggressive. He wanted money. It was as though he had gotten the scent of blood and wanted more. Then, he started asking me to give him things and to take care of him, even buying food. When I refused, he would throw a tantrum in front of everybody. This continued for a long time. He was always getting angry at me, cursing me in public. He would growl and shake his fist at me.
I think everybody considered him a little crazy so I also just shook my head and tried to ignore him. It didn’t seem to discourage him, though, because every time he saw me it was the same.
This went on for several years, but I did see him less and less frequently. Then, hardly at all.
Yesterday I was walking down Avenida Grau once again when I happened to run into him. He looked at me, pointed to my shoes, the puzzled look still on his face as he said,
Somehow, I have the feeling that it is all starting again.