‘One of my English students was dismayed when I said the Beauty Contest was neither televised in Britain nor likely to warrant a brief newspaper story. Ecuador’s moment in the sun would pass unheeded. When she regained her composure, she defended the competition with the wild-eyed devotion of a religious proselytiser.’
‘After walking several blocks in the cool drizzle, he felt we must be getting close. Our desultory sodden progress was eventually rewarded by serendipity. Based on a whim, we ascended to the third floor of another fading colonial building and blundered into Omar’s flat.’
‘We tossed a coin at the next unmarked junction before continuing our aimless afternoon hike. The searing sun made it no more appetising than our first night’s stroll in a monsoon. I was now more aware of Angelica’s meteorological indifference.’
‘But mainly Luis drank. When we strolled past his front door on a drizzling Sunday afternoon, he had clearly begun early. I thought he was promoting a bar, but it was just his home – into which he lured wandering foreigners like a kind lonely trapdoor spider.’
‘The setting was a giant marquee in a rather unfashionable district. All the elements were ranged against us. Torrential rain poured down throughout the evening. As we approached the venue, scores of armed police – partnered with fierce chained Rottweilers – milled menacingly about. Their brooding presence suggested we were the problem.’
‘‘You are very brave,’ he told me, worryingly. I accepted the compliment – without thinking it true. Danger may have been close on that long, winding road, but a phalanx of heavily-armed soldiers lay between us. Perhaps he meant the danger within the city.’
‘‘We will walk by the light of the full moon!’ exclaimed the romantically-inclined Angelica as we slunk beneath a canopy of trees obscuring the sky and all its earthly subjects in total blackness. We were armed only with a torch that shone bleakly under the power of its dying battery and the advice to walk in a straight line to regain the entrance. But there were no drunks to follow, or if there were, they were disguised by the enveloping mantle of the forest night.’
‘I gazed up to see a well-built young man dressed in the pristine white garb of an indigenous tribesman. He hailed from the remote territory of the Sierra Nevada. As a resident of this imposing and secluded mountain territory, he was, culturally and geographically, a long way from home.’
'Darkness fell. Rather worryingly, I had no idea where home lay – unfriendly unwelcoming home though it was. If the situation reached critical point, the option of striding off unilaterally was thus rather compromised.'
‘It was around now that the newsflash about the weather came back to me. Perhaps I had also read something in the morning newspaper, but it had been written in Spanish so it didn’t seem quite so real as if it were printed in my own language.’
'The hands of his corpse were hacked off in a ritualistic gesture to stop his soul finding eternal peace. The $8 million ransom was not paid and his hands remain at large. It is not for me to say what’s happening with his soul.'
‘I passed through the thronging petitioners and wandered unchallenged up the wide empty staircase. At the entrance of one of several deserted-looking offices, the name of the Public Defender appeared on a small typed label that appeared to be trying to merge quietly into the woodwork. There was no-one inside, but there were signs of working life about the threadbare dusty room. I took the open door as an invitation.’
'The orchestral ‘tune-up’ proved to be the first song. The collective noise emanating from the corner might only qualify as music in some obscure atonal sense beyond my Western-tuned ears, but the fear in the eyes of the musicians willed us to find harmony where there was none.'