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Stars and Stripes


Carlitos loved the United States. He papered the walls of his room with American flags and tourist posters from odd places, like ‘Idaho, Home of the potato’. He said all the words he could in English, for example ‘Hershey’s’ or ‘Chuck Norris’, and when he did, he chewed on the syllables until they sounded the way they did in movies. I suppose he pronounced the language really well, because nobody understood anything. People had to ask him several times what exactly he had said.

It isn’t that Carlitos was trying to take anyone in. Just the opposite. I never knew anyone as authentic. He was incapable of pretending anything he didn’t really think, though he really didn’t think about too many things. If we became friends, it was because neither of us had more ideas than were strictly necessary. That brings people together.

Carlitos’s father, an extremely fat man, was an officer in the Peruvian navy. He had studied in panama, in the School of the Americas, and then somewhere in the United States in a place whose name I’ve forgotten, something like Naples. In the outside world, he moved around preceded by an escort car, dressed in a black uniform and a white visored hat, which helped to hide his bulk. But indoors he was always in his shorts and undershirt. Seeing his enormous belly about to burst through the undershirt, no one would have imagined he was so important.

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