My Lovely Woollen Jumper

21 Sep, 2017 | Robert Noyes


Photo: Nick Somers

‘¿Listo, Roberto? Donde estás? ¿Roberto, listo?’

It is a Thursday morning. March 2013. Eighteen years young, I still think that history is over. I am sitting on the floor of an empty bunk room in my new home in Sopocachi. I have just arrived.

All of my new flatmates have gone to some festival in Coroico. There will be hot tubs, hot springs, sex and presumably at least one actual Bolivian. I have not gone with them. No. Instead, I am sitting here. On the floor. In an empty bunk room. And no. I am not ready.

I sit in silence, hands hugging my knees like swept-up summer leaves in autumn; I hold them like hopes to my chest and pray the wind won't blow them away. I can hear cats scratching the tiles of the roof, and their claws screech like torn sheet music.

Pancaked on the floor, all I want is to call my mum. I want to hear her voice. Her love and care will breathe into me like butter melting into the aching pores of a crumpet. But I don't call her. Loudly, I lie: ‘¡Listo! ¡Vamos!’

The person shouting my name is my editor’s father. The night before, he had taken me out to dinner with his family. We liked each other a lot. Simon and Garfunkel can do that for a pairing.

At dinner, we had agreed to go to the market in El Alto the next morning. It is the best time to go, he said. In the sound of silence I agreed, but the silence lasted longer than four minutes and 22 seconds, so I got scared.

Walking to the bus now, the cholitas seem to snarl at me. Every red traffic light flashes like a heart threatening to quit. Cramming into a small minibus, we rub knees. I recoil from this physical connection. I am now holding my legs so tightly I could flatten my kneecaps into skipping stones. After an age, we arrive.

Bursting from the minibus, I'm thrown into the throng. We march relentlessly on. Him leading. Me behind, considering leaving. Without comment, we pass three llamas being milked, 400 used cars and a woman selling headless Barbie dolls. To my left, an island of doors for rent. To my right, concoctions of coca for miles. Everyone and everything is right here. I am out of control and utterly alone, in the world’s largest lost and found.

An age passes. We seem to have approached the final spinning cycle of whatever tombola we’ve been inadvertently entered into. Suddenly, the drum stops revolving. And just like that, it spits us out, into the arms of the loveliest woollen jumper I've ever seen.

You know the jumper I am talking about. You’ve probably even worn it once. It smells like a living thing. It hugs me like I am the leaves. Pulling it over my head, I let it linger around my nose, so I can breathe in that other air. Whole days have passed where the only good things I have thought have come from holding the seams to my skin.

In the sleeves, my stubby hands become brilliant fists of bright longing. The angled lines carving its design are my legs, tucked into a triangle so I could press them against my mother's calves when I am afraid of the dark. In these threaded rivers, I have buried every place I’ve been.

In this cradle I keep the stethoscope I would hold to my heart, so you might hear how fast my heart is beating when you kiss me. It’s at least four sizes too big for me, and it’s got holes the size of craters on the moon. But it’s home. My lovely woollen jumper.


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