I’d never imagined Jesus with a firearm. Or a riot baton. The pistol strapped onto Jesus’ hip was incongruous with the reverence his name embodied. But I knew it was Jesus, his name-tag stood out prominently against his uniform. He seemed friendly enough, and approached us casually. A halo-like glow of small moths hovered around his smiling head. One would expect serenity to emanate from a Peruvian police officer bearing the name of the son of God.
Earlier, my son and I had enjoyed a cheap, late afternoon meal. The limey tartness of raw ceviche lingered on our palates as we’d strolled from the tiny hole-in-the-wall eatery. Despite the humidity enveloping Lima, sea breezes at the Miraflores beachfront afforded a little respite. Para-gliders entertained us with graceful manoeuvres along the ridge-line of the cliff faces above the beach. Sunset was imminent, but cooler air had lured Peruvian families and lovers outside to meander, play, stroll arm in arm, recline on park benches to take in the ambience of the evening. Squealing children chased soccer balls, lovers cooed intimately into ears or shared ice creams. The aromas of hot churros and rellenos from street vendors teased my nostrils. Continuous tooting of car and motorbike horns, a feature of Peruvian traffic, underscored the evening. In fading light, diehard surfers carved across the faces of beach breaks on fibreglass missiles.
We savoured the evening by walking along the clifftop pathway towards the Barranco district. My son, who lives in Peru and speaks fluent Spanish, was my wingman as I had zero Spanish skills. With the sun deserting us and a gibbous moon ascending, we reached the charm and incongruity of Barranco. Cheap, crumbling buildings sat alongside colourful colonial-era architecture and modern glass edifices. Magnificent Peruvian wall art competed for attention with graffiti in public areas. People here smiled with their eyes, not just their mouths. Observing two gringos out after dark, several times from the shadows soft voices inquired, “Weed? Blow?”
And I mused aloud, “It’s sad if that’s the sum of the Peruvian experience for some tourists.… cheap dope and cocaine.”
My son smiled at my naivety and righteousness. He was street smart while I was a seventy year old novice.
We crossed the Bridge of Sighs and wandered to the ruins of the adobe church, Iglesia La Hermita. The roof had disappeared decades earlier but the timber spines of the roof structure remained, ominously thrusting upwards. Flocks of gallinazos, Peru’s black vultures, circled in the darkened sky above the church while others roosted or nested amongst the roof spines. I summoned images of vultures guarding a cleanly picked carcass. Gallinazos peered downwards at us with sinister beady eyes. Watching, watching, watching. And that’s when the well-armed Jesus had appeared beside us. We didn’t notice his approach. He was suddenly there as if beamed into our personal space, giving us a start. Had he emerged from the shadows of the ruined church?
My son quickly engaged him in rapid-fire Spanish, then Jesus turned and addressed me in broken English.
“Buenas noches señor. I am police. My name is Hessoos. Maybe you call me Jesus in English but in Spanish I am Hessoos. Your son tell me you are from Australia. Welcome to Peru. And your name señor?”
“Hola señor,” I stammered, keen to impress the policeman with two of the few Spanish words I knew, “I’m David.”
Jesus smiled a broad Incan smile which earned him my immediate trust despite his recent mysterious appearance. And for ten minutes we engaged in friendly banter in accented English on a range of topics including his birthplace. Eventually Jesus indicated that he should continue patrolling the area. High-fiving both of us, Jesus of Barranco, my new best friend, gave me a brief paternal hug before disappearing into the gloom armed with his array of weaponry.
I looked quizzically at my son and asked, “Did that just happen?”
“Yeah. Felt a bit weird, even for me. Lets go get a beer.”
In the small, nearby bar I reached into my back pocket for my wallet and its crisp notes of Peruvian Soles. Empty! Shit! I tried the other pocket. Empty!
“Shit!” I yelled startling other customers, “I’ve been robbed. My wallet! My cash! My credit cards!”
Despair overwhelmed me. Rapid breathing hurt my chest. I surmised my unraveling must have occurred in the brief embrace with the local copper.
“Jesus!” I screamed. “Get Jesus!”
My son being younger, more nimble, and from a background in martial arts, was first out the door with me limping close behind. In the dim distance, we discerned a figure loping down the narrow cobble-stoned passageway leading to the beach. He was divesting himself of shoes as he scarpered. We were gaining. He was encumbered with weaponry and a uniform, possibly fakes.
“Oi, Jesus!” I screamed, “Get your arse back here! We wanna talk!”
My son, rapidly gaining on him, was well ahead of me. I roared, “He might have a real gun! But if you’re gonna kick the crap out of Jesus, get my wallet back first!”
Barranco’s rocky beach has only a minimal area of sand. The now barefooted Jesus sprinted across that sand and ran straight for the Pacific Ocean with us a short distance behind. He was trapped! My son, adopting a threatening kickboxing stance, advanced to retrieve my wallet from this impostor. Then we stopped dead, our eyes incredulous. The policeman spread his arms in front of himself and the surf seemingly calmed in response. Then he stepped confidently onto the surface of the ocean and proceeded to walk in the general direction of the Galapagos Islands. He was radiating a beatific glow. Haunting strains of Andean pan-pipes resonated somewhere in my head. He turned briefly, gave me a wink, then continued walking purposefully across the water. Armed and dangerous, Jesus of Barranco made good his escape presumably with my wallet.