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Here's the chapter one
It was a trip that he wished he had taken sooner. Blake was a student from the Canadian University of Toronto. He chose to travel for a few weeks at the beginning of his summer break in part to reward himself for completing his first year of University. His focus of study was a major in Business with a minor in Spanish. The trip was to Bolivia, a country landlocked in South America, a country rated as one of the poorest in the Western Hemisphere second to only Haiti. An economical vacation, but also a chance to explore some of the country’s rumored hidden gems. Blake stood at an average height, 5 feet 10 inches, and he had a medium build, weighing about 180 lbs most days. He was fit, but not particularly muscular. He had dirty blonde hair, mid length, with curls that wrapped around the back of his ears, but not long enough to be considered an official mullet. His eyebrows were surprisingly dark, a pleasant contrast to his dirty blonde hair. His mother thought so anyway, but he had yet to find another woman who agreed. Blake had little more than peach fuzz for facial hair which he shaved diligently giving him an overall boyish charm. His piercing blue eyes, sparkling white teeth, and a somewhat crooked cheeky smile all added to his persona. Spanish had been an interest of Blake’s since he was young. Although he was a typical white Caucasian boy with Irish roots, his life changed when he met Sofía in high school. For him, it was love at first sight. For her, it took a while for feelings to be reciprocated. It was obvious that she was Latin, her long black hair beautifully shaped, matched the whole of her person. She had a dark complexion, beautifully soft skin (or so he imagined from afar). Her slender face lay almost hidden behind her hair, giving Blake a sense of curiosity that was borderline unhealthy. She had dark eyebrows to math her lovely and slightly oversized brown eyes. Her unique sense of fashion served to accentuate all of her naturally beautiful features. It didn’t take long for Blake to find out that she had recently emigrated from Bolivia. Blake never quite admitted out loud to anyone that he initially thought that Bolivia sounded like it was in Africa. “Thank God for Google…it is indeed in South America,” he confirmed after a quick search on his phone. One of Blake’s first moves was trying to learn some Spanish. Eventually, Sofía gave way to his chivalrous advances, and after a few dates, they became boyfriend and girlfriend. After their final year of high school, they were going their separate ways. Blake was staying in Toronto to study Business at U of T. Sofía was off to study Art in Ottawa at Carelton University on a full scholarship. Blake had considered going with her, but he couldn’t afford to live away from home. All this meant they would attempt a long-distance relationship. Blake’s friends bugged him for years that he was dating out of his league, and they were even more surprised to find out that she wanted to keep the relationship intact through the challenges of long-distance separation. Ungrateful for the opinions his so- called friends harassed him about over the years, Blake was at least thankful that he had a summer to enjoy with Sofía before their respective good-byes. Shortly after take-off from Pearson International Airport in Toronto, Blake ordered a beer. As he sipped his Molson Canadian, memories of the traumatic summer flooded his thoughts. Blake had practiced karate since he was ten years old. His classes were often in the late afternoon, and Sofía had made a tradition of randomly meeting him after class. It wasn’t every week, and she preferred to take him by surprise. Blake loved it! The day was August 14th. Blake had just finished a class, and was thanking Sensei Sapporo for the class. Sapporosan was quick to confirm to any new student that although he was indeed Japanese by birth, he was not named after the infamous Japanese beer. His name meant “Dry, Strong River”. He was a short man with a sturdy build. He had owned and operated the Karate School of Toronto for the he last fifteen years. The location of the school left much to be desired, but Blake was sure the rent was cheap. Inside the atmosphere was one of discipline and even subtle kindness. Sensei Sapporo seemed to strike an impossible balance between those two character traits. Outside this haven of learning lurked the streets of Jane and Finch, a crime infested area of Toronto. As if somehow trying to keep the vivid memories from emerging to the forefront of his mind, Blake instead recalled the motto painted on the walls of the karate studio: “Discipline of the body, and discipline of the mind leads to discipline in life.” After taking another sip of beer and realizing that the plane had reached its cruising altitude, Blake tilted his seat back and closed his eyes. It was then that vivid images rushed into the forefront of his consciousness, almost like a movie being played in 4K for the 1000th time. Yes it was August 14th, and a particularly hot and humid day of a Toronto Summer. As he was about to exit the air-conditioned studio of the Karate School of Toronto, Blake heard a loud exchange of voices coming from outside. A girl was screaming. Within seconds, he was out the door to confront all the commotion. A scene of horror met his eyes. A man was holding both arms of the woman who was screaming for help. The woman was Sofía! A second man stood a few feet back and was holding a gun. It looked like she was being robbed. Instinctively, Blake yelled out, “HEY! Let her go!” The assailants looked up quickly to see a man dressed in karate uniform with a black belt. The man holding the gun panicked causing him to flinch. BANG! Blake opened his eyes trying to trick his mind into not replaying the images that burned their way into his memory. His ploy didn’t work, because the image of Sofía laying motionless on the pavement of that parking lot flashed back into his mind as if he were right there again. And that’s how she died. They had always talked about traveling to her homeland together, but now he was traveling to a different country (a different world as she described it), for two reasons. One to escape the pain of living in Canada without her. And two, to honor her memory and discover even more of who she was by exploring the place she was born and raised before moving to Canada for her first year of high school.
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Here's the chapter TWO
After a smooth flight and bumpy landing that seemed to include speed bumps on that runway, he now he stood in a crowded immigration line. He was hoping to gain smooth entry into the Spanish speaking country of Bolivia. “The best way to learn a language is to be immersed in it”, one of his professors had said. The sights and sounds weren’t quite overwhelming, but they were certainly startling as he exited the terminal and looked for a taxi. It was chilly in Cochabamba, a city set in the hills of the Andes Mountains 8300 feet above sea level. Given the high altitude, the air was thin but refreshing. Car horns were beeping rather randomly, and in the distance the occasional car alarm was sounding off. Most of the vehicles, buses, taxis, and even private ones looked older in age with many models that Blake couldn’t recognize. He waved his hand out at a parked taxi making eye contact with the driver. He was acknowledged quickly by a short and stalky Bolivian man who emerged from the driver seat of his older model Corolla station wagon. With a warm smile that revealed the need for some dental work, he greeted Blake, “Buenos días, Señor” (Good Morning, Sir). Blake returned the greeting, hoping his foreing accent wasn’t noticeably offensive. And with this greeting exchange between he and his driver taxi driver, a complete stranger, he suddenly felt like a man for the first time at the age of nineteen. Upon this internal realization, an external cheeky grin appeared on his face. Blake used his broken Spanish to relay the address of his hostel, and off they went. There seemed to be at least a semblance of order at the airport, but as soon as the taxi exited the gates of the terminal parking lot, it was thrust into a maze of traffic void of any type of order. No stoplights, no stop signs, not even any painted lanes on the roads. Just chaos all around them. The quantity of horn beeps came to the forefront of Blake’s senses. Like yet another foreign language, different vehicles seemed to be communicating with each other. Stray dogs were everywhere in the streets, outside houses and lingering by the shops. Pedestrians crisscrossed the streets with leisure seemingly oblivious to the game of dodgeball they were playing with cars, trucks, buses, and motorcycles. Crosswalks were nowhere to be seen. Vendors were selling fruit, unknown drinks in plastic bags, toys, and gadgets from wheel barrels. When traffic congestion forced their taxi to stop ever so briefly, little Bolivian boys appeared out of nowhere with a bucket and squeegee. Not waiting for permission, they began washing windows of the surrounding cars, hoping for a coin or two to reward their efforts. It was all so much to take in. Blake’s mind tried process the cultural milieu unfolding before his very eyes, but his thoughts were interrupted by the abrupt arrival at his destination. “Hostal Turista” looked like a hole in the wall from the outside, but the price was right. After paying for the taxi, Blake again tried his broken Spanish: “¿Esperar cinco minutos, por favor?” (Please wait five minutes?) His driver nodded, acknowledging his request. The flight from Miami was a red-eye, and he had arrived early on a Saturday Morning. Sofía had often talked about the market called “La Cancha”. She had shown Blake unique things that she had purchased their as a kid over the years. Quite fitting that he could rush to the market on a Saturday Morrning, the best day for this market. He could hardly wait to see what could be found in the antique section, hoping to find something to memorialize his late girlfriend. After tossing his bag into a room in Hostal Turista, he jumped back into the cab carrying only his backpack with him. It was a Roots backpack with a badge of the Canadian flag proudly on display. Blake tried not to display his internal anxiety at all the near misses along the way. Whether it was a dog, a human, a bicycle, or even another car, they always seemed only a split second away from an accident. His taxi driver handled it all with ease, radio blaring and all. Before either of them could attempt to continue the conversation, Pedro had stopped at the destination with his awkward grin. They had arrived quickly at “La Cancha”. Thoughts of contemplation must be suspended. It was time to bid “adieu” as they say in French speaking Canada, or “Adiós!” (Goodbye) in native Spanish. From the outside, this market was sure to prove exquisite! The secret treasures of this infamous market awaited the arrival of this foreign national. Some foreigners would descend on scene as a threat, but this one’s name was Blake. And Blake was no threat. Instead he was the empathetic tourist in search of a rare treasure as a tribute in memory of Sofía. Blake wandered into the congested mix of the market known as “La Cancha”. In a country like Bolivia a, “gringo” (foreigner) sticks out like a sore thumb. Bolivia is not on the top countries to visit in Latin America. In fact, it might be the last one someone would visit. Consequently, a foreign tourist, especially one with dirty blonde hair and piercing blue eyes…well, that person stands out. Young Latin girls not only stared as he passed them, they also made concerted efforts to do double takes. Children too young to have a filter yelled out ““Gringo, Mami, ¡Gringo!” (Look Mommy; it’s a foreigner!) And everyone else, well they were either staring because they perceived opportunity, or because they were simply curious to see a what a foreign national looked like in person. As he wandered further, Blake noticed that he was the only gringo in sight. Sights and sounds again almost overwhelmed him, but deep breathing of that fresh Andean air helped Blake process this incredible experience. “Enjoy these moments”, he kept coaching himself. “Soak it all in!” Chickens with their heads cut off were hanging from vendor booths along with other slabs of meat that he could only wonder came from which animal. Flies buzzed around the meat, free to feast as they wanted. Huge sacs of flour, corn, rice, and other assorted grains were open with big scoops ready to dispense their contents to the next purchasing customer. Old fashioned scales hung from the tarped ceilings of each booth ready to weigh whatever item was bought in bulk. Colors of every sort were on display far beyond even a rainbow’s imagination. Wandering through the market aisles was a crowded affair. One had to be careful of pick pockets. In Bolivia, petty theft was common practice. Blake wondered if it was a bi-product and combination of poverty and necessity. But as he pondered these thoughts, he promptly arrived at the section in the market where antiques were for sale. Old vases, pottery, figurines, and a wide collection of random things. Blake moved onto another vendor with similar merchandise. As he scanned all the product, a single ring among a group of many caught his eye. He reached for it and held it up to the afternoon light. The stone sparkled with a purple and yellow hue reflecting the late afternoon sun. The ring was gilded lightly with a rustic finish of gold. Blake remembered Sofía describing this stone as the “Bolivianita”. Her one regret was not having brought one with her to Canada when her family emigrated. “What a gorgeous ring!” thought Blake. ¿Cuánto cuesta? (How much does it cost?), he found himself asking out of sheer admiration. 750 Bolivianos came the reply. It seemed like a lot for such a small object (the equivalent of $150 USD), but this was exactly the rare purchase that stories are made of. And further to this, it would hold significant emotional value for Blake for years to come. Impulsively, Blake reached into his backpack and pulled out his passport billfold. He pulled out a wad of cash, carelessly fumbling through both American and Bolivian currency (American Currency is more accepted and readily available for exchange, much more than the Canadian dollar for some reason). He counted out the Bolivian notes, but in so doing, he also inadvertently exposed hundreds of dollars in U.S. currency. As he handed the money to the vendor, a look of both shock and disgust was on the vendor’s face. “Gringo!” the vendor muttered under his breath. Perplexed as to what might be wrong, Blake attempted a smile. Seeing no reciprocal gesture in return, he positioned the ring on his right index finger without approval from the vendor. But just as he was sliding the ring on, a crowd of people surged behind him, and he involuntarily found himself on the ground. Blake tried to discern what was happening, but he could only conclude this was another robbery. One man had grabbed his passport billfold and all it contained. Another was holding him down, and a third was tugging at his right hand presumably trying to gain possession of the ring. The congested crowd around them, typical of a Saturday market crowd, seemed disinterested in the commotion, but somehow Blake found some fight in him. It was time for his slightly premature black-belt training to kick in. Pun intended. In his subconscious, Blake remembered the dream of his classmate’s Paul’s demise. “Or was that actually a dream?” he questioned. Regardless of that reality, his current situation beckoned an immediate response. Blake swung his right foot as hard as he could upward into the crotch of the man holding him down. The blow landed its intended effect. He then swung his left elbow up into the jaw of the other man grasping for the ring. The impact of the elbow strike must have been debilitating because the image stilled in Blakes’ mind was that of blood spewing and teeth flying. These two moves allowed him enough space to rise to his feet. But as he steadied himself, a third man lunged at him. Body on body, the assailant toppled Blake with the sheer force of an unexpected tackle. In an attempt to free himself from the burly man, Blake stumbled backward off the sidewalk, not realizing his proximity to the street and its oncoming traffic. He fell headlong into the street and far from his consciousness of view, he was promptly hit by a passing taxi.
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