A man with a limp walks into a bar. No that isn’t the start to a bad joke. It’s the beginning of a great experience. I just don’t know it yet.
It soon becomes apparent that he’s a regular — maybe even picking up a few hours of work here every now and then. He saddles up to the bar and orders a coffee. I’m guessing that one of his legs is about an inch shorter than the other. Maybe two.
I’ll later see him wearing shorts and painting a logo on a nearby wall and realize that the limp is due to his artificial leg.
I’m having lunch at an Irish place called the Clover in San Pedro de Atitlan, Guatemala and have been here far too many times so I’m pretty deep into the menu at this point. ‘Indian samosas’ are today’s roll of the dice.
I’m half done, dosing them liberally with salt, pepper and chili sauce. I can’t say I’m thrilled with them but the money is already spent, and there are calories to be had, leftovers to be hauled out and shared with people who need them more than I.
And then Les steps in carefully on a cane. He’s probably 60-70 years old and sports an impressive mustache that is sadly still darker than mine. And by ‘steps in’ I mean just barely — he has Parkinson’s and shakes and trembles, his cane wobbling like some chaotic metronome.
I have just that second to look up and see it all play out. The man with one leg (whose name I never get) stands up, struggles across the outdoor courtyard and fetches a plastic chair. They ease Les down into it and quickly pour him a beer which he can just barely hold.
He and I start up a conversation. He’s Scottish by birth and grew up in the UK but I assume he’s Irish (being in an Irish bar) and blush when he corrects me. “No problem mate. I get it all the time”.
He’s been here for years and his friends take care of him. “I can call Paul and he’s at my door in ten minutes”.
He rents a house and pays the landlord for his power bill. But if they fail to pay, the power gets shut off. It has taken five days to sort it out but in the meantime someone who knows someone who knows an electrician arranged for him to have power wired in from a neighbor.
We chat for a couple of hours and I buy him a beer to keep that conversation rolling. After the first beer I notice that his tremors have eased. He ignores my first couple of questions about his past so I quit asking and we slip into that slow, easy rhythm of swapping lies.
After two beers he declares “That’s my limit. I’m heading home. ”
“Let me pay my bill and I’ll walk with you,” I offer.
“Thanks but I’m okay. Getting up the stairs is a lot easier than getting down”.
I really doubt this is true but I understand. Men have rules, many of them built on pride.
He isn’t going to let a stranger walk him home. He leaves on shaky legs and I never see him again.
I rarely mention or endorse businesses as I travel but if you’re in San Pedro, stop into the Clover. They’re good people.
And if you meet Les, please buy him a beer.