A crowd had gathered in the middle of the sidewalk on Avenida Tacna in Central Lima. I pushed through the people to see what was going on. On the ground, an old toothless shaman was sitting on a blanket covered with sacred red/black huayruro seeds, glass beads and tarot cards. Men and women, young and old, were standing around him, shuffling to get closer, excitedly stretching their hands out with two soles for a reading. “Me first!” “No me first!”
With the speed of a cobra, the shaman grasped the coins, put them in his pocket and gave back a tarot card. Once he had collected money from everyone, he grabbed one hand, dropped the tarot card and closed his eyes for a second. Then he looked briefly at the lines in the hand and almost shouted, “You have a brother, right?” The lady mumbled, “No”. The shaman, now with his eyes wide open, serious, growled, “Speak up, or I can’t hear you. You have a brother, right?” Then he laughed at his own spiel. His client, now louder, answered, “I don’t have a brother.” Unmoved, the shaman continued, “Maybe he died, yes?” Confused, the woman said, “No, I don’t think so.” “So your father perhaps went with another woman, and you don’t know about your brother?” The lady shrugged. “Maybe. I don’t know.” “You see,” said the shaman, very content, looking into the eyes of his audience. “See how I knew this!” And the crowd roared with laughter.
The next person in line got the same reading. “You have a brother? Good. You are going to be very successful and have a long life. You will live until you’re 80-90 years old.” If the client was a woman, he added “You think a lot about love. You have a man. He is taller than you.”
At every “No” the crowd laughed. At every yes, more hands with coins were begging the old man for a reading.
When it was finally my turn, my reading went pretty much like this: You have a brother? No. You had a brother? No. He died. Ah, perhaps yes, my mother did have a miscarriage. Ah, see! Good. You’re not from Peru. Duh. No, I’m not from Peru. You’re from Europe. Yes. See! See everyone. You think about love. Sometimes, I guess. You have a man. Yes. He’s taller than you. Yes. He’s a very good guy. Yes, a very good guy. You’re going to travel. Duh. yes, I’m going to travel. See everyone, see, she’s going to travel! You are very lucky. You have lots of luck. And you’re going to live a long life, maybe 80-90 years…
When I got up and told Eduardo that we should go, Eduardo got a free reading, too. He also has a lot of luck and will make lots of money. And live a long life.
In the end, this shaman wasn’t so much about giving readings and telling people any news. It was a show. But it was a really good and funny one. And the best 50 cents I’ve ever spent.