I’ve been saving this one up, for a rainy day.
Let me tell you about Humberto – what I imagine all grandfathers to be like, if you really got to know them.
‘Saturday 11th October 1920 Amsterdam time
My flight from Lima was excellent as it was an overnight one. I slept awkwardly between two Peruvian men, one a total stranger, the other Humberto – the coolest 71 year old I have ever met. I don’t even know where to begin.
He started the conversation off saying, ‘Are you Peruvian?’ in Spanish and quickly changed to English after my face obviously gave me away. He really sweetly mixed up Ireland and Scotland and asked me all about Ireland wanting independence (I am referring of course to the recent referendum). I didn’t have the heart to correct him. But really I think we bonded over him trying to use the in flight entertainment. Oh my goodness – so so sweet! First he couldn’t get his ear phones on (I pointed out the right and left and we joked how he may have an ear defect), and then he proceeded to push the screen thinking clearly it was much more space age than it really was. He made me laugh so much – ‘What, Spanish is not here? Look at this, my language is so unimportant. I should sue them!’ he jested.
And when he wasn’t making small remarks and quips he was pimping me out to his sons. The older one 36, divorced with a kid (half Peruvian, half Chinese), plays the guitar and is the life and soul of the party. Industrial engineer. The younger one 35, quieter by nature and in his own words ‘has always been odd’. ‘He had 2 friends in school and still has 2 friends’. He’s an electrical engineer, loves to read and went to Sweden to do a masters. Sadly he returned home during his PhD as depression took hold of him. ‘He is on medication’.
‘Now, which one will you have?’
I chose the quieter, more introverted bookworm.
He predicted my age as 20. I shook my head – ‘No, viente siete’. Really?! Yeah. ‘But you look so young!’ He then made me guess his age. 25! ‘Haha, 3x that.’ Really? ‘Well 71’. You also look younger than you are.
He tells me that he gets up at 4am every day and goes swimming or running or plays tennis. Apparently there is some over 70s league that he is the best at. What a legend?!
‘Do you do any sports?’ … No. ‘Why not? Lazy?’ Yeah pretty much. Shown up by a bloody 71 year old!
‘You travelling alone?’ Yes. ‘That is not heard of in Peru.’ Hmmm. ‘What, couldn’t get someone to come with you?’ Yeah pretty much.
Old people. A spade is very much a spade.
He asked me about my book, the Everest one I’d been reading, about the first summit in 1953. He told me he was 10 years old when it was announced and then praised himself for remembering the date so accurately. To be fair, it is pretty impressive.
He told me how he and his wife met at college. How he lived in New York for 4 years when he was 17. How he has nieces and nephews all over the world. He told me every little detail of each of his 6 siblings including a brother who passed away at 34 of leukaemia – 2 1/2 months he got between diagnosis and passing away.
He then later asked me for my headphones. It turned out while I’d been asleep he’d managed to sit on his own. He’d also broken the controller such that it no longer came out of its compartment which meant he kept awkwardly changing channels and the volume with his body. ‘Why did you have to sleep? See how I cannot do anything without my advisor?!’ So sweet.
He had literally 30 mins between us landing and his next flight. I think I was more nervous about it than he was.
Thankfully, we went and checked the screens together – C11. Phew, he had time. Berlin, on business. He kissed my cheek, gave me a real grandfather hug and toddled off to his gate. I actually felt really sad when he left – like someone really special had just left.
Lucky for me, Humberto gave me his card.
He asked me my name – Nathasha. ‘But that is a Russian name!’ Yes, it is. ‘Why did your parents name you that?!’ I don’t know…
‘But that is only your first name.’ Basheer. ‘Indian!’ Yes. ‘Your parents were born there?’ I was born there. ‘Do you go?’ Yes. ‘I tried Indian food in Australia once. It was chicken with something yellow on it. I think it was curry. Curry?’ Yes probably. ‘I did not like it. But Thai food, Thai food I liked.’ Probably the subtle flavours. He seemed almost apologetic. ‘You like Indian food?’ Yes. ‘Will you go back?’ No.
And then walking off the plane…’You’re not against marriage, are you?’ He asked looking at me in horror as if I’d already answered yes. I chuckled to myself – no. ‘Good. You should find someone. It completes you you know. But my wife, she doesn’t like me drinking alcohol. I do not like religion. Are you religious?’ No. ‘Good. My parents were Catholic. So is my wife. We go to Church every week. I go because I do not want to argue.’
‘In Peru you name your children after your dad or brother. Both my son’s middle names are Humberto.’
I’m not sure I have much else to add about Humberto. Just that he was a lovely, typically charming Peruvian man who was well read about foreign affairs and to me seemed to know everything about everywhere. There was not even a hint of ignorance to him and here is he from what we call a ‘developing’ country. NONSENSE. There was absolutely nothing developing about him.
Really I feel very blessed to have met him. My tennis playing veteran.’