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Taki and Tika 

         Every Sunday morning, mama would wake me up early and say “Taki,” and I’d answer “Yes, Mama” and she’d tell me to get dressed while she loaded up Tika with brightly colored blankets, capes, belts, jackets, ponchos, hats, and skirts, all made from llama or alpaca, or vicuña, or guanaco wool, to sell down at the market. I’d hurry up and wash and get dressed and then help her finish loading up Tika.

 

         Tika was our llama. She was a good llama. She was tall and fluffy and quiet, with thick eyelashes. She was friendly too, but all llamas are friendly. She could carry a lot of stuff: heaped up mountains of colorful blankets, capes, belts, jackets, ponchos, hats, and skirts piled up so high they blotted out the sun, at least from where I was standing. I always thought Tika would tip over because of all the stuff she carried, but she never did.

 

         But load up even a little too much stuff and Tika could be stubborn. Then she wouldn’t budge, and mama would push and pull or tug at Tika’s tether, wave her arms and turn red, try to reason with Tika, and maybe even scold her, but Tika wouldn’t move at all. Not one step. Then mama would give up, and take some of the blankets, capes, belts, jackets, ponchos, hats or skirts off Tika’s back and lay them aside in the house and sigh to herself, saying “we’ll just have to take those next week.” Then she’d turn to me and smile and say: “Hurry now, Taki, and take Tika down to your Aunt Kukuli in the market. And then hurry on to church.”

 

         “Yes, mama,” I’d say, and we’d set out, Tika and I, with the mountain of red, blue, green, yellow, orange, brown, black and white blankets, capes, belts, jackets, ponchos, hats and skirts all piled on Tika’s back.

 

         We made our way down the mountainside to a suspension bridge made of ichu grass that spanned the little river near our house. Back then I thought it was very old, built by the ancient Incas, and so I was afraid it would break while we were only halfway across. It turns out, the ladies of the village built a new one every June.

 

         Whenever we came to the bridge, I’d climb up on Tica’s back in front the mountain of intricately-patterned blankets, capes, belts, jackets, ponchos, hats and skirts, wrap my arms tightly around Tika’s neck, and whisper in her ear “don’t be frightened, Tika,” even though she wasn’t the one who was frightened. In fact she would always tilt her head to the side and her eyes would meet mine, almost as if saying Don’t worry, it’s fine. You can trust me, I got your back

 

         I’d close my eyes real tight and bury my face in Tika’s warm, soft wool, and she would just march bravely on across the bridge. It would sway and sag, and the wind would howl and blow, and the sharp, jagged edges of the rocks far, far down below would glitter in the sun. But Tika was never afraid and we never lost any of the wooly blankets, capes, belts, jackets, ponchos, hats and skirts either. Every time we crossed the bridge made of ichu grass, I would give Tika a quick kiss on her fuzzy cheek and thank her for being so dependable. Almost as if understanding, she would sometimes nuzzle my shoulder in response.

 

         On the other side, the road turned into a steep, jagged trek down into the village, but Tika was sure-footed, and she walked bravely on, down past the school and the post office, down past the boys playing soccer (occasionally dodging a loose ball), past the tourists taking pictures. She’d never stumble or shy away. Whenever a truck came up the road, she’d calmly step aside, standing up close next to a building, under the eaves, and let it pass. And none of the blankets, capes, belts, jackets, ponchos, hats and skirts ever fell off, blew away, or got dirty. 

 

         We’d make our way down through the, steep, narrow, shaded lanes and out into the broad marketplace awash in sunlight and Tika, head held high, would wind her way through the noisy bustle of market stalls of brightly-colored and intricately-designed blankets, capes, belts, jackets, ponchos, hats and skirts, sandals, tourist trinkets, postcards, and souvenirs, past the stalls selling food and drinks, and always manage to find Aunt Kukuli’s stall all by herself, without me having to show her. Aunt Kukuli would wave and smile and give Tika a carrot. Then I’d help Aunt Kukuli unload the mountain of blankets, capes, belts, jackets, ponchos, hats and skirts and set them up neatly in her market stall.

 

         Then, waving goodbye to Aunt Kukuli, I’d lead Tika across to the other side of the plaza to a big, old, stone church where I’d tie her up by the other llamas. 

 

         “You are always so dependable; thank you so much Tika for keeping me safe,” I’d whisper to her. After waving goodbye to Tika for a little while, I’d run up the stairs to meet Mama and Papa and my baby brother for church, thankful for having such a reliable friend whom I can always count on.