I had not seen the man on my way up to the mountain. Otherwise I would have remembered.
He had set up a wooden table next to the path that led to the Inca ruins, offering his merchandise to the tourists.
I stood still in front of the table and inspected the products with curiosity. The table was covered with red bricks. Old bricks, as far as I could tell.
I bent over and looked closer at the bricks, wondering what was so special about them. To me, they appeared to be normal red bricks, such as those that you would find on any construction site. I contemplated the man behind the table for a moment, trying to assess his age.
The brick salesman was in his late thirties or early forties and had an intelligent look about him. Nevertheless, it was obvious that the poor man had lost his mind. As I walked away, I shook my head, feeling sorry for him.
What could possibly have happened to him? How come that he had he lost his capacity for reasoning? After walking a few steps, I decided to inquire about the cause of the man's lunacy. I returned to his table, only to see that he was putting labels on the bricks.
He would pick up a brick, examine it carefully, remove a sticker from a plastic sheet that he had laid on the table, and then he would set the sticker on the brick. Each sticker had a hand-written name on it.
While the man continued to place labels on the bricks, I picked one of them and read the word on its label. "Kon" read the word. What on earth was Kon? I asked myself. I put the brick back on the table and picked up another one. This time, I found the word "Apu" written on it. Apu? What was that supposed to mean?
The man applied calmly the labels on the last bricks and turned to me. "Which one do you like best?" he asked. I hesitated before replying, since I did not want to hurt his feelings. Most likely, it was not his fault if he had lost his mind. "Kon is a good choice," he went on, "but if you allow me, I think that Apu would be the most suitable for you."
My reaction came instantly, as I was suspecting him of a hidden attack against my honour. "Why do you say so? What is Apu anyway?" The man smiled at my incomprehension. "Kon is the Inca God of the Wind, the God who brings good weather," he explained. "And Apu is the God of the Mountains, the God who exercises his power through kindness and understanding."
I could not help feeling flattered by the man's words. I have always liked to portray myself as a kind person and I believe that once I even heard someone actually called me so. "But what's the point of setting labels on red bricks?" I countered, puzzled. I did my best to formulate my question in a way that did not sound insulting.
The man seemed not to remark the absurdity of the situation and replied in a matter-of-fact tone. ''The brick it's just a symbol," he indicated patiently. "Like bricks, human beings are essentially all the same, but like Gods, each individual is different. A man's difference lies in his calling."
I won't tell you how much I paid for the brick, but I think that the price was worth the story. Even years later, I still keep the red brick on my living room table. Every visitor that has come to my home has picked up the brick, read the label, and asked me what Apu means. "Apu," I always begin, "let me tell you about Apu."
[Image by Gusjer under Creative Commons Attribution License. See the license terms under http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/us]