Daylight robbery

Leggi in Italiano

I am sitting in the cool, air-conditioned and half empty café round the corner. My head is a million miles away while I type away at my computer. Suddenly a man speaks in a raised voice. I look up towards the door, where he is. In less than a second various things spin through my head; as I notice people around me beginning to get up, I think he must be saying we have to evacuate or something. At the same time I reach for my things, and this time his voice is much louder, much more threatening. I don’t understand any of what he says, but I can sense the sudden spike of fear in the room. People get up more quickly, leaving everything on the tables. The waiters move away from the counter. He is shouting, waving a plastic bag at us and a bunch of roses that he holds in the other hand. He is wearing aviator-style mirror sunglasses. This is one detail that I won’t forget. If you can’t see someone’s eyes they are much harder to read and scarier too.

In a split second it dawns on me that this is an armed robbery, and I go into automatic, damage-control mode. I just follow what everyone is doing. My hands up to show I am not carrying anything, I move towards the back of the café. One of the waiters makes to open the door to the back garden, and Mr Ladron gets very agitated: he points in the direction of the toilet. He shouts, threatens (this much I understood), pushing us all into the tiny, tiny bathroom. He points at various people, he says “I know you” and “Don’t even try and call the police” (somehow my understanding of Spanish at this point is at top level, my brain working frantically to make sense of everything and to remain alert to any specific threats to me). He opens the plastic bag and gets everyone to drop their phones and bags in it, even the shop keys. I keep on holding my hands up (like in the movies) to show I am not holding anything. He moves away towards the main room, all the while continuing to shout and to make sure we don’t get out. I haven’t even been able to tell anyone I don’t speak Spanish.

A girl starts panic crying, two of her friends console her, trying to make her be quiet. The fear and sweat are thick in our little bathroom. It is so small and full that the swing door is open, I am the one nearest the threshold. Mr Ladron, I can hear him, is ransacking the place, taking all our things.

Suddenly the door in front of us, the men’s toilet, swings open, and this ancient, doddering old man starts to walk out. This all happens in one second. He has been in the toilet all this time so he has no idea what’s been going on. He sees us but it doesn’t dawn on him why we might all be squashed together in the ladies. He takes a step left towards the café. I lunge out and grab him, dragging him into our bathroom. The thief shouts, aware something has happened.

He comes back, repeats his threats, and I think he is trying to understand how to lock us in. He goes back out there, we all huddle together.

Some time goes by in silence. We dare not say anything or go out. More time passes. Nobody speaks. Then, tentatively, one of the waiters asks whether we can come out. Silence.

Then we hear the main door to the road open. People talking. Cautiously we come out. It is new customers just walking into the café. Apparently the thief tried to lock us in but couldn’t.

It is over. We are alive. I lost a lot of stuff, but fuck it, I am alive.

I finally manage to say I don’t understand Spanish. The waiter tells me the thief showed her he had a gun in the bag. The policeman takes 20 minuts to arrive, then walks in asking “esta bien?” and I manage to say “no” quite angrily. All he says is go to the Commisaria and make a report.

One of the other victims offers to go with me wherever I need to. We start to walk to where I know J is working (as I now have no keys, no money and no phone), and I notice the man has a limp. I cannot ask him to walk all this distance. We say goodbye. I walk to find J dancing at her school, for a moment she thinks I am there to dance, then she realises something has happened. That’s when the stress and shock start to hit me and I feel very very tired, very very thirsty.

We go home to get my passport. Then to the police to make the report. There I run into one of the café waiters and the kindly man who walked with me a bit. We are the only three people who make a report. The police keep asking me if the man was “negro”, I keep telling them he was dark, like tanned.

Over the next few days I hear all sorts of theories as to who’s guilty of crime in the city: Peruvians, gypsies, blacks, basically anyone other than “us”. People can be depressingly similar throughout the world.

But I got out of it alive.

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Writer. Translator. Digital nomad. Curly goddess.

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