Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â The other day I was strolling down a street in Quitoâ€™s Barrio Nuevo when this guy in a yellow sports jacket extended his hand to shake.
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â We went through the initial â€œwhere you from, what you doâ€� deal when suddenly he says: â€œSoy de Colombia y un miembro de Las FARC.â€�Â
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Then he asked me what I had in my pockets.
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Due to an unremitting sinus infection, my pockets were practically bulging with slimy wads of snot soaked tissue paper. These I tried offering him, along with a handful of loose change.
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Everything passed through my numb fingers and fell to the ground as the FARC man shook his head and, still smiling, said: “No, no, your phone, where’s your cellular at.”Â Â
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â “Don’t have one.”
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â “Well, I’ve got this pistol in my pocket..:” At this point he raised his leg slightly to make plain the outline of the gun bulging through his pants. “And if you don’t give me your phone, or your money or somethingâ€¦I’ll Kill You.”
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Before revealing the fact that he was armed, there had been little in the manâ€™s behavior or Â features to suggest that I was being accosted by a petty thief, let alone a Revolutionary Guerrilla. He had been amiable enough, talking with a big smile, as if the temptation to utter the punch-line and betray the mugging as farce would soon cause him to implode.
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Yet as he mustered to say â€œVoy a matarte!” his features contorted completely. Seeing his eyes bulge and the spittle wriggling out from between his lips as he barked his words with a clenched jaw, the confrontation no longer had that air of a passing potentiality. His capacity for violence was steadily growing on me. Â
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â I however didn’t really react. We were standing a few hundred feet from 6 de Deciembre; one of the major thoroughfares passing through the center of Quito. People were walking past us; families with small children. It just didn’t seem plausible that he’d really shoot me down in broad daylight.
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â â€œI told youâ€¦â€� I said starting to take some steps up the street. â€œI donâ€™t carry a phoneâ€¦ nor any money.â€�
He lurched in my direction, restraining my movement with an outstretched arm. There was some muttered cursing before he casually related something about his involvement in past kidnappings.Â Â Â Â
That dreaded word, â€˜Secuestradosâ€™ spun my head, â€œwas he threatening to abduct me?â€�Â
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â “What’s that bulge?” He pointed to the pocket I hadn’t yet shown him.
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Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Unfortunately I had sixty or some dollars in that pocket as well as my small notebook. The notebook I carefully pulled out while keeping the folded bills hidden in the depths. After one look at the new unveiling my would-be robber broke out into laughter.
â€œIs he reallyâ€¦ uhhâ€¦ laughing.â€� I struggled to accept the image.
Â Obviously I too desired spontaneous escape from the escalating angst of our drawn out interaction, but was confounded as to what could possibly be so funny. Then I flipped the notebook around and saw the cover illustration of my boutique shop journal. The picture was of a snow-white Siberian Husky: eyes drawn to a squint, pink tongue drooping halfway to the ground, in short, an endearing portrait of a lovable animal caught in the cutest pose imaginable. Â I broke out into laughter, though of course still wrought with anxiety.
Â My would-be mugger disarmed with laugher pushed me no further. Letting go of my arm, he awkwardly patted me on theÂ back and started walking away.Â He was heading in the direction that I was had been going, so I just followed behind, trying hard to find comfort in the absurdity of that end note.
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Six hours later I was mugged again. It was a tag team operation on an unlit street, literally a shout away from Mariscal Sucre (the Gringolandia of Quito). Theirs was quite a different approach; quick and mean from the start, tearing the pockets out to see for them-selves, and casting threatening expressions when my wandering eyes scrutinized their faces. Â The unfortunate crew made off with a measly four dollars. I had learned something from that first encounter earlier in the day; shove the big bills in the socks â€“their pungent aroma will most likely discourage even the more enterprising of thieves.Â Â