This heart-warming tale (ok, not) begins on holiday in Villavicencio with my dear flatmate Moisès. First of all, before you start having crazy thoughts like ¨Villavicencio?! More like Villavilencio !¨ allow me to set the scene. The town apparently has a population of one million but it feels much smaller, it is at the jungle covered foothills of the Andes and enjoys an erratic tropical climate. The houses look classic South American colonialist and holiday-makers wander the streets in brightly coloured hotpants. Moisès went to school there and never had any problems before (see theory # 1).
A few words about Moisès - he reminds me of a dream-like character from a Gabriel Garcia Marquez novel; he is exceptionally kind, with very dry humour and he says things like ¨I`ve felt like an old man for as long as I can remember¨ (he`s 23). He is embarrassed by his priviledges and undeterred by his set-backs (such as having a Colombian passport). He thinks his having high conversational ability in six languages is `mediocre` and believes in being good, to the point where he will break up with a girl because he has a crush on someone else - ¨because, for me, that`s like cheating¨.
So, on this balmy early Saturday evening, directly after a rather dramatic storm, Moisès tells me his sister has invited us to her restaurant and we are to walk there. I am about to walk out the door in my new jeans (see diagram) when I reach my hand to my neck instinctively and realise I`m not wearing my St. Christopher necklace - I remember seeing it earlier on the bathroom counter and imagining what would happen if I left it in Villavicencio by mistake (see theory #2). I tell Moisès to wait - I forgot my money - and go upstairs. I take my lotus flower bag, realise I only have 10,000 pesos, so I put 50,000 more in (the only other note I have) and put on my St. Christopher necklace (see theory #3).
Moisès and I are walking down the street and I am yabbering in English about my cat at home, India-Ra-Pisspot-In-The-Toaster (see theories #1 + 4), when we walk into a tree shaded bit, where there are 4 - 6 guys and everything goes black for a moment.
Next thing I know I`m on my knees, a man is yanking my St. Christopher from my neck and grabbing my bag - I am confused but strangely calm - I look over to Moisès and he is on his knees, cool as a cucumber, with two guys at his neck with knives and menacing dispositions. I realise I also have a knife/ menacing guy; at first I can`t take my eyes off the knife and stay completely still while someone attempts to check my pockets (they`re too tight! thanks new jeans) but then knife guy is in front of me, waving his knife at me and I look directly into his face. He doesn`t like this, but for some reason I am entirely unafraid and continue blatantly looking; he looks just like a stupid, nervous boy (of about 19), not very happy with his current circumstance or his life in general. As an aside, this is not reassuring, but actually makes him more dangerous.
One manboy expresses a noise and they all quickly disperse. Fast as lightning, Moisès leaps up and runs to the security guard, about ten metres away around a corner, and tells him we just got robbed. The security guard shrugs and looks bored (see theory#5).
Aftermath: I am teary/ shaken for a couple of hours and Moisès and I discuss the loss of dignity we both feel. Moisès` cellphone is stolen and some money (¨I don`t give a shit about money¨). We start to see the funny side pretty quickly, considering, and Moisès ends the evening saying ¨it`s weird, but I kinda like this feeling, like showing me that without my cellphone, which is so important to me, I just keep being Moisès. Nothing changes.¨ (See theory#3).
Disclaimers about the visual aid: I didn`t include Moisès and his robbers since drawing is very exhausting and difficult for me and I have no talent for it. Also, I bought dandruff shampoo because I like the harshness of it sometimes, like once a week, not because I have dandruff.
Why Did this Happen? Five Theories
Theory #1: We were talking in English, thus attracted attention as rich, easy potential victims.
Against: Moisès looks obviously Colombian. Colombians get robbed too, all the time. The guys already had their knives out before they could probably hear us - as far as I can tell.
Theory #2: My St. Christopher wanted to get rid of me and could see no other way to do it. Lately I had been admiring my found (in a flat in Dunedin) St. Christopher more and more, but also having weird thoughts like - he doesn`t belong to me, I`m not really travelling anymore and he`s the Saint of travel, he must be annoyed and I won`t own him forever, but it`s okay; he is a Saint, not a necklace.
Against: A necklace is an inanimate object. I`m supposed to be an atheist.
Theory #3: A harsh lesson in Buddhism. This is really a long story for another time (OR: never!) but the Buddhist philosophy has been chasing me around, in strange ways, for years - even though I would never describe myself as a Buddhist and see major problems with the philosophy.
Against: I`m supposed to be an atheist.
Theory #4: People who talk about their cats at length deserve to be robbed.
Against: Ok, but it`s unfair to punish Moisès for something he didn`t do.
Theory #5: The world is a random and sometimes cruel place, deal with it.
Against: As a human, I have an uncontrollable urge to apply meaning and significance to events in my life. I like my other theories more.
Epilogue: The after-math for one of the Robbers (possible scenario)
One robber goes home and looks at my St. Christopher necklace, realises it`s clearly worthless and thoughtlessly tosses it into a box of other worthless, stolen things. He opens a beer and settles down to watch television. St. Christopher begins to think ¨Shit, this was a mistake, at least Leilana was kind of travelling ...¨
Years later, the robbers now pre-teen daughter, a fiery girl with attitude and a frightening interest in boys, is going through the box on a rare visit to her almost estranged father, when she finds the St. Christopher, looks at him and reads the back - ¨PRAY FOR US¨ and in tiny writing ¨ITALY¨. On the front it says ¨St. Christopher¨ and ¨Si¨ and shows the Saint carrying a baby on his shoulder through some undetermined difficulty. Her worn-out, world-weary father notices her looking at it and says ¨take it!¨ So she does.
St. Christopher is so excited and burns on her chest until she can`t help herself, and at the age of 18, sets off on an adventure matched only by the female pirate captains who sailed the Caribbean hundreds of years ago.
Whatever does happen, things don`t just disappear - they travel, change and mutate. I have no idea where my St. Christopher was before me - whether someone infact bought him in Italy, for themselves of for someone else, whether the person who left him behind at 10 Canongate did so intentionally, or by mistake - whether they cared, and missed him. What I do know is that other things are coming, maybe another St. Christopher - maybe identical, maybe different - or maybe something else entirely different, to lift my spirits when being alone gets too hard. Something like the woven red and yellow star a Cambodian girl called Leila gave me and refused payment for, after telling me ¨Lei is a good name, but I`m giving you a new one, even cuter ...¨ and in the dirt she wrote ¨Lei ... li¨.