I believe in the power of animal instinct. Sometimes I do things, or I don’t do them, because they feel good or they feel bad and, honestly, I think if we just listened to our bodies a bit more, we would eat the food that is good for us, date the people who are good for us and, best of all, avoid the dangers that years of evolution have taught us to predict.
Last night a man walked past me on the pavement, at a reasonably busy time, in a reasonably busy place and for some reason I gave him a wide berth and watched as he passed. The reaction was so natural, I ignored it completely and, rather than cross the street, I forgot about him. I forgot about him, that is, until a few minutes later when he ran at me with a large knife.
My first reaction was to clutch my bag but the second, thank God, was to let it go and he took it and disappeared, lithe and nimble, into the twilight. Rather than shout “Hey!” or “Thief!” or something vaguely sensible I yelled, in Spanish: “You’ve got my USB!” Yep. Forget the phone, the house keys, the cash, the cards, the camera, the Colombian ID, the iPod, even Clinique’s finest lipstick. Apparently all I care about are 16 very old, very unfinished and very abandoned entries for Banana Skin Flip Flops and a very much backed-up copy of my book.
(It has not escaped my notice, though, that the poor sod must have thought he had done so well, only to find he had stolen the bag of a “hippie gomela” who, for all her love of fine wine, expensive cocktails and high-heeled shoes, had the same old, exhausted iPod she brought from England, a cheap, plastic phone and, er, 6,000 pesos in cash. That’s about $3 or £1.90)
I was left on the street with nothing, so I went to my friend’s house and he gave me a hug, made me a tea, helped me cancel my bank cards and called the locksmith who arrived on a motorbike and put as much energy into flirting with me as he did into changing the locks (I may have given him some of my cheer-up chocolate but still, five new keys is over-kill for anyone)
“You’re all cheery and relaxed,” my friend observed. “But the second you get into bed and there is no adrenaline left, you are probably going to cry,” which is pretty much what happened to him when he was robbed. Of course, being Colombian, that has only ever happened in Europe.
“Well, I know this is really unfeminist, but these are the only times I do feel a tiny bit vulnerable being single,” I admitted. “I mean, it’s not like I have a husband to help me sort this stuff out.” My unflinchingly loyal and deeply-feminist friend then gave me his death stare, followed by a short speech that ended with: “Marica, we love each other, we support each other, we don’t have sex with each other. That’s basically a marriage,” which gave me a fit of giggles and, honestly, almost made the robbery worthwhile.
(Oh and, by the way, yes, I live in a scruffy neighbourhood. And when I told another very good friend of mine where I was robbed – i.e not in my scruffy neighbourhood – he said: “Jesus! You were in decent country!” which just goes to show, nowhere is sacrosanct)
So last night I resolved two things. One, under no circumstance was I going to cry when I got into bed and two, under no circumstance was I going to write about what had happened.
I fell asleep almost immediately and then I woke up at 3am and, before I knew it, the episode was forming itself into ready-made prose in my head, which at least proves that Woody Allen was both arrogant and accurate when he said: “What people who don’t write, don’t understand is that they think you make up the lines consciously but you don’t. It proceeds from your unconscious. So it’s the same surprise to you when it emerges, as it is to the audience.”
Eventually I got up and I did what all sensible people do when they can’t sleep. I made myself the sweetest, creamiest hot chocolate I could. I sat on my sofa which faces east, overlooking the mountain and I waited for the sun to rise. I thought about lots of things, like my decision to live in Bogotá and what that meant, my parents’ decision to live where they live and what that had meant for me – a childhood of climbing trees and playing in woods and owning dogs, proper dogs and how I could identify every species of British butterfly and tell the difference between stoats and weasels and how I had bird boxes and wormeries and caught stuff in ponds and under flagstones, and I built forts and I played football with the boys and, I am convinced, for some years I thought I actually was a boy, what with my refusal to wear dresses and my fierce but ineffectual way of fighting.
Now, on my good days at least, I am sort of elegant and not far from graceful and my closest friends are girls and gay men and I wear dresses and I never fight and I love cities. The countryside makes me feel a bit claustrophobic and I have forgotten the difference between stoats and weasels and Commas and Painted Ladies. I haven’t climbed a tree in years and I probably wouldn’t now. I am much more likely to spend an afternoon in a Bogotá art gallery or antiques shop, with red wine and chocolate cake, than in a soggy British wood, catching the leaves and wondering where the old fox makes his den before going home to look up the fungi in an old and very faded book.
The decisions we make affect us, don’t they? We win and we lose but everything always affects something else. I think cities are exciting and creative and brilliant and there is a reason why the philosophers went to Athens and why the Industrial Revolution happened in cities and why the artists flocked to Florence and the nerds go to Silicon Valley. But maybe one day I won’t be the only one affected by my choices and then will I have to think about the pay off?
The sun came up and it was beautiful this morning. It was one of those dawns where it doesn’t matter if it is going to be grey or blue, when the clouds hang low over the mountain and the streets are fresh, but they’re still misty and the sun is just a blur, a little hint of light that nudges at the corners of the clouds and makes you think, okay, so today is going to happen.
And then I stood up and I took a shower, because it was a new day and that is what we do.
Like this? You’ll love Colombia a comedy of errors.