Inside our dark room of four beds was a thick funk of musty B.O., the kind that is at first alarming but then tolerable, a hippie funk excused by the desire to be natural. We opened the window. A dog was barking and the seagulls were making seagull noises. The forth bunk mate continued snoring.
I woke up at 7:30am. The musty german was packing up and was out the door by the time my feet hit the ground. The snorer was still going. She was an older woman, which I discerned in the yellow light from our window during her midnight bathroom break. I had thought it was a man until then. I woke Ellen and we filed into the bathroom and each took one of two shower stalls, locking the door behind us. We didn't want someone to come in and drop a stinky deuce while we were showering. There were toilets down the hall for that. I finished before Ellen and waited around for here because the lock was an external slide type that had to be relocked once I left. Finally she dried off and put some clothes on and I slipped out to start packing.
I opened the door to find the spanish woman standing in the middle of the room clasping her bra. She was thick and in her fifties with a default, older lady haircut of pepper-gray. She seemed startled but I was used to those encounters at that point in the trip. I sat on my bed and started stuffing my sleeping bag. I noticed that she had slept under the covers of the hostel bed, sheets and all, and used one of the thick blankets. Gross. She continued dressing and out of the corner of my eye I caught a glimpse of her shoes, small blue moccasin types. I saw a few day packers wearing ridiculous shoes like those, they were usually the ones that took forever to cross the muddy sections. The spanish lady finished dressing and left the room. I looked up as she walked out the door and saw that she was only carrying a purse. I sat there for about thirty seconds before I began putting the pieces together. Oh shit! I quickly reached for my jeans that were folded behind my pack. Whew! My money was there. And then to my fanny pack that I had hid under my sleeping bag while I was in the shower. My money was gone. I ran out of the room. "Ellen my money just got stolen! Check your fanny!" I barreled to the end of the hall and down the stairs to the main room. There were two people, one on the internet and another on a couch "Did you see a lady leave? She just stole my money!" They pointed in the direction she left. I ran out to the street only wearing a shirt, underwear, and flip-flops slimy from the shower. She was gone. I continued running. The narrow street turned sharply to the left between two buildings, dumping out to a larger street. To the right was more housing, straight ahead was a sharp drop to the ocean, and to the left was the way to the main part of town. I ran left towards a steep set of stairs that hugged the rock cliff, shortcutting the road to a large sidewalk just above a small beach cove below. I still didn't see her and felt frantic. As I neared the stairs I saw her chunky torso disappear below the top stair. I continued running until I got closer and slowed down to quiet the 'smack, smack' of my pace. She was almost half-way down the long stairs before I quietly came up behind her, grabbing her arm and turning her towards me. "Give me my fucking money!" I demanded. "Me, no money, no" She pleaded, wiggling away from me. I squeezed harder like an angry parent, my voice was peaking in fury. "You stole my fucking money! Where the fuck is it!?" I screamed. I was freaking out and quickly losing control. I knew she had my money but I didn't know how to get it back. She continued muttering "No, no, no money" in a rhythmic, high voice like she was innocent. "You fucking bitch!" I yelled, squeezing her arm harder. "I know you took it! Where is my money!?" I started cramming my free hand in the pocket of her coat, and then her jean pocket. She tried to slip away and I took her arms with both hands and pinned here against the wall, shaking her as I yelled two inches from her face. Her eyes lit up like she was possessed and she growled "No, no, no!" My scream was weezy and maxed out "Shut the fuck up!" I went for her other jean pocket and she pulled out her clenched hand. I could see the orange and cream colored ends of a fifty euro bill poking out of her fist. I grabbed her wrist with one hand and tried to pry open her locked fingers with the other.
Ellen ran down the stair yelling at me "Don't fucking touch her, don't touch her!" but I was too far gone. I dug my fingers under hers and wrenched her hand open while I kept pinning her against the rail with my shoulder and knee. I freed the crumpled bill and backed off. I still thought she had more of my money, and hung onto to her jacket sleeve. "Marc don't touch her, you'll get arrested!" The lady tried to walk past me down the steps but I continued to get in her way. Ellen began taunting her out of nowhere "You stupid bitch, we know you took our money, we're gonna get policia..."
Down below was a large sidewalk where street vendors were assembling the frames of their tents. The lady continued down the stair with me close at here side. I yelled to the African men, "Polcia, Policia" We continued walking towards the sidewalk area "oooh yeah, policia, si, si." the lady taunted back as if she was somehow innocent and I was the criminal. Six or seven African guys emerged from the skeletons of their tents along with a couple spainards. They spoke a little english. "You need the police?" one asked. "Si, si, this lady stole my money." A spainard vendor got on his cell phone and called for us. At this point there was a small crowd and the lady knew better than to leave, that would prove her guilt. While the spanish man was calling Ellen and I stood on the sidewalk against the railing just above the beach. We explained to the African men what had happened to cause the scene they had just witnessed on the stairs. "Okay" the spanish man yelled a few minutes later, "They are on their way." After a couple minutes the African men returned to their tents putting the metal pieces together. Ellen and I stood there waiting with the spanish lady to my left, who would occaisionally look at me and point "loco, loco" and gesture with two hands shaking the air. That was her angle, she was abused by a crazy foreigner. Ellen began to worry. "What if you get arrested?" she protested. "I'm not going to get arrested. This is obvious, look at her, she's not even a peregrino." We both stood their silently, watching the African's set up, and imaging our fate when the police finally show up. The lady huffed and sighed looking at her watch. "Autobus, ocho trente, tss, tss" She was going to miss the 8:30a bus to Santiago. Ellen slipped back into her taunting again "oooh autobus, we're going to sit next to you on the autobus you stupid bitch."
Ten minutes passed. The morning was cool and gray. I was getting chilly standing there without pants. My knees began to shake. I wasn't sure if it was from the cold or my adrenalin.
"I need my contacts." Ellen blurted.
"Why? What do you need to see?"
"What if we have to fill out a police report?"
"Well you can't go back to the hostel now, that will look sketchy. We just need to wait."
"How much money did you get back?"
"Only 50, I think. I put it in my fanny." which I wore across my shoulder.
The spanish lady adjusted her blue shoes. I looked down and saw that the heels were folded over. "Look." I whispered to Ellen "Her shoes aren't even on properly. This is so obvious." Ellen took over once again. "Did you leave in a hurry you bitch? Why aren't your shoes on?" she taunted. I felt a little uncomfortable now as Ellen heckled her. I had settled down from my rage a bit, but I still though about ripping off the shoes from her feet to find more of my money. I was convinced there was another stash.
Finally the police car emerged onto the wide sidewalk. I anxiously waived at them as if I had been waiting to meet a friend. They got out of the car and approached the two of us. "haablay inglis?" I asked. He shook his head quickly and apologetically. "Okay...ummm..me...peregrino...she...no peregrino." I rambled on, accompanying every word with wild hand gestures and finger pointing. "My amigo...in banyos...prrshhhhh" I scrubbed my head with my hands. Fuck. This wasn't working. "Amigo!" I yelled to one of the African men who came over and helped translate. Meanwhile the other officer began to question the spanish lady. I saw her do the double hand shake in the air. That fucking bitch, I thought. The officer took her ID. I explained the scene at the hostel, and the African man translated. I explained every detail, even mimicking the strenuous recovery of the bills with my two hands opposing one another in front of my chest. The African asked me to show the officer the money I had recovered. I pulled out the tightly crumpled bill and handed it to him. He inspected it as if it was forensic evidence and handed it back to me. "He wants to know how much money was stolen." The African said to me. "I don't know...100 or 150, I'm not sure." I unrolled the crumpled money and discovered two bills, not one. This was it, I thought. "I think this is all I had." The African man turned and began speaking spanish. Both officers began questioning the woman. The African man turned to me and explained that money leaves no trace, so they have no way of proving that she took it. "Well what's going to happen?" I asked. "They know she took the money, but they cannot arrest her." The officers spoke once more to my translator. He turned to me "They say if you want you can file a police report at the station." I thought silently for a moment "What would you do?" I asked. He smiled and shrugged his shoulders "If you live in Spain....maybe file the report, but you have your money back so just go." I looked at Ellen and looked at the officer. "Okay, nada, nada." and turned my palms as if I had given up.
Ellen and I walked away thanking the Africans and the two officers. "Mucho gracias, gracias." They also said gracias, even the spanish lady. Just as we were leaving a civil guard in an SUV rolled up. Two officers stepped out adjusting their gadget-covered belts. They each carried a lit cigarette between their fingers. Ellen and I stopped as if we might be in trouble. The four men began conversing, and one of the officers passed the lady's ID to the civil guard. A couple minutes later the officers turned to us and said "No problemo, adios." We were free and had been vindicated.
We walked back to the hostel in both shock and excitement at what had just happened. This was one of those things you dream about when something of yours is stolen, catching the thief in the act would be so great! This was the next best thing, or maybe better, chasing the thief down after they thought they had made a clean get away and reclaiming the goods.
Ellen and I continued packing, occasionally taking a break to inspect the crime scene, speculating on how it all went down. I figured the bra thing was a scam, and she thought I would stay out of the room after catching sight of her fat chest. We finished packing our bags and headed downstairs. We explained to the owner of the private hostel what had happened with the translation help of the internet user, still typing away. The hospitalero seemed a little surprised but not very sympathetic to our victimization. Then the officers showed up at the door and asked for our passports. We handed them over. One of them looked in the log book of pilgrim guests, finding the woman's name. Ellen and I figured that after the pow-wow with the civil guard the officers decided to file a report and needed our passport numbers. During the spanish lady's interrogation we heard pilgrim cities being called out like Pamplona, and Santa Domingo. We wondered if she had been the perpetrator in the other thefts we heard about along the way. That would have been the civil guard's territory, not the local police. The officers returned our passports and drove off.
Now fully clothed and packs on our shoulders, we walked back down the stairs heading towards the cafes. I saw my translator friend who now stood proudly behind an array of women's scarves, folded into neat squares covered in plastic. "Gracias" I said again "Nada, nada" he replied.
The sun was coming up over the bay creating a sharp line of white light between the gray sky and horizon. I stopped to take a photo and heard one of the Africans, whom I didn't recognize from earlier, speaking quickly in a foreign languauge, blahbruhrarrtthugbul.....no pantalon." and he laughed, smiling at me as I walked passed. No pants is all I caught. He was telling the story to one of his friends of the funny episode that just happened on the stairs. Ellen and I walked away, not sure if we should feel proud our humiliated.
Our analysis and recollection of the morning's events continued over breakfast and for much of the cab ride back to Santiago. We still couldn't believe what had just happened. I wanted to tell our spanish cab driver about the incident, but he spoke no english. I just stared out the window, still a little jittery from all the action. I kept playing the scene over and over in my head, wanting to recall every nuance for some reason.
I watched the green countryside blur past me. After awhile I had exhausted the playback of my memory, and tried to find closure. I concluded that I had just robbed a 50 year-old spanish lady in broad daylight, but it was okay because she robbed me first. Buen Camino!
Over and out.