Monday, June 23, 2008

Bogotá Tales

A story told by Paola's flatmate Olguita about her an experience of her mother's cousin's wife (that description alone may sound a warning, but we'll get back to that later). For now, let's call Olguita's extended family member Rosa.

It was the señora Rosa's first trip to Bogota, and she was very nervous, having heard so much about what a dangerous place it was. Travelling across town on the bus, she was seated next to a man who she thought looked like a suspicious character. While looking out the window at the crowds and sights, she suddenly felt that her purse was lighter in her hand.

Convinced that she had been sneakily robbed, in a flash of panic she turned to the man sitting next to her and snapped: "the wallet!". The man gave a startled look and started to shuffle guiltily away across the seat. Rosa's heart was racing. She clutched her keys in a fist and jabbed them towards the man's ribs. "Give me the wallet" she demanded, her voice shaking.

Looking uneasily at the pointy object being pushed towards his stomach, the man reached slowly into his jacket pocket and pulled out a wallet, which the señora Rosa snatched back and placed in her purse. The man got up from the seat, beat a hasty retreat to the front of the bus, and got off at the next stop.

When the señora Rosa got to her cousin's place and was able to check her belongings, she found that she had an extra wallet -- belonging to the man on the bus.

Certain aspects of this tale, such as the relation of the protagonist to the story-teller, and the lack of further details (like, what did the señora do then?) raise alarm bells*. It has many of the characteristics of an urban legend. But I guess the point is not so much whether it's true, but that it could be. In Bogotá, the moral says, people can even get mugged by accident.

I actually like better another story told by Olguita, this time about her immediate family. Her cousins had gone out on the town with a friend, taking the family car. The boys were out partying until the small hours, until in a rather inebriated state, they somehow managed to drag the car back home and sneak into the house.

The next day Olguita's uncle asked them how the night had been. "Oh, you know, nothing special, said Olguita's cousin. " We came home really early".

Olguita's uncle nodded sagely. "Yes, isn't it amazing how early they're getting the paper out these days", he mused.

On their arrival home, the boys had parked on top of the recently delivered morning newspaper, which was found jammed under the car's right front tyre.

*This story relies on the tendency not to use possessive pronouns in Spanish for things where ownership is obvious -- so the señora demanded 'la billetera' rather than 'mi billetera'. But it also requires a suspension of disbelief that in a situation of dispute she wouldn't have insisted she wanted 'my wallet'.

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