Why you should care
It’s not always what things cost that determines their value, especially when stacked up against your life during a robbery.
My friend Brian and I were so happy to be in Colombia. The warmth of the sun glistening off the panorama of the mountains. Everything was alive. Everything was vibrant.
We got there late and only quickly saw the Botero sculptures. Rotund blobs of rust creating so much beauty I had to pause. The place was inundated with tourists and many were awkwardly posing next to the sculptures. I gasped seeing them up close. I posed for photos too, sticking my hand in the air next to the thick oversized hand sculpture. I was having fun.
And after we drank pilsners and ate salty snacks, we were ready to return to Laureles — the safer, more suburban part of Medellín, when we suddenly realized we did not really know how to get there.
Why didn’t we plan better? Why didn’t I plan better at the very least? Brian wasn’t going to admit we were lost, and he was always never the sort to really make plans or take the initiative.
His sharp blade made its way through the line of glass on the window. It touched my right cheek. I can still feel its coolness.
The downtown area was packed. People were lining up for buses after a long day’s work. There were street vendors peddling fruits, corn and cheap souvenirs. We lucked out and hailed a yellow cab — even though we were warned not to do this. There was no other option.
I entered the cab on the right, Brian got in on the left. He instinctually took out his cellphone and began scrolling for messages, desperate to see what his circle of friends were up to. I opened mine too, cautiously, placing it near the ground, cognizant that the ubiquitous phone was reserved for the rich on manicured fingernails in five-star hotels, not on the busy streets.
And I’d later wonder, what if I entered on the left and Brian at the right — with the bright glow of his phone for all to see? Would things have changed?
Anyway, we made it a few more inches around the circle when the traffic came to a complete standstill. The light of the day had quickly turned to dark, and I was lost in the moment.
It was hot, and I opened my window about a quarter of an inch to get some air. I usually roll it all the way down to let the air envelope my face to feel refreshed, to feel alive. But instinct cautioned me against this.
I looked over at Brian — trying to make a plan, trying to talk when everything stopped. The cars. The lights. My freedom.
Then I saw him. I saw him come close, but I was able to block him out, just another street vendor, I thought. From an unfortunate pool of hundreds. His long straggly gray beard stuck out, in contrast to his darker skin. I only looked away for a second. Only a fraction of time.
His sharp blade made its way through the line of glass on the window. It touched my right cheek. I can still feel its coolness. I thought it was a machete but after a closer look, it resembled my favorite serrated kitchen knife. The same one that I used to slice English muffins for breakfast.
“Damelo!” He screamed over and over, wanting my phone. And I just froze. See, all of my memories were in that white Samsung Galaxy and none of the information had been backed up anywhere else. Messages from my exes, the last bits of romance and heartbreak. Time slowed down. All those years of travel. Nothing. All those sharpened street smarts were useless.
“Give it to him!” The driver screamed in fear.
But I was not made that way — to give up, or to give in. I looked at Brian, and he just sat there. Such a sweet guy never wanting to rock the boat. It was his way, but this time why could he not fight for me?
I began to throw the phone to the front seat of the car. Surely this old robber and his little knife couldn’t reach me. I threw it, and it tumbled and tumbled, like a gymnast, to the edge of the front seat. I began to move closer to the left. Closer to safety. But I could barely move my body. I was frozen. No movement. No change. I started counting in Spanish in my head, thinking that in just a few more seconds we would be out of danger.
The light changed, but the cars couldn’t move. We were stuck, with this old man screaming in my ear. This was not the obituary I wanted. I should have just given him that stupid cellphone. I didn’t know what to do. I pictured my face getting slashed like that model Marla Hanson did when I was a teenager. A forever scar because of my need for nostalgia.
Just then, though, the light changed, and this time the cars began to move. We would make it to “next time,” I thought. But beyond that thought, we made it to another block and another car slowed down in front of us and stopped. This was it then. This was surely the end with all of the trouble we had left beyond free to catch up.
Which was precisely when another yellow taxi pulled up close to ours and rolled down the windows.
I looked at their faces. Faces that seemed warm and kind. They asked me if I was OK.
They saw what happened and wanted to make sure I was safe. I was. I made it out without a scratch, on my cheek or anywhere else, but inside my head? Well, that would be scarred for months to come.