I got robbed today. But that's not the story here. The story is about how the worst in one person often brings out the best in another.
It was a beautiful and sunny afternoon in Santiago, and I didn't want to just sit in the hostel and read, so I went to buy a Coke and decided to walk to the Cerro Santa Lucia, a park I had visited a few days ago that is really pretty and that normally gives shelter to young couples under its trees.
I had been sitting for some time on a bench in the beautiful sunlight, reading my book of Pablo Neruda's poetry. I was just getting ready to leave when a glint of light caught my eye. A boy of about fifteen, fashionably dressed and in sunglasses, was right next to me and picking up my coke. He grabbed my purse and started to run.
No shoes. I knew I couldn't catch him. He was gaining distance on me with every step. My sunglasses fell off my head and onto the cobblestone. The only thing I had left was the Neruda book in my hand. Just me and Neruda at this point.
"Ayuda!" The Spanish tore from my throat without me even thinking. "Ayuda por favor! Es mi bolsa! Es mi bolsa!"
Nobody moved. It's gone, I thought. My camera, my wallet, my diary from the last five months, and even my phrasebook.
A man in a red polo shirt jumped up. In a flash, he was in front of the thief. I stopped, looking around to make sure he couldn't run away down some other path. If he came towards me, it was almost certain he could dodge around me.
I looked back toward him, and saw something small in his hand. The man in red also held a small object, which caught the light of the sun for a brief second. It dawned on me...they both had knives.
Holy shit. I'm about to see someone get stabbed.
I backed away two steps, and called to the people who were still sitting on another bench for help. The man in red was calmly talking to the kid, in thick Chileno Spanish I didn't catch a word of. The thief tried half-heartedly to menace the man in red with the knife, but the man did not back down. I think he was asking, "Is it worth it? Is it worth it?" A second that seemed like an eternity passed like cold molasses. I realized I didn't know the number for an ambulance.
The thief glanced inside my purse and threw it to the side. He ran off down the hill.
I got to it and fell to my knees with the Neruda book on top of my recovered belongings. As I struggled to catch my breath I realized that my feet hurt a lot from running on the cobblestones. I was shaking all over.
The man in red asked me if I was OK as he closed his switchblade. Words escaped me. He helped me up and asked me if anything else was missing. We gathered my sunglasses and my shoes. I still couldn't talk.
"Gracias. Thank you, thank you. Can't say...so much." Broken, breathless Spanish.
"You alone? Here, I'll walk you back to your hostel. Better that I go with you."
We walked and tried to talk, despite my terrible and confused Spanish. Italian phrases snuck into my speech at odd moments. He asked what I was in Chile for. I told him I was going to teach in Patagonia. He smiled something along the lines of, "Don't worry. It will be beautiful. Tranquil. Lots of nature. No one will try to rob you there..."
"Como se llama?" I asked.
"Yo?" he said, "Me llama Girardo."
"Muchas Gracias, Girardo. Debo...debo...decir a mis padres...Che Girardo me he salvado..." (More or less-- " Thank you so much, Girardo. I must...I must tell my parents...that Girardo saved me..."
He accompanied me back to the hostel and suggested I drink a beer straight away. I thanked him again and he went on his way.
All returned. All my sentimental things. I had fewer than $20 in pesos in my wallet and the only thing of value the thief would have gotten was my camera, which is well-worn from my travels. The diary is priceless. The other books in there less so. The thief must've looked in my purse and seen only books, no wallet and no camera. My nerdiness may well have saved me.
So now, beer in hand and purse in lap, I'm back in the hostel. I can't believe my good fortune. I might sleep with my purse in my arms tonight.
Even for this, I'm sure there is a reason. If nothing else it taught me to expect both the worst and the best out of my fellow beings...and to trust that if I really am in need someone will show up and help me.