As the three men rush the cab – your cab – the truth hits: what only happens to others is about to happen to you. You are not the exception.
Moments ago, you and your Aussie boyfriend were splurging in a Bogotá bistro: grilled steaks, bottles of wine, and scoops of coke on an ATM card going black on the sides from acids. The waiter had looked away each time you ambled to the rest room. And here’s the killer: after thanking you for the fat tip, he’d offered to call a cab (neither of you had cells). But something about his eagerness, Davy had muttered, already paranoid. He’d probably call a friend, one of those dodgy drivers, saying, these gringos are loaded. And careless. Graciously, you’d answered, no gracias, and instead hailed a taxi off the street. Like you’d been told not to do a million times.
So here you both are, your hearts beating merengue, the coke redundant, the air around you stinking of fake pines and human grease. Davy’s round face suddenly looks gaunt.
A tsunami of silence then slammed car doors and heavy breathing. This is how it’s going to go, the one now in the passenger seat barks in Spanish. You and Davy get sandwiched between the other two. You can’t make out their features and never will.
Davy lets out a gurgling holler and stomps his feet as if running in place. A child scared out of his wits. Then the one in the front pulls out a gun.
The two of you dutifully unclasp your watches, unsnap your wallets and relinquish money, debit cards and pin numbers. For a rippling moment, you believe you may have to open something else as a sweaty hand reaches around Davy to caress your head, and the cab mazes deeper into unknown neighborhoods. You get a flash of yourself, flopping like a fish on the pavement as your jeans get yanked down and shadowed faces land on your face and neck. You imagine the aftermath: you and Davy lying face down, the sound of air being ripped by bullets.
You teeter on a precipice, flabbergasted by this possible fate. And to think it would be nothing personal, life just a minefield of ever-shifting odds.
But then, out of nowhere, peacefulness descends. Or maybe it’s passiveness. You let go, as if on a hilltop, allowing the sky to unfurl you into a mound of autumn leaves. They just want your money. This isn’t it. You’ll see your family again. Breathe in real pine trees again. You’ll get sober, dump Davy, study for the LSAT…
The gun-holder gently orders, close your eyes, like a parent putting you to sleep. Later he’s dropped off to procure cash from your accounts, earning two month’s wages in an hour. You can almost hear the purr of the machine.
The other two ask what you do, if your boyfriend speaks Spanish. You’re a receptionist at a law firm and no, he doesn’t.
The taxi driver just coasts along and you wonder what his cut is. Before the trio had emerged from peripheries, you’d sensed you were headed the wrong way, but couldn’t summon the boldness to order, “Stop. This isn’t it.”
But now words are tumbling, from nowhere again. You know the deal, you fib, because this has happened before. This is your second “paseo milionario,” as they’ve dubbed this hold-up. This is old hat, you’re calm voice suggests. No, this made-up gang hadn’t hurt you because you had cooperated. Just like you and Davy were doing now. Neither of you were going to trade your lives for money.
“Good girl,” the stroker says in his husky, friend-like Spanish. “That’s the way.”
You have the temerity to ask for enough cash to escape the shanty town you’re about to be dropped off in. The stroker says, “But of course,” though naturally he leaves you and your mute boyfriend peso-less, surrounded by houses that look like fangs in the dark. Finally, another cab catches your semaphore code for help and takes you to a friend who pays the driver and pours two glasses of scotch. You don’t touch yours.
At some point Davy gets up for more ice, and your friend leans in and calls you brave. Numbed by everything, you shrug. Brave? You turn the word over like a shirt you’re not sure will fit. What had you been more afraid of, really, death? Or feeling forever hijacked, speeding in the wrong direction, unable to say, this isn’t it?
Angela Canales was born and raised in West Philadelphia. From 1996 to 2004, she lived in Bogot?, Colombia, her country of heritage, where she taught high school English at an International Baccalaureate school. She is currently living in Ardmore and working on an M.A. in Writing Studies at Saint Joseph?s University. This is her first published piece.