Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Unforgiven Cities


It took four days or so for me to move all of our stuff from next door, to our new apartment.

Wearing the Moby, I returned to the old place, armed with Simple Green, disinfectant, rags, and the donut cushion for Baby E to hang in, should she grow tired of the Moby. I set about the task of making the place spic and span with vigour; first focus, the kitchen. After an hour or so, I turned to face the front door and commence vacuuming the living room.

I beheld a very bare entertainment unit.

Where was the flat-screen TV? The one that came with the apartment? I moved closer, as though perhaps it had shrunk, and was now hiding underneath a fleck of dust. I checked behind the unit, half-expecting to see the screen's cords - still plugged into the wall leading up to the vacant spot. Nothing. Not even the remote.

I carried on vacuuming, chanting within, "Maybe the manager moved it to a different apartment. Yes, that's it. I'm sure that's what happened".

My stomach knew better. It began contorting itself into a pretzel in protest.

And so it was confirmed with management soon after, my stomach was right. The TV had been stolen. Stolen by someone, mere feet away from our new living space. Stolen from a room that shares a wall with our new lounge. Stolen by someone who no doubt noticed the baby-toting lady carting all her possessions, for days, out one door and into another.

The Manager reassured me, "These things happen".

I confessed, "But I could have left the door unlocked for too long. It could be my fault".

She continued, "It's not your fault someone was an opportunist and deviant."

I felt sick about it solidly for two days.

The policewoman who came for my statement took up the same song, "It's not the first time a TV's been stolen in Mosgiel...and it was fairly obvious the place was empty".

I began to feel slightly better.

But now and then the nausea would return to remind me I felt let down by humanity.

I've decided to forgive Mosgiel.

In the past, theft has caused me to blacklist the location of the crime - as though the entire province is to blame for my misfortune.

First, it was New Plymouth - the site of a car break-in that left me feeling vulnerable, and unsure of the world (age 7 or 8).

Our touristy family had pulled over to take a walk up to a viewing platform. As we travelled down the access road, a brown van leaving the site U-turned to follow us back in (warning flag number one). We were the only two vehicles in the gravel parking lot (flag two). Mom and Dad rallied the troops (four children present at that time), and we set out. Half-way up, my mother said she had a bad feeling about the van-load below (forget flags - giant, flashing neon warning sign). We carried on for maybe 30 minutes before we reached the highest point, where we could make speck-people, and some sort of mischief in motion below. Jeremy offered to sprint back down and sort the shady characters out - which my mother of course refused to allow (I recall some mention of fear of knives?). We made our way back down, and upon reaching the car, I watched my mom slap the side of the van saying, "I knew it!" Scratch-marks surrounding the keyhole on the front door's passenger side confirmed what we'd speculated on our brisk descent...as did the absence of my dad's jacket, mom's purse, and some other small items.

I felt sick all day.

I blamed New Plymouth.

Next, it was Paris - where my dad was targetted on the Metro.

We were making our way from the airport to the backpackers where we were staying, and were appropriately carrying all we had with us on our backs...with the exception of all our currency and Dad's American Express being nestled in bum-bag around his waist, mostly concealed by the base of his jacket.

Obviously not concealed enough.

I boarded the full subway car and gripped a vertical pole, turning to find Dad's face amongst the people stew. I located his bright-coloured beanie, and saw he had one foot in the car and the other on the platform, as a young man knelt in front of him. Dad later reported he was being told to hold still, "You'll step on my glasses", as the wayward one held his kneecap with one hand, and patted the ground about him with the other. Dad felt seized upon by at least two others behind him, who seemed to be coming to the distractor's aid. I disliked the concern my father's face was wearing, but clutched to the cold pole, waiting. Something was wrong. An icy eel of comprehension slid down my throat, and settled in my stomach. The sick feeling I associated with New Plymouth had already arrived. Dad freed himself from the foray and joined me, standing. Frowning, he checked his waist, and repeated, "It's gone". I leaned my head against the cool metal I was clutching, and cried quietly.

All the passengers stared through us, unblinking.

I blamed Paris.

We bumped through the turn-stiles and up the gum-covered steps. It was raining. Thanks Paris.

We regrouped, us two and clear-thinking, on a pedestrian median between two roads. It was there I resumed crying, with no attempt to conceal it. I remember the distinct emptiness I felt to be 18 years old, and in desperate need of comfort...but at an awkward age where I didn't want "Daddy", but someone.

Dad made calls. Dad explained to the man at the backpacker's counter. Of course Paris' "cheapest" overnight accommodation was the most expensive on the entire world trip.

The door to our cramped room hit the bunks when opened. I sat on the bottom one. The eel had taken up residence. I replayed the scene until I slept. The next day I embellished my recollection of events with what I imagined occured before and after my dad became the group's mark. I was certain they'd nudged each other and nodded in our direction. I added dipped shoulders to their saunter as I conjured the look of their approach. And I winced to picture the unzipping of the bag and displaying of its contents.

Dirty Paris.

We had to file a report with the police to claim insurance. They laughed at us in the adjacent room. Their English was poor, or they pretended it was.

I'd like to say I shook it off - that at the Eiffel Tower I smiled and laughed to read the warning signs about pick-pockets. That I didn't dress with my passport and cash against my skin, across my chest and stomach (like a beauty pageant sash) for the rest of the trip. I wish I could say I didn't find the city dark. I'd be lying.

I was changed. Maybe for the better. I had been naïve. How ironic - that a french word best describes my state upon arrival to its origin's capital. Perhaps the city stole its word back.

I'm ashamed to admit, I'm still working on forgiving "the city of lights". And New Plymouth...well, I haven't even tried.

But Mosgiel - I know it wasn't your fault.
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