So there we were, standing in the middle of the dusty central bus corral in Guatemala City. We were staring at our luggage, piled on top of the bus that we were going to take to Chichicastenango - the biggest scam going involved loading tourists' luggage onto a bus, and then tossing it across to another bus when they got inside. So there I was, squinting into the tropical sun, casually shrugging off the driver as he earnestly urged us to get on the bus, please, senores.
Within seconds, thin brown hand reached around my face and deftly snatched my sunglasses off my face. The keeper strap was expertly yanked free, and suddenly, my tender blue gringo peepers were watering in the harsh dusty glare. I was momentarily nonplussed, but then instinct took over, and before I could think, I was turning and reaching behind me - apparently, just quickly enough to brush the thief's hand. Goddammit-!
I glimpsed a thin teenage boy, maybe fifteen, taller than me by a few inches, and dressed in a loose white t-shirt and tennis shoes. Short dark hair, nice features, and a handful of my sunglasses. It was just a glimpse, though, because as soon as he saw me turn, he was also turning to sprint through the crowds around the buses and across the center of the corral. Like a hound on a scent, I sprinted after him.
He was confident that no gringo would ever chase him - despite my daypack and the Teva sandals on my feet, I started gaining on him as the crowds thinned out and he started to slow down. Unable to believe my luck, I poured on the gas, and hoped that the rumble of the diesel engines all around us would cover the sound of my feet pounding the dirt behind him.
I was almost close enough to body slam the kid when he looked over his shoulder and saw me behind him - the look on his face was priceless, a weird mixture of shock and fear. Unfortunately, having a tiny, enraged gringa bearing down on him like a pissed-off badger was enough to put him back into "run" mode, and he took off again just as I was close enough to grab the back of his shirt - he twisted as he ran, and the shirt slipped out of my sweaty fingers. Damn!
He was taller and longer-legged, but he was also malnourished, fifteen, and evidently unused to running fast - if I'd had another quarter-mile, I think I could've caught the little shit, after which my adrenaline-fueled, rage-induced plan was to pound the fear of Jesus into him and get my glasses back. Shit, I didn't have any money to buy new glasses, or I wouldn't have been waiting for a chicken bus in the middle of Guate City. I really, REALLY wanted to catch that kid, like I'd never wanted anything else in my life up to that point.
He had other plans, though. They involved veering towards the periphery of the parking lot, jumping over a stack of watermelons, and disappearing into the covered produce market on the fringe of the corral. Unable to stop right away, I also leaped over the waist-high pile of melons, then skidded to a halt in the midst of a bunch of shoppers and indigenous ladies in acid-trip-colored huipiles. "El ladrone!" I gasped. "A donde va??"
Several of the stall keepers made discreet pointing motions against their waists, but then, as I looked around at the crowd of Guatemalans, I suddenly realized my position - a small, single, blue-eyed blonde, lost in a crowd of people who were evidently scared of at least one thief. What if there were more? Crap. And my boyfriend was undoubtedly still standing near that bus, wondering where I'd gone. Crap! And who knew when it was scheduled to leave....I'd taken off my watch, to keep that from getting stolen, too. Crap.
So - after another minute or so of vacillating, staring around the market, looking for another glimpse of that fucking thief, I finally let my head take over, and turned and jogged back to my bus. I was so over-adrenalinated that I could easily have torn someone's head off at that point - I mean, I was poor - I'd worked my ass off for every dollar I'd ever earned, and to have someone take something from me struck me as a huge injustice. It wasn't the sunglasses that irked me as much as what the whole experience represented - that I was vulnerable, a target, insecure, and easy to steal from. Why?? Why me? Why couldn't I have simply caught the little fucker, cut his liver out, and left him for dead....I mean, er, gotten my things back and went on my way?
The rest of the day was tough, and I had trouble sleeping that night, but I bought a pair of obviously stolen sunglasses from another vendor in Chichicastenango's market later that week, and that should have been the end of the experience, right? And yet I still wake up sometimes, thinking about seeing that kid's head again through the bus window as we trundled out of the bus depot, strolling through the crowd, looking for another target.
Even today, even with both of us older and greyer and wiser - I would kill him in a heartbeat, in the most brutal way possible. Over a pair of sunglasses. I'd like to say "it's the principle of it", but really, I would do it for the fun of it.