I zoned out in the van again, sitting next to one of the Dutch men, and tried not to think about how I spent the last hour. My ankles were swollen still, but the pain had gone down and would continue to do so until the next day. (One of the Dutch doctors later explained to me that the French doctor in Kribi had given me a heavy dose of a powerful steroid, dextro-something.) After the hospital, we picked up the last of our stuff from the hotel and I denied the owner once more, no, I won’t kiss you goodbye, won’t take you to America, and headed out again. We drove straight through to Douala, 2 or 3 hours from Kribi, and were told we would need to stay another two nights since the place for the washer wouldn’t reopen until Monday. Instead of stay above the hospital/convent like we did when I first arrived in Cameroon, mom and I opted for a hotel where we wouldn’t be surrounded by nights full of the sounds of birth and death. The Baptist center had a room with a spiral staircase and a swimming pool outside. My ankles were working again and we walked with the Dutch to dinner in town. We found a place in town with pizza and beer, a worldwide favorite.
The next day for lunch, mom and I decided to go back and have another pizza, in case it doesn’t come around for the next 6 weeks in Cameroon. It was Sunday, and before we left, mom was going to take her camera. The guard at the door advised against it, because Sunday’s are the days when the thieves come out on the streets and steal from anyone who isn’t in church. We went back to the room to drop off the camera and only brought a little bit of money for a meal and groceries. We ate and went out onto the street to walk the block or two to the store. We passed a man standing against a wall who came up with his hands out, asking for my mom to give him something. She said no and kept walking, so he persisted, blocking her from moving forward, saying “give me something” in a more aggressive way. I was walking behind her, because sometimes I need to keep an eye on her, and she stopped again. The man’s arm shot out and grabbed my mother’s neck, ripping off her necklace and dashing.
(Quick aside: I am pretty familiar with this necklace and it’s sentimentality for my mother. It’s a charm that belonged to my grandmother, who I knew for a very short period. She died when I was 6 and I wish often she had lived longer. Apparently our attitudes are startlingly similar–she was quick witted and cynical, smart as hell, and wonderful to know if she let you. I have some blurry and loving memories of her, but I wish we could talk today. She would have been a good grandmother.)
I had done a quick analysis: the boy was in shorts, a T-shirt, and a baseball cap. He had nothing up his sleeves, in his pockets, or his hands. He was wearing sandals.
As I said, sometimes I need to watch things from behind in case something like this happens. The thief snatched the necklace clean off her neck and turned backwards to run. I braced myself and as he came toward me I grabbed him until my grip slipped, slowing him down but not stopping him. I dropped my leftover pizza and broke into a sprint after him, hearing my mother shout from the sidewalk “That was my mother’s, you asshole! And she’s dead!” I eyed the street and breaks between cars through my peripherals without breaking stride and continued the pursuit. I’m not sure why I chased after him, but something kicked in inside me related to my mother, family, dotted red ankles from the jellyfish, and adrenaline. The thief, about my age, was quick, but I shouted and pointed as I ran through the boulevard, attracting the attention of the standing security guards/cab wavers in front of restaurants. By the time he reached the other side of the street and I closed the distance, he was surrounded by larger men and handed over the necklace without much force. I reached him a second later and was grabbed forcefully around my arms by two guards who dragged me back across the road. They turned over the necklace and I gave it back to my mother and we were walked back to the hotel. At some point during the chase, the thief’s hat flew off into the street, and whoever retrieved the leftover pizza I had packaged up at the restaurant handed me the hat with it. It’s beige with an American flag.
Later, she would worry that the thief could have turned around and decked me, but I pointed out that we were crossing four lanes of suicidal Cameroon traffic and even a thief wouldn’t have risked the time it would take to punch me. I also explained that if we had a weapon, he would have used it in the first place, since mom was carrying a purse strapped from shoulder to opposite hip–hard to take without being handed over, which is why he took the necklace. I like to believe I’m ready for crazy things to happen, and I reacted quickly to this one, but I think I just had enough bullshit happen to me on my vacation that I just decided I wasn’t going to let this happen. Back in the hotel, we watched Terminator 3 on the only channel in English.
I’ve spared you the smaller details of why I had a frustrating weekend, but I know you trust me when I say it’s been a little wild. It’s good to be back at the convent, back to a different kind of work and frustration: not a dangerous one and with a working shower.