Big, Fat, Gypsy anecdotes (3)

About two years ago I was robbed at the cashpoint in Tirso de Molina, which, as I now discover, is a notorious spot for street robberies. This wasn’t late at night: I was hardly making a risky transaction alone in a dark street. It was at five in the afternoon on a busy Sunday. ‘…At five in the afternoon.
 Ah, that fatal five in the afternoon!
 It was five by all the clocks!
 It was five in the shade of the afternoon!’ (Lorca). There were plenty of people around, the bars were bustling, the winter sun was out. It was a few weeks before Christmas. It’s amazing how you can fall for a trick you are perfectly aware of, and I had heard that there were a lot of robberies taking place at cashpoints by teenagers, mostly on solitary foreign women. They watched you, and as soon as you keyed in your pin, they distracted you and quickly withdrew cash. One of my colleagues at work had fallen prey to this scam at a city-centre cashpoint, although she had pushed the kids away, shouted at them, and eventually they had left her alone without getting hold of any of her money.

‘But we’re hungry,’ said one of the little boys, pointing at his mouth and feigning tragedy. ‘We’re poor, we haven’t got any money.’

‘Neither have I, I’m a poor English teacher. Now, piss off.’ she’d replied.

I always suspected that if I was ever attacked in the street I would react with Amazonian fury, and here was my chance. Two teenage gypsy girls, (they spoke, looked and dressed like Rumanians,) jostled me just as I had keyed in my pin. I jostled them back. They fronted up to me, and I hugged the wall, bodily blocking them from the mouth of the cashpoint. I grabbed my card with trembling fingers.

‘Touch me again and I’ll smash your face in!’ I yelled, as one of them pushed me again. ‘Don’t you dare touch me! I’ll call the police! Thieves! Bastards!’ I shouted at them at the top of my voice. I’d heard one is supposed to do this if threatened in the street, attract as much attention as possible. And surely enough, a second later a police-car screeched to a halt and two officers leapt out. The girls didn’t seem particularly fussed about this development, but slouched, bored, against the wall when ordered to.

‘Please check your account, Senora, make sure they haven’t taken anything.’

‘It’s all right,’ I replied, my heart beating like the soundtrack to a jungle basement rave. ‘They didn’t get anything. I’ve got my bank card as well.’ I held it up.

‘But please check, they’re very quick, they could have taken it out without you realising. If you check your balance for me, and find they have withdrawn money I could search them right now. Are you all right? Did they hurt you?’ the policeman said.

It’s difficult to concentrate in a foreign language when you are in shock, I don’t know if you’ve tried to do this. I think this is what he said, in retrospect. At the time I just heard something like ‘Blah blah bah.. they’re very quick…. Blahblah…  Search me…. Money…..blahblahblah…. all right? …. Hurt?’

‘No, no, I’m fine, really. Thank you for coming so quickly.’

‘Be very careful at this cashpoint, Senora, it happens a lot here, these two are known to the police.’

This I understood.

‘Thank you, I will be careful in future.’

‘Right, you two, down the station.’

They led the smirking girls away and, shaking like I had the DT’s, I left the business of withdrawing money until the next morning, headed down the hill into Lavapies village, into the nearest local bar, and ordered a large brandy.

As it happened, the following morning, when I did check my balance on the way to work, and then, horrified, called my bank manager to confirm the theft, they had taken 300 euros, the maximum you can withdraw at one time on my account. How they did it I still don’t know, I was convinced they hadn’t got close enough to take money out, but I guess I must have been distracted by the element of surprise and the pushing and shoving for the split-second long enough for them to key in the amount and pocket it. It was obviously the job of one of them to distract, and the other to finger the money. Come to think of it, one girl had been more in-your-face than the other. It was three weeks before Christmas. I had saved and scraped that three hundred euros from my paltry salary for gifts and holiday spending money. The bank manager sorrowfully told me it wasn’t normal bank policy to return the money, but if I went to the comisaria (police station) that morning and got a proper police report and brought it to the branch, he would see what he could do. He was very sorry. He couldn’t promise anything.

I called my bosses, who sympathetically told me to take as long as I liked to go and report the robbery, and I walked around Fuenlabrada asking for directions and looking for the police station. On the way I had to cross a park, and to my right I saw a young man in a tracksuit, standing against a tree. Apparently he was having a pee, so I looked away again, but as I passed him, he turned to me, and glancing at him out of the corner of my eye I saw he quite clearly had his erect penis in his hand, and was smiling at me.  He was young and good-looking, and extremely well-endowed. I had ambiguous feelings about being flashed at like this by a well-hung stud, in a park, at 8.30 in the morning. I don’t remember my reaction; I think I just rolled my eyes and tutted, as if to say, I really haven’t got time for your engorged member, now put it away, and he casually zipped himself up and strolled off in the other direction, past the ambling grannies and the dog-walkers. It took me until approximately lunch time to get my police report.

I was seething for days. I had been robbed by a couple of girls, how pathetic was that? Those bitches! I kept seeing their smug little faces, the way they lolled against the wall by the cashpoint, eyeing me indifferently, like I wasn’t even a person, just some easy target, fat-cat walking wallet. And all the time with my cash in their pockets. Had I done what the policeman had said, I would have found out immediately that they’d robbed me, got my money back on the spot, and had the satisfaction of knowing they would be taken away and booked, rather than given a caution and let off, to saunter away with my hard-earned money. At least I had the pleasure of knowing I had shouted back, had not cowered like a victim. I had vented my anger on the spot, I had yelled insults at them and even physically pushed them. But they had tricked me and they had my money, and I’d been a split-second away from getting it back. Now I had no money for Christmas, and lines of credit were not forthcoming. I was fucked. Merry Sodding Christmas, the little Grinches had spoilt it for me. After a few days of driving myself absolutely mad over it, pacing and breathing fire, I stood stock still in my flat one day and thought,

‘Let it go. Who’s got a house, an education, family, friends, enough money to eat, a job, a future? I have. And what do they have? A shitty life, with no opportunities, that’s always going to be shitty. (Yeah, and my three hundred euros, but try and look at the long game.)’ Somehow, this realisation made me feel much better. They may have won for now, but I’d rather have my life than theirs. After this the anger subsided and I started to feel sorry for them. I imagined they had an alcoholic, gambling father back at the dismal ‘campamento’ on the outskirts of town, who would take his belt to them if they came home empty-handed. Someone once told me they’d seen a documentary about Rumanian gypsy camps on the outskirts of Madrid, and they had interviewed a policeman who had commented that visiting these camps during the day was an eerie experience, as there were no women or girls, only men sitting about drinking and playing cards. Where were the women? All out in the city robbing or prostituting themselves, sent to work by the men.

A couple of days later the bank called me to let me know the bank manager had argued on my behalf, wangled it somehow, and the insurance company had evidently been filled with the spirit of Christmas, because the bank had credited my account with the three hundred euros. The festive season was back on again! Christmas wasn’t ruined after all! I called and left him a message that was almost tearful with gratitude, an unusual sentiment these days toward one’s bank manager, or any banker, which therefore, ought to be acted upon immediately.

One Response to “Big, Fat, Gypsy anecdotes (3)”

  1. Ack, I was robbed in a very similar way at a cashpoint in Plaza Lavapies a couple of years ago. A seemingly drug-crazed kid just ran up behind me and pressed the €300 button after I’d entered my PIN. I tried to kick him away (in my espadrilles – not much good) while trying to cover the cashpoint. Then an older guy came along and whacked the kid about the head. I got my card back, pressed every ‘cancel’ button I could find, and checked my balance. It seemed no money had been taken, so I didn’t report it to the police. Two days later, I noticed €300 had gone.


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