Yours to Keep
January 7, 2013
The yellow line of the subway made stops at the beach, the cathedral, and the most expensive shopping street so the trains were always packed with tourists. I hoped I understood Manolo’s instructions. Espera. He’d said the word a number of times but it was a verb that meant both to wait and to hope. In any case, I was doing both of those things: waiting for him inside the Jaume metro entrance, and hoping he was going to appear. It had been at least twenty minutes, but I didn’t think he’d abandon me—he’d given me a pair of his shoes to wear. I looked down at my feet, winter-pale and too-small against the rubber frame of his dirty white flip-flops. The shoes seemed like an obvious prop to me, a glaring indicator that something wasn’t right. To steady my nerves, I pretended to be waiting for a friend, pretended so hard that I could almost picture her, another ex-pat whom I’d greet with a hug before we smacked up the stairs in our unseasonal sandals, talking loudly in English.
Beside me on the wall, there was a map of Barcelona, sprawling and complex. At the top, the streets were organized into a grid, but in the centre there was no pattern, just a broken china plate that someone had tried to glue together. Superimposed over the city, the lines of the subway looked like a small child had drawn them with crayons of many colours.
I turned from the map just in time to see Manolo coming down the corridor from the tunnel. He touched the leather cuff on his left wrist. I glanced at the man on his left and did a quick assessment: he was wearing a novelty t-shirt and cargo pants, he didn’t look very fit. I watched him from the corner of my eye as he pushed through the turnstile. I guessed he would take the escalator instead of the stairs. Just before he passed, I turned and stepped onto the escalator ahead of him, a shiver racing up my spine like an extra sense being activated.
Three steps from the top, I slipped off one of the flip-flops as though it had gotten stuck, then hopped around for a moment trying to get it back on. Behind me there was a minor traffic jam as the man backed up as far as he could on the escalator to avoid running into me. Manolo was behind him.
“Sorry,” I said in English, turning to the man and smiling. I saw him glance down the front of my shirt as I bent to adjust my shoe. Then I walked off down the street, the finest details of the city leaping out at me for a moment until my heart-rate returned to normal. I turned to look back, but no one was following me. The whole thing had been so easy—it was almost disappointing.
Manolo met me back in the courtyard a quarter of an hour later. He pulled the wallet from the waistband of his jeans and handed it to me. It had the weight of a human heart, and it’d been the simplest thing in the world to steal. I tore open the Velcro flap. Inside was the man’s face, an old picture on a gym membership. His life would be different now. He’d be less trusting, safer maybe. Maybe we’d done him a favour.
Manolo frowned; I was taking too long. I dipped my fingers into the billfold and slid up the edges of the money. The colour was orange, 50 euros. I spread the bills with my fingers: one, two, three. Each of them was crisp and new, straight out of the bank machine.
Manolo’s jaw relaxed. “Tienes suerte,” he said.
That was funny. I didn’t feel lucky at all.