I draw an assignment to seed capitalism around the globe. One of the early stops is Caracas, Venezuela where an applecart salesman who is writing an English teaching manual is to be handed $2000. My capitalist benefactor will take a receipt for 15% off the annual gross, and then it´s on to the next stop like the 1950´s TV series ´The Millionaire´ appearing on peoples´ doorsteps in surprise. I pause first in Caracas for a meal.
“May I change twenty American dollars if I eat?” I ask in Spanish.
The dish steams in my face in three minutes. The café is elongated like a French fry with a dozen tables and a tiny bar; just a place to get a meal before the next stop. There are two occupied tables, a husband-wife pair at dessert and two males drinking tall beers with their meals. I study the drinking men with their backs to me. Clean ebony skin, cropped hair, pressed shirts, and grace in bearing the bottles to their mouth. Inexplicably, one built like a cheetah raises the beer in salute. I nod, and at first bite see his dark face blush. Francis Galton observed in Africa that this betrays shame rather than embarrassment. The waiter clears the table, I order another plate and pay with an American Jackson, and in five minutes she returns with Venezuelan Bolivars change and the piping hot plate. The waitress leaves, the two drinkers exit, the cashier disappears, the cook is unseen, the floor sweep locks herself in the bathroom, and the married couple rises for the door.
The cheetah and his partner brush in past them with raised machetes. The split to stand to either side of the chair, the table’s in front, and my back to the wall.
“Tranquillo,” orders the cheetah jabbing me in the ribs with the machete point just hard enough to hurt. He holds the knife low and expertly. The blade is fourteen inches long, plus another six in the wood handle. The other knifeman hold his lower and stabs my thigh.
´Su dinero!!´ (Give us your money!)
´I spent it all.´ Everything in Spanish.
Jab. Jab. They double team me with the knives, one below the left floating rib and the other on the right thigh, bruising but not breaking the skin. If I move I´ll impale myself.
I try to stay way ahead of these bad guys. The first step is to secret stashes around the body with the idea of sequentially losing only one or two. The most obvious spot to a thug is a money pouch around the waist or neck, where I now carry a thick wad of small bills to raise the saliva of a hooligan. I struggle to pull my neck pouch but a sharp blow by the knife point in the ribs knocks the wind out of me. There´s another wad in my back pocket, I beg them to let me pull it and throw over their heads to greedily claw the green shower allowing an escape, but a sharp stab below the pocket prevents it. The cheetah slashes the neck pouch, and the other slices the pocket and the monies fall into their hands. Now all that´s left is the big store, the seed capital for all of South America, sewn inside my right pant calf. Inadvertently one of the jabs hits the thick pouch of hundreds. The knife slices out the secret pocket, they take the three purses, and flee.
´Silencio!´ the cheetah barks at the front door, and then they’re gone. On cue, the sweep girl emerges from the bathroom and shakes her head sympathetically, the cook starts banging pots, and the waitress asks if I want another dish on the house. I’m cleaned out but alive with a full stomach and this is no place to linger. Today I bucked odds without spilling blood, learned about myself and, at the price of a dollar a square inch of skin, walk out on lighter feet.