Knifepoint on Valentineâ€™s Day
We arrived when the Mexico sun was high in the sky, parking the car outside the usual fare of restaurants that lined the car park off the highroad. We promised the woman who owned the place that weâ€™d be back to enjoy her guisados pretty soon, and ambled down into a shallow green valley across which stretched a dirt track for motorized go-karts to enjoy.
Then the hill sloped up towards a lush green forest that offered the intrepid ambling for which we were in the mood. Huge maguey cacti punctuated the stubbly grass path we took. Many of their thick, rock hard leaves were scarred with the engravings of love pledged by past visitors.
â€˜Tonio, te amoâ€™.
â€˜Diana, eres me vida.â€™ I took some great shots of them, but unfortunately theyâ€™ll never be seen.
The shallow valley continued off into the distance, but Ulises and I ventured into the woods, which immediately steeped upwards into a hill bearing row upon row of five-storey high trees. The months spent crouched behind my computer bent over editing or blogging software made themselves felt as I gasped my way up the hill, stopping momentarily to admire the sun on the leaves of the plants and to smirk at the toilet paper left at the foot of many trunks by people caught short.
â€œDee, bajate,[Dee, go down]â€ whispered Ulises. I turned to him, and noticed his face had taken on that wolfish look that he gets when he senses somethingâ€™s up. 32 years living in NezahualcÃ³yotl, one of Mexicoâ€™s Cityâ€™s most sprawling and notorious districts, does that to a man. But Iâ€™d seen it before, and Iâ€™m ashamed to admit, thought he was being overcautious, as he sometimes can be.
â€˜Why?â€™ I said, bending to take a shot of a delicate, long red flower growing out of the earth.
â€˜Deborah, haz me caso por favor y bajateâ€™ [listen to me and just come down will you?].
I begrudgingly began to shuffle my way down the slippery earth the way we had come, and noticed Ulises squinting into the distance parallel to us, but still in the forest. I saw a small guy wearing a dark blue anorak / windbreaker, and he smiled and waved at as.
â€˜Todo bien [everything ok]?â€™ he asked.
â€˜Si,â€™ I replied, in my usual jolly fashion.
â€˜Deborah, bajamos AHORA[weâ€™re going down now]â€™, Ulises commanded. Still confused, I followed him further down and we emerged onto a part of the hill where the tress cleared slightly. As we descended, Ulises picked up a thick branch that was partly covered by fallen leaves, about the size and length of a baseball bat.
â€˜Que haces, amor [what are you doing, sweetie]?â€™ I asked.
â€˜Te explico despues [Iâ€™ll explain later].â€™
It was then that I saw someone coming up the hill towards us. He was wearing a black lucha libre mask. It was our man from across the way. He was also clutching a small knife.
â€˜Todo bien? Dar me tu dinero [everything ok? Give me your money]â€™ he said.
â€˜Tranquilo [calm down]â€™ said Ulises, who was further down the hill than I and closer to our assailant, and holding out his wooden branch in front of him defensively.
â€˜Sueltalo [let it go]â€™, said the masked-man, in reference to the stick.
â€˜Sueltalo, hijo de su puta madre [put it down, you son of a whore].â€™
â€˜Sueltalo, too [put yours down]â€™.
The man pulled out what looked like a long, thin screwdriver or draddle. It looked pretty deadly. He held it in one hand, the small knife in the other.
â€˜Voy a contar a diesâ€¦..[Iâ€™m going to count to ten].â€™
Ulises put the stick down.
Our assailant was clearly very nervous. He was breathing heavily and the hand in which he held the knife shook violently. His bottom lip hung over the mouth-hole of the mask, drawing away from his gums and revealing long, slightly yellow teeth.
â€˜Dar me tu dinero [give me your money]â€™.
â€˜Tranquilo, guey [stay calm, mate],â€™ said Ulises, as he opened up his wallet and the man pulled out the fresh 500 peso note we had just stopped by for at the cash machine.
â€˜Que son estes mammadas [what is this shit]?â€™ he asked,
My camera, an expensive and cherished wide-lens digital SLR, was hanging around my neck and tucked behind me, itâ€™s empty case hanging like a purse on my shoulder. As Ulises was handing over the dough, I unhooked the camera from my neck and dropped it behind the bush in front of me, hiding it from view.
â€˜Fuck you,â€™ I thought to myself.
â€˜Youâ€™re not having my camera.â€™
â€˜Sientense [sit down]â€™, shouted the man in the mask to both of us, ushering me down from my position a few meters away from Ulises.
â€˜Ya no? Tienes el dinero no? [enough no? you have the money..]â€™ said Ulises, his hands out in front of him, his face in a warning sign.
â€˜Sientense,â€™ he repeated.
â€˜Que tienes[what do you have]?â€™ he said to me, his head twitching nervously and his breathing still labored.
â€˜Dar me tu bolso [give me your bag].â€™
I handed over the empty camera case, and then lost my bottle. I knew heâ€™d figure out I wouldnâ€™t be in a forest with an empty camera case and worried heâ€™d become furious if he realized I was trying to hide stuff from him.
â€˜La camara esta por aca [the camera is over there]â€™ I said to him, signaling with my arm where I had dropped it.
He told me to go get it.
â€˜Iâ€™ll go,â€™ said Ulises.
â€˜No, ella,â€™ the masked man insisted. He was shorter and smaller than Ulises, and having him down on the ground made it easier for him to keep an eye on him.
I went for the camera, cursing myself as I did and finding myself growing furious as he tucked it into itâ€™s Lowepro case and then demanded cash from me â€“ cash that I didnâ€™t have.
â€˜No tienes nada mas [you donâ€™t have anything else]?â€™ he asked.
Then he said something I didnâ€™t understand and Ulises said to me â€˜Ven aca [come here],â€™ and started to embrace me. I suddenly became terrified â€“ I was more angry than scared before that â€“ and all the horror movies Iâ€™d seen in my life flashed through my eyes.
But then I understood that the man was telling us to lie with our faces in the earth, so that he could make his escape. We did what we were told, Ulises all the time murmuring â€˜tranquilo, tranqilo, no queremos pedo [stay calm, stay calm, we donâ€™t want any problems]â€™.
â€˜Se queden aca por dies minutos. Dies minutos, hijo de su puta madre. No quiero que me ven [stay like that for ten minutes, ten minutes son of a bitch, I donâ€™t want you to see me].â€™
Ulises was wearing a hooded top, and the man pulled it over his head from behind, trying to obscure his eyesight from the side.
I remember staring into the grass, sweating, feeling my back utterly exposed. Our man gave me a kick in the backside and then he was gone. I was furious and panting with fear. We were holding hands.
We were up and running within a couple of minutes, and as we emerged from the woods we saw off to the side a young couple embracing â€“ theyâ€™d just been robbed too.
The police were calls, threats were made, and they rushed off in a cloud of dust trying to cut him off as he made his escape.
As for us, we walked back to the car â€“ still ours â€“ and made our way back into the city.
â€˜Pienso que es el tiempo comprar una pistola,â€™ said Ulises.
I think itâ€™s time to buy a gun.
We both laughed, but Iâ€™m not sure either of us were joking.