Thursday, June 19, 2014

Knifed in Senegal

I’d spent the early part of the afternoon at an internet cafe across the cul-de-sac from my hotel, mostly reading news and sending a couple of emails in the name of dodging the midday heat. Leaving in the late afternoon, a roaming street vendor approached me about 50m from La Brazzerade, the hotel I was staying at while in Dakar, Senegal. The street was still busy; plenty of the stalls were still selling things to tourists, and there was lots of human traffic about. This roaming vendor had a basket of things taking up both of his hands, like a washing basket would. He starts yapping away at me rapidly in French. When I finally got a moment, I said I couldn't understand him.

He switched to broken, searching English.

On top of this basket was a foam board with holes punched through it. In the holes pairs of sunglasses sat propped up. Some were a little scratched, most just looked like knock offs. "Want sunglasses?"

I pointed to my forehead where a pair of sunnies were perched. In case he missed the gesture, I deadpanned, "I've already got some".

He smiled, "OK OK!" and in putting the board on the ground greater revealed the contents of his basket. A length of rope was tied in a circle and on it watches were kept; all showing different times, many scratched to shit and looking altogether pretty second-hand. "Want watch?"

For the second time, I fended off the would-be salesman; I gestured to my own watch, an old Seiko, significantly less scratched and showing a time I believed. With an apologetic smile, I mentioned “I already have one.”

He smiled toothily, even more broadly than before. "OK OK!" Delicately, he put the watches atop the sunglasses on the ground, getting to a collection of small cardboard boxes in his basket. Opening one, he pulled out a bottle of fragrance, half full. "Want perfumes?"

Now, it'd be a cold day in hell that I'd catch myself carrying perfume but I got away with, "no, no woman, no girlfriend, no wife".

The toothy grin persisted, accompanied with the now customary "OK OK!" and he began placing those items on the ground beside the rest of his booty. By now, his basket was mostly empty. He pulled out its last item which was obscured by a few perfume boxes.

It’s a knife.

Oh fuck.

I took half a step back. It was broad daylight and totally in public. There were dozens of people around, many quite close. I'd so far been reasonably lighthearted with respect to this nonexistent transaction but it had drained from me now, leaving uncertainty and a very real amount of fear. He stepped forward, knife extended, still smiling.

Smiling, as this was probably how he came to obtain these things he was now "selling" and he'd just ostensibly hit jackpot for future sales. I was rooted to the spot. Through the toothy grin came, "want knife?"

I could hardly believe it. Right hand diving into my pocket, I retrieved and unfolded in one motion a knife that Russ, my housemate, had given me last year.

"Nah mate, I've got a knife."

He kept smiling, gathered his things and wandered off, wishing me a good day. I went and found beer to heavily self medicate with.

***

Everyone has seen or done at least one thing that retelling can keep an audience in the palm of their hand. Tell me yours.

Lastly, I’ll be in Alaska next week for a while. Tell me where to go/let’s have a beer.

Cam Ritchie
cmr.lefty[AT]gmail.com
Perth, Western Australia

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