“Excuse.” The word fluttered in from the window. The appeal barely registered amidst the clutter of my dish-washing and the groans coming from the back room.
I shook to life theatrically once I realized someone was talking to me. As if an offstage cue had brought me, a daydreaming actor, out of a trance.
Startled, I turned towards the kitchen window. It faced out into the clutter of a quintessential and crepuscular street of the Plateau of Montreal. A skinny young man stared up at me apologetically, his lineaments distorted by the confused chiaroscuro of dusk. I squinted at him through the screen. Tiny rectangles of human flesh, bounded by the thin wires, diffused into a complete face. Then he made his questioning pronouncement: “Est-ce que quelqu’un vous voler?”
The vehicle of time seemed to accelerate. I translated and then re-translated the words to be sure that it wasn’t the translation but the actual message that was confusing me, blurring the contours of grasp on reality. Were you robbed?
In the back room, Caleb was awaking from the near-torpor of his Friday afternoon nap. A week of sleepless consulting work had reduced him to a groaning puddle of human mush. But the words from window had not escaped his attention. Still hidden in the bedroom, he voiced his own realization. “We… were… robbed?”
I was still mouth-agape, speechless, and soapy. Rapt, I followed the crescendo of sound beginning to reverberate through the bedroom wall. Finally Caleb, the burly half-Chinese rugby playing inhabitant of the back room, burst out. His eyes glowered under synclinal eyebrows. He loomed in the doorway with the angered presence of a nap-interrupted Minotaur.
With a scary dexterity usually restricted to masses weighing less than 100 kilograms, Caleb rushed over to the window. He recognized the man staring up from the sidewalk. They chattered in animated, worried French. From the flurry of words, I picked up that the kid outside the window was Caleb’s neighbor, and that the next-door apartment had been ransacked earlier that day.
There was no overt evidence that someone had broken in to our place. But once our perspective focused in it became very clear that we had been pillaged. I headed straight for my suitcase, whose contents included my newly acquired dSLR camera. I had even put the camera away under a few folded shirts that very morning as a preventative measure. It was a pretty half-assed concealment measure. The suitcase was full of clothes and an empty, camera sized space.
My self-pity (conflated with my self-loathing for actually having preordained the threat to my valuables and still having failed so blatantly to secret them) was quickly diluted by the waves of shock and patterned expletive coming from the room next to me. Patterned in the sense that Caleb would recognize something that was missing, explicitly – in a sort of yelp – refer to the disappeared item (e.g. “My ring!”, “My external hard-drive!”, “My computer!” ), and then finalize the cycle with wild imprecations ringing a la fois of disbelief and of a hateful disdain for the dregs of humanity that had taken their pick from our modest belongings.
The perfunctory call to Montreal’s Finest was followed by an equally perfunctory tour of the house by a polite but disengaged officer. Caleb bounced around the crime scene, quantifiably agitated. He pointed to sliced holes in the bathroom window screen and made conjectures about the time window the perp had had to break in the glass window. A deaf onlooker would perhaps have mistaken Caleb for a fraught housewife (of surprising girth and masculine dress) showing off his vermillion blinds to a Kevlar vested house guest.
The police suck. Can’t the boys in blue at least make a show of it? Of trying to catch the guy? They could dust for fingerprints, cordon off the alleyway with serious yellow tape, do something – anything – to assuage the helplessness masked by the silent cry for justice wringing from Caleb’s eyes?
The loss of my camera being too much to swallow, I donned a masking satirical smirk along with matching lenses. I had to muffle a giggle when the policeman asked Caleb about the tumultuous state of his bedroom. Clothes lay strewn with a vacated and chaotic violence reminiscent of a mass grave. A silver lamp with a limb-like assembly of springs and joints lay in a contorted heap in the corner. “Est-ce que ils ont mis tout les chose en disorder.”
An invisible wind-wiper smeared an embarrassed smile over Caleb’s face. He mumbled “c’etait comme ca…” in response. That’s the way it was before.
I was pressed to further humor myself in a kind of Odyssean way when it came to the insurance discussion and reporting phase of the post-robbery ritual. In stilted French, I started a tragic and convoluted tale of how I acquired my voluptuous dSLR camera and the resultant issues I would have finding the serial number. I gave the story up after an awkward silence during which I was trying to find the descriptive, singular French adjective for an object “bought-in-Netherlands-and-taken-to-Bolivia-and-then-sold-to-me-in-shady-personal-circumstances-by-an-acquantance-that-I-am-no-longer-exactly-on-speaking-terms-with-given-said-shadyness-cast-over-said-transaction.”
Already resigned to the low chance of any sort of insurance claim recompense, I took solace in the fact that my coveted iPod Touch and laptop had been safe by my side all day. Caleb, despite his theft insurance, had discovered (a big moment for the burly, over-analytical mechanical engineer turned financial consultant) the intangible value of the sentimental. A hard-drive gigabyted with pictures of his travels to South Africa had departed the apartment in the thief’s burlap bag.
The dark comedy continued into the few days following the theft. We both developed the expected paranoia that even to this day necessitates a triple check of the window latches and causes unrelenting doubt about whether we actually locked the front door. The cops called back to confirm my full name and status as ‘couch dweller.’ I supposed I am a suspect. Caleb posted a three page, Sharpie marker plea to the front door that advertised a $100 reward for the return of his personally prized external hard drive. A posting complete with an infantile to-scale drawing and the ‘have you seen this puppy’ pathos encapsulated by its irrational appeal to the hearts of criminals.
The landlord broke in herself the next day (break in #2) to tear it down. She said it ‘didn’t give a good impression of our neighbourhood.’ I think she was referring to the Plateau being an artsy arrondissement…