Argentina Sketches: The Albino Thief

She checked in wearing dark glasses. It didn’t seem weird as she had platinum blond hair and pale skin. I put her in a six-bed dorm. There was only one other guest in there, a Russian woman of twenty-five. Dorms were officially mixed but in practice, we generally kept men and women separate. We hadn’t had any complaints about women being harassed yet and we wanted to keep it that way. The only complaint of a sexual nature – other types of complaints were common – had been a British guy who’d broken down in tears at reception, because he’d woken up by an Ecuadorian man in his bed wanking. It wasn’t a complaint really more just an incident of (momentarily) inconsolable misery. Anyway, it must have been early evening when she checked in, she said she was Chilean.

Some hours later the Russian girl came down to reception, her passport had been stolen. She fell to the floor in despair. It was dramatic. The Chilean, now long gone, had used a wire saw to cut through the Russian’s flimsy padlock. The Russian was strawberry blond, good-looking, had excellent English and zero Spanish. I’d heard that she’d entertained other guests the night before with some belly dancing.

The ID number the Chilean wrote down on the reception register was fake. If someone wasn’t a local, i.e. Argentinian, I didn’t usually check their IDs – unless the person looked suspicious. Most of the receptionists rarely checked either, it wasn’t policy. Or maybe it was policy to check IDs? My memory, or lack of it, is protecting me here. I felt like it was me who’d stolen the passport in the end.

I went to the Police Station on Lavalle with the Russian to report the crime. There were a couple of Brazilian tourists in there who’d had their bags snatched. That was common downtown. The officer who typed out the statement was dead-eyed and impatient. I wanted to get out of there as quickly as possible, but I was translating for the Russian and she had a lot of questions. She wanted to know where in Buenos Aires stolen passports got sold. Man, the police weren’t going to tell you that. Impossible to say, the policeman said. I thought he took the question well. He left the room for a minute and the Russian got up and then sat down at his desk to look for information on the computer. I pleaded with her to get back in her seat.

The Russian stayed on and came to reception every day to ask for news of her passport. Amazingly, the email address the albino Chilean had given was genuine – she answered me! I tried to arrange a meeting with her. We’d pay her money to get the passport back. She seemed keen for a while. But eventually, she wrote HAHAHAHAAHA and stopped replying to my emails.

The Russian’s boyfriend turned up. An American, he told me he was livid at the slack security in the hostel and seemed to blame me personally. He had given up a real job (I’m guessing banking) to come and travel in South America with his girlfriend. She would now have to go back to Moscow to get a new passport. Her stolen one had visas for Paraguay, Uruguay, Peru, Brazil etc inside which had all cost money. Those were some pretty harsh rules by the Russian government that you couldn’t get your passport sent anywhere. Blame Putin. The Russian didn’t speak to me after her boyfriend arrived, just shot evils my way. So, as I mentioned. I felt like I’d done the crime. 

The experience was worse than when I was the victim of an armed robbery in Auckland ten years earlier. A guy walked into the liquor store I was working at, went into the beer fridge, came out and asked for a bottle of Jack Daniels that was behind me. When I turned back around after reaching for the bottle, he showed me a pistol and told me to empty the till into his bag. He never pointed the pistol at me. I gave him the money – four hundred dollars. He also marched me out back and took the cassette out of the VHS – this was the year 2000 – and tore out the phone line. Quite a professional. The boss later complained that I should have made a cash drop and only have had one hundred dollars in the till. I didn’t feel guilty about that. The boss didn’t even bother to tell me this directly, but through the store manager who didn’t seem too fussed about the whole thing.  

At Auckland Central Police Station the officer taking my statement was much more jovial than the one in Argentina – he was an equally bad typist though. He asked me what the gun had looked like, I said it was a black pistol. He opened a draw took out his gun and handed it to me. 

Like this one? 

Yea.

I was surprised how heavy a real pistol was.

Careful that’s loaded.

Sounds unreal I know. He was plainclothes, a detective I guess – but since when did police in NZ have Glocks in their desks? A good looking young policewoman, another blond, gave me a lift home. She was stoic, tough, but friendly.

A month or so after the passport theft, the Chilean was apprehended in a hostel down the road in San Telmo – stealing again. It turned out she wasn’t Chilean but a seventeen-year-old Argentine from Mendoza with fame for ripping off hostels. I couldn’t go to the court case as a witness because I didn’t have a visa and was therefore working illegally. One of my Argentine colleagues asked me for the details of what happened and he went to the trial. After that incident, we were more careful about asking about IDs but the crime wave of stuff getting stolen continued nevertheless. By the way, I found out the fake Chilean really was an albino. This discovery made me feel justified in not asking her to take off her dark glasses when she checked in.

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