gatineau morning.

gatineau morning.
photo by douglas mcarthur.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

the thief who stole our hearts.

driving all the way to fort colonge to get my new/old camping trailer safety-checked may have seemed odd to many. to me, it made perfect sense. it was a chance to get the rig out on the road, view a few places i'd never seen while avoiding the big city.

waiting for the camper to be checked out, i found a great lunch spot. i absolutely recommend the restaurant to any other hard-core vegetarians who happen to be passing through fort colonge. it's called 'the steak house.' it's a steak house called 'the steak house.' that's like calling a whore house 'the whore house.' you can be pretty sure what's being offered there. that being said, you may be wondering why i would recommend 'the steak house' to vegetarians. well, i learned by escorting my dad to his favourite restaurants that steak houses really know how to make baked potatoes. besides, it's the only restaurant in town. i had a wonderful baked potato experience, with butter and sour cream, along with a perfectly adequate chef's salad.

the safety inspection went well, but as i drove out of the yard i realized i'd been robbed. my ipad was gone. it was not in my truck and there was no doubt about it. i've been robbed many times in my life so i am very familiar with the feeling. i know when i've been robbed.

in india, thieves were a problem at the ashram. as westerners, we were considered wealthy, which was largely true by comparison, of course, but not always. i was, for example, one of those who arrived poor as a church-mouse. i assume church-mice really are poor. nevertheless, one of my jobs there over time became a kind of night-watchman.

there was one thief, i recall well, who presented quite a challenge. he was plaguing the ashram, very elusive, and i spent several nights patrolling. it almost felt like he was taunting me. nothing of tremendous value was taken: a shawl, a pair of pants, a book or two. a simple candle-holder was stolen even though it had been sitting right beside a nice western camera. it was a mystery.

in the middle of the third night i went home for a cup of tea, lay down for a minute and nearly fell asleep. i realized i'd lose the whole rest of the night if i didn't get up immediately to continue my search. so i patrolled until early morning. but, as soon as i returned home i saw that my place had been broken into. i had been robbed while out looking for the thief. the only thing missing was my basketball shoes, which actually i treasured.

during the very next night a man was spotted climbing out of somebody's window and i ran down to the road. everyone was yelling: "he went this way!" "no, he went that way!" one of the indian guys kept insisting that the thief had just run down to the river. i was about to head off down the hill when i happened to notice the guy was wearing my shoes. i grabbed him, but he was quick, ran like the dickens in my 'nikes'. he was driving me nuts.

we caught him two nights later, cowering under a table in guruji's kitchen. i threw the table over and grabbed the man. i was marching him to the door when one of guruji's daughters asked me to wait. pointing out that the fellow looked petrified, cold and hungry, she insisted he eat first. i tried to point out that it was inappropriate, only i was outnumbered. her two sisters and one brother all agreed that the thief needed food. it was surreal to watch the thief being served vegetable-curry and rice with chai and then sweet gulab-jamans for desert. he seemed to grow more comfortable with each mouth-full, smiling over at me and thanking everyone again and again. afterward, we just let him go.

he turned up the very next night, carrying a large sack. in front of the meditation hall, he emptied it, producing shawls, shirts, books, some cutlery, my shoes, even a couple of pots. those of us who were there at the time were spell-bound as he presented each item as though it was a gift. we laughed at the theatrical way he saluted as he walked down the steps in the end. and we never saw him again.

in fort colonge, at the precise moment that i realized i'd been robbed, a mountain of a man came running out of the office of the garage. he was hollering 'arret! arret!' while waving my ipad above his head. apparently, i'd left it in the waiting room.

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