30.07.2009 - 31.07.2009
Even now, I'm not sure what gave him away. The bus came to an abrupt, juddering and sandy stop, as it often does, and hawkers came running over to sell stuff. It was a cheaper and, erm, more character-ful than many other buses in Malawi, and locals on the cheaper buses always seem to buy more than on the posher ones, for reasons i've never quite worked out.
I watched idly as the scene unfolded: tomatoes, bottles of fanta, freshly cooked cobs of corn and assorted sundries were purchased, and i sat there with my head slowly shaking from side to side to indicate no, i didn't want whatever the heck they were trying to sell, to their disappointment at seeing a mzungu (which in large swathes of Africa in hundreds of languages means, variously, European, white person or foreigner) who wasn't buying anything let alone at the normal special 'mzungu rate'.
This guy ambled over, slightly slower than the rest and unfocused. He had a few small bags of peanuts for sale, but just didn't look quite right. At the bus he seemed a bit too preoccupied with something else except selling: and as most of the hawkers get the entire family income this way, being preoccupied can lead to hungry children. He even sold at least one bag. He walked along the outside of the bus, but even ignored a couple of locals who wanted to buy. At the window in front of where I was, he stopped and feigned attempts to sell again, but by now my senses were really up. In front of me were a Mzungu couple – the only other white people on the bus. They were slightly preoccupied in haggling for a fruit purchase. Suddenly the hawker continues walking past, but now he had a bag in his hand.
My angle of vision, plus the chaos of the scene mean't that I hadn't seen him actually take it, but I was pretty sure that he hadn't been carrying it before. And it looked like the sort of bag a female tourist would carry. Without thinking, i shoved my arm out of the window and grabbed the bag, but oddly i didn't say anything – part of my brain was still not quite sure that it wasn't his bag. The guy tried to struggle and run without dropping the bag, but my hand was well in place and I still said nothing. Neither did he. We just kind of looked at each other whilst tugging. This silent tugging commotion had roused peoples attention, and the English girl sat in front suddenly realised her bag was the centre of a tug and war outside the bus and started screaming. That was enough for the guy – and the crowd – he made one last desperate tug, dropped the bag, ran, and was caught. The bag was passed through the window and as if on queue, the bus suddenly drove off, leaving an angry mob behind and a failed thief to his fate.
On the road, I got a very brief thanks from the girl, and then discovered my hand hurt like hell. Especially the top of my thumb, which on reflection realised had probably been forced back more than would be ideal when the guy made his last desperate bid for freedom. A couple of days later, I had a really horrible fever and then went for a malaria test just to be safe. Whilst there and almost as an afterthought, I asked if they could have a look at my hand. Astonishingly, they had an X-ray machine and I discovered I was now the proud owner of a broken wrist.
My African hospital/clinic tour sadly seems to be continuing unabated.