After an exhausting, but sunny day on Pico, the way back to the quarantine cloister leads past a bowling bar. In front of it, a scruffy and shady-looking man approaches me, all agitated, asking for 5 euros, so he can put some gas in his car. Then he would drive home, get the money and pay me back. I cannot detect much sense in this plan, even less for me than for him, and I can already hear two camps of readers screaming: “Don’t be that stupid!” and “Come on, it’s just 5 euros”, although the latter group may overestimate my financial condition.
And anyway, I only have a 10-euro bill.
The fuel fox would accept that too, no problem: “I will be back in five or ten minutes, for sure. You can also ask the folks in the bar, they all know me.” I rather ask myself why he doesn’t direct the loan request to his friends. But as I can already imagine the answer, I ask for his name, admittedly without checking its veracity.
The people in the bar look at me with pity, while I am sitting on a bench outside and reading about science in the age of colonialism, pretending not to be worried in the least.
Five minutes have passed.
How could he actually drive off with his car, when he had run out of gas?
Ten minutes have passed.
If he had enough gas to go to the petrol station, why didn’t he drive home and get the money first?
Fifteen minutes have passed.
Any anyway, there is an ATM just across the road from the bar.
Twenty minutes have passed.
I didn’t even think of memorizing the license plate number.
Twenty-five minutes have passed.
As I am just reading about Bronisław Malinowski and his field studies on Trobriand Island, I treat the self-inflicted situation as a scientific experiment about the honesty of the Picorians.
There is Immanuel in his dark-blue banger! He drives past me, taking the corner so that he hardly could have overlooked me, and speeds up the hillside.
Thirty minutes have passed.
Did he want to check if I am really naive enough to wait? If I had been gone, he probably would have joined his friends at the bar and they all would be laughing at my expense, both literally and figuratively.
But there he is again, racing down the mountain, shouting “oh, there you are,” as if he had been looking for me all over the island, and informs me: “You’ll get your money right away, don’t worry. I just need to go to the bank.”
So why is he cruising around instead? And didn’t he want to get the money from home?
I have had enough: “OK, then I will join you to the bank,“ and with that, I simply get into the car.
He didn’t expect that.
“That’s not a good idea,” he explains, “because quite honestly, my mother is the bank.” He seems to be my age, by the way, which would make the mother a bank working well into retirement age.
“No problem, then I will join you to your mother,” I reply, on purpose in a way as if I had time all evening.
“But she won’t like that at all.”
“Then you park the car around the corner and I will wait there for you.”
“I could take you up to the mountains. You have a fantastic view over the whole island from there.”
“No, thank you, let’s rather go to your mother.”
“I can also drive you to Madalena. I can drive you anywhere, for very little money. Much cheaper than a taxi. You can call me anytime and I will pick you up.”
“Thanks, but let’s go to your mother first.”
“My mother is very sick. I have been taking care of her for years,” he says with as much schmaltz as if he was in a soap opera.
“As long as she still got 10 euros,” I am thinking, but I don’t say it.
“Did you already have dinner?”
Oh, I shouldn’t have answered that in the negative.
“I will take you to the port, there is a good restaurant. All of my friends eat there.”
“No thanks,” I say, but he drives to the port. Luckily, the restaurant is closed. Immanuel drives like a madman, jumping the curbs, always with maximum acceleration. But he is the only driver I met on Pico who doesn’t insist on me wearing the seat belt. Maybe he is hoping for an accident and the early demise of his stubborn creditor.
“I will take you to the supermarket, it’s cheaper there anyway.”
“No thanks, I really don’t need anything.”
As if deaf, he still drives there. Luckily, the supermarket is closed too.
“If you always drive around so erratically, I am not surprised that you run out of gas.” This time, I don’t only think it, but I say it. I am beginning to get angry.
He drives to another bar, which I already know from walking past and where the most dubious characters hang out, drink and shout at passersby. “These are my friends,” he introduces three shady guys, all of whom look like prison and drugs. “Why don’t you stay with them for a few minutes and have a coffee? I will be right back.”
“It’s too late in the evening for a coffee, thanks.”
“No, I would really much rather have the 10 euros.”
He realizes that he won’t be able to shake me off that easily. We walk to a building that looks like something municipal, but has seen better times. “This is where my mother lives. Oh shit, it’s closed!”
“What is this building?”, I inquire.
“The nursing home. But now I remember that my mother wanted to go to a party. That could take a while. It’s better if I drive you to the hostel and will bring the money later.”
Nice to hear that the mother has recovered.
“Just call your mother and ask her where she is.” São Roque is not big, she can’t have gone far.
“I forgot my phone at home.”
“No problem, you can use mine.” That way, I am also hoping to get hold of a number, in case I will have to use the services of the Polícia Judiciária after all.
“I don’t know her number.”
“You don’t know the number of your mother, for whom you care so lovingly because she is very sick, although she can go to parties?”
It’s the first time he doesn’t have an immediate response. At least for two seconds. Then, a pick-up truck with cropped shrubs in the bed is driving past.
“Hey, that’s my cousin.“ He calls after the driver who, to my surprise, does indeed stop.
The two men are talking through the open window. I have been speaking English with Immanuel, so he has no way of assuming that I understand some Portuguese.
The man in the truck seems to be a farmer or so. They both agree that Immanuel will work for him tomorrow and will receive an advance of 10 euros. The driver pulls out a 10-euro bill, as smooth as if it had just been ironed, Immanuel hands it to me ceremoniously, and when he hugs me for a goodbye, I make damn sure to keep one hand on my wallet.
- I will be honest and not ask for a loan. But this blog can’t survive on thin air. Hence, I would find it really smashing if you wanted to support this work a bit. Thank you!
- If that works out, you will soon receive more stories from the Azores.
- And for the nerds, more economics.
- Zur deutschen Fassung dieser Geschichte.