V is for Vulnerability Whilst Travelling. So I’m in Bucharest, few years back, late 90’s or early 2000’s. I decide to go for a walk mid-afternoon, and take my Leica in case there’s anything to be seen.
Out into Piatta Rossetti, out into the blinding sunshine from the dark interior of the home I stay in whilst in the city, and I’m walking towards the Piata Universitatii. On my left the buses, the Dacia taxis, the horns of impatient drivers, and the dust their cars unsettle. On my right I pass the garishly coloured pizza shop, past the political party graffiti chalked on the walls, past the gypsy flower seller – her roses bright and beautiful.
And then, as I walk, there’s a guy on my left, he’s come from nowhere, walking right beside me, on the kerb side. Too close. He’s trying to keep beside me as I dodge and weave around people. Finally, feeling unsettled, and thankful for the fact I speak decent Romanian I abruptly and curtly ask him “what do you want?”. He looks at me, “change money ? change money ?” No I tell him strongly, and wave him away. I walk on.
But he stays beside me, “don’t be angry, don’t be angry, change money ?”. And then suddenly there’s a guy in front of me. With both hands I grab my Leica strap on my right shoulder, somehow thinking the camera was the target and was about to be ripped from me. The guy in front of me grabs the guy to my left, turns to me and asks “is this guy annoying you ?” With that, he pulls out a small leather wallet, flicks it open , shows me some credentials which are half covered by his fingers, and says “Police. Is this man annoying you ?”.
“Yeah” I tell him, he is. The Policeman hits the Guy across the face, shouts at him. I’m standing there, dubious about this whole thing, still feeling the Leica is about to disappear in the crowd, without me. Both men are wearing suit jackets, no uniforms, nothing special about their appearance. People are looking, watching.
The Policeman asks me “ did you change money with him ? Show me your money, show me your passport”. It’s becoming obvious it’s a con. I say to him- and my speaking in Romanian has unsettled him, “I don’t have my passport, it’s in my house”. The Policeman again asks me, this time in a stronger tone, “did you change money with him? Show me your money from your pockets”.
“Show me your credentials again”, I demand of him. He pulls out the leather wallet, flashes the inside to me for an instant. I don’t see much, but I’ve seen enough Romanian paperwork in my years to know it isn’t police credentials, more like a driving licence, or a library card. “You’re police? I don’t think so” I spit sarcastically at the guy. I push around and walk away, shaking slightly and unnerved, trying to walk fast and put distance between us.
Back home I tell the story. My host, the intrepid Igor, smokes a cigarette, smiling. His wife Magda utters words and curses no-one called Magdalena should know or utter. They tell me it’s a known con doing the rounds, two men working as a team, good guy, bad guy. The con has a name, they tell me, “It’s called ‘The Maradona’ ”.