When I first started traveling, I was very paranoid.
If one thing was certain, it was that everyone I met was a potential thief who wanted nothing more than to get their grubby hands on my passport.
Which makes it odd that my instincts deserted me when I actually did meet a thief.
It’s also sort of appropriate that it happened at my first hostel ever, the Kinlay House in Dublin. I was staying in a compact six-bed mixed dorm, and I already knew that four of my roommates were nice, normal females from New Zealand and Germany.
The sixth and final roommate was a dark-haired Irishman in his early 20s. I met him just as I was dashing out to meet a friend at Temple Bar.
“So, where are you from?” I asked, packing my purse. In the beginning, I was always that girl who asked where you were from, where you’d been, and where you were going.
“Dublin,” he grunted.
This is precisely when the alarm bells should have sounded. He was from Dublin, but he was staying in a Dublin hostel?
But the bells must have been broken or something.
“Cool,” I said. “See you later!”
I returned after midnight to see Lillian, one of the kiwi girls, sitting up on the bunk beneath mine, reading with a flashlight.
“Hi,” I whispered, burying my passport under a pile of clothes on my chair.
Besides being paranoid, I was also kind of an idiot.
“Hi,” she hissed. “Be careful. That Dublin guy came in drunk and tried to get in bed with me. He’s up there now,” she said, gesturing at the top bunk of the beds opposite ours.
I was disgusted. What a creeper! At least he seemed to be passed out cold, so I fell into a restless sleep.
At six o’clock, I heard a rustling in the room. It was him, slipping out with only a small backpack slung over his shoulder.
That was when the alarm bells kicked in.
As soon as the door closed, Lillian shot out of bed.
“My Discman!” she cried. “He took my Discman, I’m sure of it.”
This was in 2003, when iPods hadn’t been invented yet and the Discman was still cutting-edge technology.
I leapt to the floor and sifted through the heap of clothing on the chair. Nothing.
“My passport!” My heart sank. “He’s got my passport!”
The girl whose top bunk had been closest to the thief was awake, rifling through her wallet. “That bastard! He took my money and my condoms!”
Lillian and I tore into the hallway and sprinted down the stairs. He was nowhere to be seen, so we made a beeline for the reception desk.
“Thief,” I said, gasping for breath. “My passport.”
“Discman,” Lillian said.
Fortunately the receptionist was a lot more pulled together than we were. “Someone stole something from you?”
“Yes,” I said.
“He had bushy eyebrows,” Lillian said.
“And he was kind of hunched over, like this,” I demonstrated.
And suddenly, at the top of the winding wooden staircase, there he was.
“That’s him!” We shouted, pointing our fingers in unison.
He denied everything, of course, but the receptionist made him wait while she called the Garda.
Two uniformed men arrived within minutes, a tall one and a short one. It was as if they’d been sent by central casting.
“Open yer bag,” the tall one barked.
Reluctantly, he unzipped the bag.
The short cop smirked. “Young lady,” he said, reaching into the backpack. “Is THIS your Discman?” He whipped it out and brandished it for everyone to see.
“It is,” Lillian said, triumphant.
Awesome. This was just like an episode of Scooby Doo.
The cop rummaged through the bag, but my passport was nowhere to be found. He’d obviously ditched it somewhere, along with the money and condoms.
“That’s it,” said the tall one. “Up to the room.”
Lillian and I entered first. The first thing I noticed was my passport, peeking out from under my tank top. I inched over and tucked it into my back pocket.
“Where’s the lady’s passport?” the short cop roared.
“Um,” I said. “Found the passport. My mistake. Sorry.”
The garda didn’t miss a beat. “Where’s the money, then?”
“Yeah,” the victim said. “Where’s my money? And my condoms?”
“I don’t have them,” he mumbled.
“Don’t have them, do ya? Is that because you put the money UNDER THE BED?” the tall cop bellowed. He lifted the mattress where the thief had been sleeping.
Sure enough, a wad of euros lay between the mattress and the springs.
We were awestruck. The thief scuffed his shoes against the floor and avoided eye contact.
“Shame on you,” the short cop said, bringing his face within inches of the thief’s. “Shame on you for giving Ireland a bad name.”
“Do you have sisters?” the tall cop chimed in, shaking the thief by the shoulder. “Or a mother? Surely you have a mother. How would she feel if she knew you were stealing from these women?”
“Apologize,” short cop ordered. “Apologize to these ladies.”
“I’m sorry,” he mumbled.
“So they can hear ya.”
“That’s better. Ladies, I’m sorry ya had to deal with this scum. I hope ya don’t get the wrong impression of Ireland.”
Both cops touched their hats as they escorted the criminal out.
The five of us stood there stunned and grinning in disbelief. What had just happened? Was this normal?
The girl from the top bunk finally broke the silence.
“But really. What did he do with my condoms?”