To catch a thief

I lost my phone one morning. I had been leaving it my room every day, because I wasn’t expecting any calls. Even if I were, the phone wasn’t good as anything except an alarm clock. (Apparently, a global SIM card means that when your mother calls you, a strange man answers the phone in another language.) So I was surprised when I returned to see my phone gone from where I left it on my bed.

I casually mentioned it to Alina in the kitchen that afternoon, and she was much more concerned than I was. To my embarrassment, she started alerting everyone at the monastery, and was astonished when I told her my door had been unlocked. (I think I thought it was some sort of test; that I was supposed to show faith in people and leave the key in the lock because I was at a monastery.)

It soon escalated into a long discussion among all the women, with a few sentences translated into French for me. Some wondered whether it might be the children of the Roma family that was staying at the monastery. I instantly feared that an American dropping her useless phone in the chicken coop had turned into a witch hunt directed at the only Roma there.

Andrew Bird – Oh No

The daughters of the family, Patricia and Julia, ran by us, and Alina stopped them and asked if they’d seen a phone. They said no. Alina asked the mother. She replied, saying something that sounded as if she thought they suspected her children just because they were Roma. The women around me began talking heatedly. I kept interjecting, in French, that it was OK, that the phone didn’t work anyway, that I was sure I dropped it when visiting the animals. I eventually ended the discussion by promising to check my room again. The mother left.

The girls returned and said that their little brother, Fernando, was crying. He was a couple years younger, about 7, and had an unending supply of energy he used for sprinting around the garden and throwing a ball across a field, running after it and doing it again. I had never seen him cry, but the girls seemed to find it amusing.

Suddenly, the mother came up to me and planted my phone into my hands, saying something in Romanian and looking embarrassed. Seeing the stunned look on my face, Alina told me that Fernando had “found” it. “She is very sorry,” Alina said.

“Mulțumesc!” I said to the mother. “Les enfants…” I made the universal hand gesture for “short.” She nodded. They were the only Roma family there, but I had forgotten they were also the only children. (Of course, if the oversensitivity had won out, I might have had to buy a wonderful new, working phone and Fernando would still have a piece of plastic that beeps when you press buttons.)

And here, in the center and partially obscured by a shrub, you can see the elusive "Fernando" in his natural habitat.

And here, in the center and partially obscured by a trellis, you can see the elusive "Fernando" in his natural habitat.

The last time I saw the family was a couple days later, when I was in the van turning up the road to the monastery. They were carrying all their baskets and luggage as they rounded the corner to the main road, Fernando bouncing in front. Patricia saw me in the passenger seat and waved eagerly just as we passed. I tried to wave back in time, but I don’t think she saw. They were moving, again, and I didn’t know where they were going but wherever it is, I hope Fernando doesn’t “find” any more phones that aren’t his.

The Tallest Man on Earth – The Gardner

I’m not sure what the moral of this story is. Maybe it’s to trust no one and lock your doors? Whether you’re in a monastery or the suburbs. Or maybe it’s to ask kids, no matter how cute they are, if they have your phone — even the most hardened 7-year-old criminals might cry in front of their sisters.


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