The Thief at the Café De Bs. As.
I could tell you where to find it. I could tell you how to find it… But you might not find it. I only found it by accident. Oh, you could google the name, but… none of the fifty pages of results would help you. It’s not the one in Puebla de Sanabrio, nor is it one of the three in Madrid or Barcelona and it certainly is not the one in Lisbon. It is, of course, in a small town inland of Màlaga. The café is on a street called Ilusión, which doesn’t mean what you think it does. The street is a callejón, a dead-end, an alley, a close, if you like. It’s just wide enough for a pavement on one side and for a small delivery van to drive half-way up, leave meat or beer barrels - and then reverse all the way back out again.
The colours on the sign over the window are faded to an uncertain blue and a greying white. These are the the colours of the Argentinian flag, if it’s been flying in a smog-filled city, rather than un pueblo blanco. The three or four tables fill the pavement, so if your destination is further up the street you have to take your chances with the delivery vans. No-one who lives further up the close has a car, although Pepita has a moto that she only uses at night. The sign, you remember that? Of course you do. It reads Cafe de Bs.As., which abbreviation means Buenos Aires, if only to people who have lived there.
One day, quite some time ago, before, well, everything, I was sitting inside the café. At a table alongside the wall that has a map of the world painted onto it. That table is right next to Argentina, if you ever do get to go the Café. Sometimes, you’d – I’d – get a free brandy with your coffee, if I sat there. Sometimes I would sit next to Australia, near the window. But I preferred Argentina. That day, I was eking out a coffee. The director of a local bank would be arriving for his English class in twenty minutes. That meant free coffee for an hour-and-a-half. The Café’s owner banked with his branch. Lots of women did. A few of their husbands wondered why they were suddenly banking at the BBVA, but not for long.
Fernando spoke good English already. He had a heavy accent, even in Spanish, since he was an exotic bird who had blown in from Seville. He was, as a rule, on time, by which I mean to say, he always arrived within fifteen minutes of the scheduled start of the class. Maria Fernandez hadn’t said two words to me since I had arrived that day. My coffee had arrived without being ordered and I had swallowed the buenas tardes right after the ‘b’. I wondered who she was mad at and hoped it wasn’t me. Maria F was from Buenos Aires and had some English herself. She’d left around the turn of the century, she’d said, the first time I spent an afternoon in the café. My joke about cual siglo didn’t go down too well, she gave a tut and said, ‘English Humour.’ She didn’t look fifty, although even my arithmetic could cope with 42 + 8, even in Spanish. Life stories. I must have heard so many, over the years.
My student arrived when expected. I looked at my watch. Fernando looked at his and then gave the smile that launched a hundred bank accounts. I didn’t care. I always allowed two hours for his classes anyway. Back then the bank paid for them, before the crash. I made just enough not to attract the attention of Hacienda, which is quite a homely name for a cross between HMRC and the Inquisition. We did some nonsense that I had prepared about Obama’s election campaign. I said he’d win, Fernando said he wouldn’t and we both hoped he would. Then we just talked. Gossip really. Who was doing what in the town. And who with, naturally.
Class over, Fernando beamed at Maria F, got a twitch of the lips in return and headed out for a night out in Torremolinos, where he lived then.
‘Don’t you like Fernando?’ I asked.
‘Es un ladron. A thief, like all bankers.’
‘Most women don’t care that he is. A banker I mean.’
‘I am not most women.’
I didn’t get why she suddenly didn’t like him all of a sudden.
‘I think he’s ok, for a banker.’
‘He is not your usual thief.’
‘He steals hearts.’
It came out like “stills”. So, for a moment, I didn’t understand. Until I saw the tear rolling down her cheek.