Pimpin’ Ain’t Easy in Colombo – Part II
The vehicle I’m cowering behind is owned by a silver-haired man with a proud belly, and he’s staring at me without inhibition. What’s the problem? That man wants to kill me, I tell him. Without an iota of emotion, he points toward my skateboard and gestures for me to smack him with it. I contemplate it. For a second, it doesn’t seem too bad of an option, then I consider I could just give him 300 rupees (about $3) and avoid it. But I know that I won’t. There’s a cock-eyed stubbornness within me that decides—for some vague, unexplainable sense of principle—that I’d rather get bashed than hand the money over to the Pimp.
As if answering my thoughts, the enraged Pimp, not 50 metres away, begins flagging other tuk tuks off the road and rallying the drivers together, ostensibly to fight me. Without taking my eyes off them I procure my phone from my pocket and call Gunji, who informs me that he’s gone and not coming back. Sorry, man. I hang up.
Four tuk tuk drivers have pulled over and banded together with the Pimp, ready to stake their claim over the arrogant white fare evader. The nearest adjoining street is narrow and empty and I envision myself getting chased down it, caught and then gang bashed. The Pimp leads the pack toward me, unhurriedly because he has force in numbers. Perhaps it would be an authentic cultural experience to get gang bashed by an angry mob of tuk tuk drivers on the streets of Colombo.
The silver-haired fat man points toward a large, ornate hardwood door, not 30 metres away, and instructs me to get inside it. I run toward it, open the door and slink in, acutely aware that the Pimp has seen me and now I’m trapped and most likely captured. Inside is a fancy café, empty except for one man in a business shirt, sitting with a Macbook and a latte. There’s a dude outside who’s after me, man, I think he wants to kill me, I hear myself saying in exasperation to the boy behind the counter. He smiles, unfazed, and tells me to settle down, have a coffee. The owner is an old white man standing near the counter, clearly repulsed by the sight of me.
I peer through the front window and see the silver-haired man, who now wears a look of concern and motions for me to get well inside the cafe and away from the window.
The Pimp strides through the door, nostrils are flared, top lip crinkled and eyebrows fixed into a scowl. He starts yelling at me, demanding the money, but the staff kick him out and, with a bit of kerfuffle, he exits the building. I wait in the air-conditioning feeling like a little bitch, wondering how I’ll escape.
After some time, the owner reappears, and tells me two police officers are here and I can go outside now. He’s polite, but the subtext is get the fuck out of my café, you’re bad for business.
The cops grab me, pull me outside, corner me against a wall and demand to see my passport. The Pimp, along with the building’s security and a cluster of other men, have formed a mob behind the cops and they point and yell at me angrily in Sinhalese. I identify the Pimp and tell the cops he’s a cheat and liar and that they should be arresting him not me, but the cop is grabbing at my pockets and rebuking me in Sinhalese. I don’t understand the words but I’m sure the cops are on the Pimp’s side.
I produce my passport and my Colombo University ID, tell the cops as slowly and clearly as possible that I’m a local student and the man cheated me, then chased me across Marine Parade with a huge rock trying to smash my head in. Clearly the cop doesn’t understand a word I say, because he frowns, leans in close to my face and yells, WHY YOU NO PAY? At this range I can really feel the hate. BECAUSE THIS MAN IS CHEAT, I yell back, surprised at my own intensity.
The owner of the café, clearly perturbed, produces a wad of hundred rupee notes, unfolds three of them, pushes them at the Pimp and announces that the matter is settled. His action renders the whole conflict pointless, making me seem like a thief. I want to tell the owner that he’s vindicating the dishonesty of the tuk tuk driver. That he’s encouraging the man to continue to scam foreigners and get away with it, but instead I keep my mouth shut. After all, I brought a lot of heat down on his establishment.
But it’s not good enough for the cop.He starts grabbing at my pockets again, going for my wallet. I resist, telling him not to touch me but he perseveres. I get a glimpse of his gun and settle myself. What are you doing? Don’t touch my wallet. He opens the section with cash in it and starts flicking through the bills. There’s about 1500 Rupees in there. WHAT THE FUCK? DON’T TOUCH MY MONEY, I bellow. If I’m going to get robbed by the cops in broad daylight I want as many witnesses as possible. This is police, you must be giving money for police, says the security guard behind him. I snatch my wallet back from the cop and shove it deep inside my pocket. I’m not giving money for police. The cops seem nonplussed but dispassionate and command me, since I have money, to pay the owner of the café back. I can’t help but accept it; it’s not really fair but it sounds better than getting bashed by the Pimp or robbed by the cops.