I stared at my money belt for some time, before opening it. Passport, ticket, cheques and money – apparently nothing was gone. The detective and guest house owner glared at me, accusingly. I stared back at them, shell-shocked. But as I did so, the cogs were already whirring wildly in my mind. I wasn’t entirely stupid – this was no ordinary robbery. After all, how many robbers had a sudden change of heart and returned their booty to the scene of the crime? And how had a robber even entered my room once, let alone twice? The lock hadn’t even been tampered with.
The terrible feeling in the pit of my stomach was my gut instinct kicking in, and my gut instinct was telling me this was an inside job. No-one had broken in. I’d been set up, in some kind of inside job between the guest house owner and the police, I imagined. But why did they return the belt, I asked myself? What could they gain by having me file a police report, then two hours later finding my valuables intact? This part of the scam I still had yet to figure out. The guest owner decided to up the ante.
“Nothing is gone, madam?”
“Nothing.” My voice wavered as I spoke. I knew something bad was coming.
“So, you are a liar, making false accusations about my staff and me. And why? Because you have no respect for the people of this country.”
I said nothing. Not only did I feel ill, but I sensed worse was to come.
“So if you are a liar, then maybe you are a thief. And so I would like to search your backpack to ensure nothing from this room has been taken.”
I nodded, silently. Why refuse? He was determined to search it anyway. Unzipping the front pocket, methodically, he removed its contents – books, toiletries, mosquito net, clothes, even a bag of shells (I had picked them on early morning walks up at the beach resort, planning to make a necklace out of them back home). What did he expect to find, I asked myself. And then, just as I thought he was finished, with a flourish, he pulled out a crumpled bed sheet.
“This is hotel property madam. This is the sheet you used last night. Were you planning on leaving the island with this?”
Then the penny dropped. They’d taken the belt, knowing that I’d have no option but to file a police report. They’d let me file the report, knowing then that we all three would have to return to the guest house. Beforehand, they had deliberately replaced the moneybelt, and with it the sheet. And now I was going to be accused of stealing. Which was a criminal offence in Zanzibar. They’d “caught me” red-handed and all my protestations of innocence would count for nothing. It was only beginning to dawn on me just what a mess I was in.
In front of all the guests, I was frogmarched out of my room and down the stairs, the guest house owner leading the way and the detective holding me firmly by the wrist. Where could I escape to, I wondered wryly? The moneybelt was in their possession now. No-one said a word to me. I wondered how many times this had happened before, and cursed myself once more for having travelled alone. No-one knew where I was…I hadn’t used email for over a week, and hadn’t placed a single call to Europe in over a month and a half. My parents were used to these trips of mine, as were my friends. I’d chosen to travel incognito and now I was paying the price. Then, as we neared the police station, I spied a guy in a red t-shirt that I recognised, walking in our direction. As he neared me, I remembered that we’d been out in a diving group, 5 days ago. Oh god, he really could be my last hope. I yelled out:
“Jean-Paul, please help. I’m in trouble. Don’t leave me here alone.”
It is an unwritten rule in the traveller community that you never turn your back on a fellow traveller, be they sick, penniless or in imminent danger. And it was my great luck that Jean Paul chose to abide by this rule and, watching me being marched into the police station, ran in behind me.
“Sarah, what’s going on? I’m about to pack, I’ve got to get the boat at 7pm.” (Yes, the same boat I was supposed to be on). This was not the time for pride, I told myself. Who knew what was going to happen next?
“Don’t leave me, I beg you. I need help…I’m alone, all alone. Don’t go, please. I’m really scared.” By now, tears were streaming down my face. I wasn’t feeling tough; far from it. Jean-Paul looked at me, then at the detective, then at my accuser. I could sense him weighing up the the pros and cons of sticking around, asking himself just how much involvement he was really up for. He had a boat ticket and, probably, plans. I was a girl he barely knew.
(to be continued...)