The party of our mostly expatriate circle took place in a private restaurant and had a silent bystander. The lady is generally considered to be mentally challenged and is known all over town. She looks slightly dishevelled but not dreadfully dirty nor famished. She doesn’t talk, just sits and watches, however, it is difficult to say, how much she actually takes notice of. Well, she did take notice of my pullover that I had taken off and cast in a corner, because when I was leaving, the pullover was gone. It was a pink pullover in a delicate all round lace pattern framed with cables, the deep V-neck, hem and sleeve borders also worked with small cables and the yarn was a mix of 50% linen and 50% viscose. How do I remember these details? Because I knitted it myself in what must have been more than 100 hours of work (Twist Collective).
In the small group that we were at the party, everyone knows everyone. When I noticed that my pullover was missing, I was quite sure it was the lady who had taken it. I would grudge her less taking clothes if it was really cold and she didn’t have anything to wear. But even so, I acknowledge her right to decent clothes. I would even acknowledge her right to whatever she considers to be pretty clothes. But, really, must it have been my hand knit? For the non-knitters out there, maybe I need to illustrate to generate some sympathy for my loss: Imagine you have been working for almost three weeks exclusively on a specific project. You finish it, you show it off proudly, but before you can reap its reward, before you get mileage out of your work, everything is lost. All of it. Not recoverable. You have to start from scratch. Well, how do you feel?
The next morning I sent a message to our group that I suspected the lady to have taken my pullover and if anyone should happen to see her in town wearing it, I’d appreciate being told. Just a few hours later, the first sighting of her reached me. A message came in from a friend, saying she was seen sitting in the central square, wearing my pullover. He had talked to her in Lao, appealing to her conscience that she had taken something that did not belong to her and that she should give it back. She steadfastly refused. He didn’t know what to do. Neither did I, but Bastian and myself went to the square in search of her. Thakhek being such a small town, the central place also, is very small. We had no trouble spotting her.
She walked towards us with a bowl of noodle soup and a bottle of water and seated herself on a bench, right in front of the police office. We talked and tried with hand gestures to make her understand that she was to return my pullover. However, she boldly claimed it to be hers, also with hand gestures, and it was obvious she had no intention whatsoever of acknowledging my right to it. The audacity to sit just in front of the police office, nonchalantly displaying the stolen good and denying any wrongdoing! Not even my very demonstrative knocking at the (admittedly locked) door of the police office impressed her. On the contrary, she threatened us repeatedly with gestures of cutting our throats in between placidly slurping her noodle soup. When I took her picture as proof that she had it, should I be so lucky to find the police in their working hours, she actually posed for the camera. I came to realise that nothing than literally pulling the pullover off her back would make her part with it. She probably knew the police would only be working again in two days, as the next day was a Sunday followed by an official holiday. The Thakhek police’s availability apparently doesn’t include nights, weekends and holidays.
We asked a bit around and found that the lady is well known as the “Crazy Lady” (Lao people don’t seem to worry much about political correctness) and for her long fingers. Every now and again she grabs whatever takes her fancy and refuses to give it back. Someone told us that not even the police manages to get the stolen items back. Although, considering their duty hours, this doesn’t surprise me much. No wonder she wasn’t impressed by my intention to involve the police. Eventually she discards the items, whenever she gets tired of it or “finds” something else that appeals more to her.
Frustrated we went home. We wondered what we would do in Switzerland in such a case. We might report to the police who would contact her parents or social worker. Or we might not, because it would be just too much hassle and bureaucracy and the pullover has obviously more a sentimental than commercial value.
A couple of days later there were more messages from expat friends who saw her wearing the pullover. One even tried to exchange it for some money, but the lady apparently liked it too much or money doesn’t mean a lot to her. The joint efforts of the expat community did not achieve anything. The lady must have been really puzzled about the wide interest in this garment and probably she had never before been accosted by so many strangers.
Well, I resigned to my pullover being lost to me. If she at least had taken it deliberately because she recognized it to be different from a cheap ready to wear garment and appreciated the superior make. But I don’t really believe her to be able to see and understand that difference, so, seriously, did it have to be my hand knit??