Beca stood outside her hide-out, her hands on her hips, breathing in the smells of bread baking, salt from the ocean, and the sewer line, broken, two avenues over. Today was going to be a fantastic day. She turned to close up her home, a hollow space in the city wall, just tall enough to sit in and long enough for her to lay down. She better stop growing or else she’d have to learn to sleep on her side. Shaking her head, she pulled the piece of wood over the opening, then put a few dead palm branches in front of that. There, no one would ever know.
Rebeca, who only answered to Beca, was the top pickpocket of Palma de Mallorca, at least per her assessment. For her morning ritual, she headed to the port, walking past row after row of fifty foot yachts reflecting the sun. She could already hear the gaggle of cruise ship tourists, funneling out of the placating boat into the real world of Mallorca. The crowd, with their visors, American shorts, and tote bags, was how she earned her breakfast. She was a clumsy ballerina, an accidental touch on this dark complexioned arm (obtaining a watch), a pirotte to knock a teetering yellow purse out of an old lady’s shaking hands (so many crisp euros and a polite ‘Thank you!’ when she handed it back), and then an exaggerated plie to avoid Officer Daniel’s eyes, which scanned the crowd. It probably wasn’t aplomb to think he was searching for her.
Palma was the bestest friend that Beca had ever had. See, they were so alike. Palma was famous for pirates who took what they wanted and lived as they pleased and what was a pickpocket if not a modern pirate? Palma and Beca also had unique differences that built their bond further. Palma was full of history. A construction company couldn’t dig a foot without finding a Roman coin or arabesque tile from the Moors. Beca was full of potential. Her history, rather, her memory had wide gaps that she had grown masterful at ignoring. Where did her mother go? Where did the two of them live before coming to Palma? Things that didn’t matter when you were in a city like this. A city with enough backstory for the two of them.
The sun warmed her skin and the wind chimed the tourist shop’s wares. She tucked her morning stash into her waistband, deciding where to go next. Some days she’d follow the amoeba of tourists to the beach or to the shops. No, today was a day for La Seu, maybe the public beach after. She took a shortcut through an alley and headed uphill to the gothic cathedral.
Beca immediately recognized the woman in the red pants as being, as the industry called it, a whale. Red Pants was very skinny and had an enormous display of wealth around her: name-brand purse, gaudy necklace, and a hunking ring that would blind you if she moved her hand just right. A great prize, if a weakness could be found. Beca stalked her like a lion in the Serengeti, hiding behind the local produce stand, spying her between lemons and oranges. Red Pants spent ten minutes taking pictures of the cream colored buildings on her cellphone. She spent another ten minutes deciding which olive oil to buy before tucking it into her purse.
Finally, Red Pants went into the cathedral and Beca followed her inside, about ten paces behind. She hadn’t been inside in weeks, so no one should know her. To make sure, she took her hair down from it’s signature sloppy bun and let it be her veil.
Being cut off from the salty air and instead breathing ‘climate control’ felt like suffocating. La Seu was one of the few buildings Beca could stand: its tall windows filled the room with light and its stained glass filled the room with color. The ceiling high overhead, the room had a slight echo but was overwhelmingly quiet. Without the breeze and the noise of cars and birds, Beca wondered if it would be better to let this whale drop, go find someone else. Beca tried to blow one of her curly locks back into place, but it kept falling directly in front of her eyes. Looking through it, she saw that the purse had been set on a pew and that Pants was knees on the kneeler praying.
Sometimes a big risk meant a big reward. She took the pew behind the mark, Ciutat, deliver me a big bounty. Then she sat up straight and leaned over the pew in front of her. Her right hand reached into the purse, pushing the olive oil to the side, gently feeling for the smooth touch of leather, while her left hand reached for the woman’s shoulder.
“Senyora,” she began. Her right hand felt the leather and then confirmed: this wallet was massive. It was at least twelve inches long and had its own zipper. The thought of palming it was laughable, like standing behind a tree in a game of hide and seek. To open the zipper or to give up - she was already this far.
The woman turned to her and blinked her wet eyes several times. “Hello. I don’t speak Spanish.”
They never realized it wasn’t Spanish. Beca launched into her fastest Catalan, “Miss, I’m trying to rob you right now. Could you please remain distracted?”
The woman’s face turned sympathetic. “Oh man. What is it? No hablo… Spanish? Span-ol?”
Beca’s right hand had found the soft cloth of money. So pliable in it’s form, easy to fold into her fist, and slip into her own pocket. “Oh, ok, no Spanish. Sorry.” She stood up and started to side-step her way out of the pew. When she turned from looking at the somber altar to the door of freedom, she saw Officer Daniel.
Officer Daniel’s face said he had seen the whole thing. “Come quietly,” he whispered.
“Damn you, Palma.” If ciutat had listened to her prayer, Officer Daniel would be on his typical beat at Plaça d'Espanya. She ran to a side door.
The side door led to a small hallway with three other doors: Men’s, Women’s, and unmarked. She chose unmarked and went down a small flight of stairs, through another door and then found the gift shop. She slowed her pace and looked at some postcards. Some days she thought it was weird that people sent images of her home to places around the world, saying that here was a place worthy of a passive aggressive brag and the trouble of figuring out international postage rates. When her and Palma were doing well, when her luck was on the up and up, she got it: the sun-lit waters were beautiful. At this moment, those postcard buying people felt like lying suckers.
Officer Daniel cut off these thoughts, “Beca, get over here!”
She let out an eek and jumped out the door.
The salt and the caw of a seabird woke her senses. She needed to get out of here, pronto. To the right, she could see El Casco Antiguo, the old part of town where the streets were narrow and interwoven like a maze. The old buildings were close enough together to block the sun, no matter the angle. The neat rectangular windows always seemed like the eyes of the wealthy who lived inside, judging her actions. No, she’d be just as likely to find a dead-end and be trapped as to find a hidey hole. Especially given the sour mood the city was in.
She ran to the left, to the Royal Palace of La Almudaina. A sister in appearance to La Seu, sand colored and stony, but a sister that was very much focused on earth instead of air. The Moors built a beautiful garden and had fountains that were a testament to motion. When the right guard was on, Beca could sneak in there and pick pockets all day. She felt like one of those fountains, constantly moving to the point she looked to be standing still.
As she neared Almudaina, she heard Officer Daniel call out, “Help me catch her!” Another police officer came out, between her and the crowd she was hoping to lose herself in.
To the right it was - she ran hard. The only shot she had was to make it to some fork in the alleys before they did. She could hear their feet on the stone.
Why Palma? Why did you do me this? She thought they truly were friends. She thought they had an understanding. Beca was one of Palma’s true children, who listened to the rhythm, who protected her by picking up litter and throwing it away, at least that one time with the chip bag. She danced in the rare days of rain; she barely sweated in the summer sun. Air conditioning gave her goosebumps.
With a sigh, she realized she had taken a wrong turn, too distracted in thought. It was hard enough to deal with a petulant city and tripping hazards to remember which way to go.
She could still hear the officers, but now mostly their ragged breaths. In a few turns, she might be able to make it to Placa de Cort, a small plaza with tourist restaurants as its border. She’d have to be careful not to trip over one of those punny menu boards or stir up a cloud of pigeons.
It was now time to hide, her breath was just as bad as tweedledee and tweedledum behind her. And being in tourist central, she could run into another officer and he’d wouldn’t be winded.
Turning the corner, she caught sight of Olivera and had a crazy idea. Ciutat, you minx.
The story goes that the olive tree was ancient, nearly a thousand years old. It knew Spain before Spain had come to the new world and met tomatoes or chocolate. The thick and gnarled trunk was hard to argue with: no young olive tree looked like Olivera. The curving lines looked like faces or ears, like the roots had absorbed the life of Palma’s soil. But see - Olivera was like Beca, she had started somewhere else and had been transplanted to here, but here is where she truly belonged.
Beca’s hands could easily climb the tree with all the trunk’s curves. She needed to go up, up, up into the tawny green of its leaves. Tightly, her arms hugged the thin upper branch and stopped breathing. Ciutat, please.
“Did you see which way she went?”
“Mierda - I have no clue.”
Beca closed her eyes as they walked back and forth under the tree.
“Well. I guess this one’s a bust.”
She hugged the branch for ten minutes, then twenty. She listened to the chimes of the cafe silverware hitting ceramic, to the English, Catalan, and Spanish words mixing together in passionate morning conferences. The tree smelled of olives and the typical salt was masked by the sweet pungent smell of car exhaust. She could feel some wind, a bit of the leaf-dappled sun. A cheeky smile grew on her face. Ciutat, I knew you wouldn’t let me down.
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I love how you described the relationship between Beca and the city. The personification (without veering into magical realism) of Paloma is very well done. Very exciting chase scene! One spot I noticed, in case you want to submit this elsewhere (and you should!): "another officer and he’d wouldn’t be winded." - 'he' This is my favorite story of the ones chosen this week. Congratulations on getting shortlisted!
Thanks, Michael! Thank you for you critique. I'm glad you liked it
very nice story i am proud of it
Very nice story you got there.
Oh, this was beautiful. I love the personification of Palma and the hints at Beca's backstory
Thank you! I'm glad you liked it :)
Great story based on how Becca and the city, like how she has one goal with the small descriptions based on her surroundings, makes the story feel real.
Thank you! As soon as I saw the prompt, I knew I wanted to write about someone whose job takes them around the town and, well, who doesn't love pickpockets?
I loved your story, fast-paced, descriptive and intriguing, super.
I love your personification of the city and description of the protagonist as a 'clumsy ballerina.' Great story!
Thank you, Amarah! It is an honor to be listed with stories like your Visions of the West. It was so good! I'm still thinking about Agatha
Thank you! Likewise :D
Congrats on getting shortlisted twice! In a row no less. Impressive. The writing was fast paced and witty, and your setting - very well developed. Great job!
Thank you, Courtney. I'm humbled and honored that people are seeing my writing and enjoying it
Beautiful story and a great main character. This was my favorite of the short-listed stories this week as well. Great job.
Hi H, Your story has loads of good details and sensory descriptions. I like the air and changing sound inside of the church. Good work! Congratulations on the shortlist!