As I stand there and watch my hat float down the canal, my heart sinks to the ground with a thud. “What do I do now?” I think to myself –“Let it go or do my best to get it back”?
As an expat living in Amsterdam for seventeen years, I do as the Dutch do and cycle everywhere, in all sorts of weather. I’m cycling back home from work one day against a strong wind. So strong that I’m nearly doubled over on the bike and gasping for breath. At times like this, it makes more sense to just get off the bloody bike and walk. But no, my stubbornness kicks in and I keep going, not wanting to be defeated by the wind.
There is a part of the Marnixstraat by De Krakeling Theatre, where there are no buildings on one side of the street and a canal on the other, so it’s a real wind tunnel. As I struggle up that stretch of road, all of a sudden there’s a really strong gust of wind that knocks me sideways. To stop myself falling into the green, murky water on my right, I really have to use both hands to pull hard on the brakes (which don’t work properly and are about as much use as a wet paper bag).
In the meantime, the wind whips off my black felt hat and by the time I stop and turn the bike around, the hat is sitting lopsided in the canal, moving slowly with the current. Shit! “What do I do now – do I let it go or try to get it back?”
The hat has very little monetary value but I have a lot of sentimental attachment to it. My godmother gave me money for my 40th birthday a few years ago and on a trip to the Christmas markets in Berlin later that year, I bought this black felt hat, with a red stripe around the brim. Berlin brings back good memories from the time that I lived there and well…the hat suits me, I think. It’s part of my identity. So I don’t want to lose this treasured possession.
I lock the bike to a railing nearby and sling my red rucksack over my right shoulder. As I look over the edge of the embankment, the hat comes to rest near the wall, next to a dead duck in the water. Lovely. There is a drop of about seven feet though between the top of the embankment and the water. I think I’m going to need a long stick with some kind of hook at the end of it, to fish the hat out. “Where the hell am I going to get that from”? I ask myself.
The police station on the corner is only two minutes walk away so I pay them a visit. The short, blue-uniformed woman behind the counter listens to me as I explain my story to her in Dutch. I ask her if by any chance they might have a long stick. “We hebben geen sort ding” she replies in her guttural Amsterdam accent. They don’t have anything like that but she keenly suggests that I try the flower stall around the corner. It isn’t open though. The young guy in the petrol station barely looks at me as I ask him the same question and he says to me curtly in Dutch “No, we don’t”.
On my way to the petrol station, something in the window of the piano shop next door catches my eye. There are two long sticks with a hook at the end, standing in the corner, which they use to wind out the awning every day. I go in with my fingers crossed and hope that I can borrow one of them. A slim, clean-shaven guy, with dark brown eyes, comes out of the back office and after I explain the situation to him he says. “Of course, by all means you can borrow the stick, if you leave your rucksack here in the meantime. Good luck with it” he says. Two minutes later I’m back at the embankment but I still have to find someone tall to help me get the hat out of the water. I’m too short to reach it myself, even with the stick.
There’s a young couple walking over the bridge. The guy is in his early thirties I guess and tall. “Great. Perfect for the job” I think to myself. So I ask him in Dutch if he can help me. There’s a blank look on his face. He doesn’t understand. Then I ask him in English. “Would you be able to help me please, just for five minutes?” I say. I tell him that the wind has blown my hat into the canal nearby and ask him if he can help me get it out of the water. “Yeah sure” he says. So he takes the stick, sits on the embankment and reaches down to try to grab the hat. It keeps slipping away but after the fourth attempt he manages to get the stick under the brim of the hat and slowly brings it up to street level. I’m absolutely delighted and thank him profusely. He smiles as he says “You’re welcome. It will probably need a wash though”, with a hint of a Spanish accent. He and his partner then walk away.
I am so happy to get the hat back – even though it’s soaking wet, filthy and stinking of dirty drain water. As I return the stick to the piano shop, the guy comes over to me, laughing at my dripping wet hat. He congratulates me on getting it back and gives me back my rucksack. The hat shrank a bit in the wash but that’s ok because it fits me better now. Every time I pass that spot though, it brings a smile to my face. How far would you go to retrieve something very dear to you that you thought you’d lost?