Some weeks back, I was upstairs working at my desk when the doorbell rang.
I had a sense it would given that Oli was already bounding down the stairs, barking his little fool head off. When he gets like that he’s heard the minute squeak of the little wrought iron gate in front of our house. In his dopey dog world this can only mean two things: evil postal workers and handbill deliverers are stuffing our mail slot with their wares, or the doorbell is about to be rung.
Either way, it’s his duty to protect us from what lurks on the other side of the massive oak door. Or so he thinks – both about it being his responsibility and about his actual ability to keep us safe. Watch dog? Yes. Fierce fighting beast? Eh, not so much. All bark and no bite.
By the time I reached the front entry he’d worked himself into a total frenzy, his compact body making desperate circles in the tight space, all while trying to bark and growl simultaneously. It ends up looking more like an epileptic fit than the machinations of a trained canine killer, but don’t tell him that.
As I pulled the heavy door inward, Oli stopped in his tracks: there stood Catarina and her friend Anja. Recognizing his favorite friend, he ceased barking and proceeded to greet her with boundless enthusiasm, a wagging tail and a wet tongue. Licking their fingers gets the girls every time, that Lothario.
Now for those who have followed the Catarina Chronicles over the past few years, you know that any time I encounter my creative, sly, entrepreneurial nine-year-old Dutch neighbor on the doorstep I’m likely to be tasked with something.
Usually it’s turning my Albert Heijn grocery receipts in for whatever voetbal kaartjes or children’s toy they happen to be giving away. [Want to know precisely what I'm dealing with? Then do check out this Catarina trio: An International Trade Rep's Got Nothing on Her, Head of Delegation Written All Over Her and She's Baaack.]
I already was collecting the miniature grocery store products of the current AH campaign, stuffing little packets containing plastic fruits and vegetables, teeny boxes of cereal and miniscule cartons of milk and yogurt drink through the brievenbus (mail slot) per her strict instructions. Surely she wasn’t here to complain about my prompt service?
A torrent of Dutch words cascaded out of Catarina’s mouth. Anja stood behind her with eyes wide in anticipation, nodding her head in agreement. When Catarina had finished, they both looked up at me expectantly.
I was able to pick out geld, hondje, Oli (pronounced with a long O rather than the Ah-ly we use), wandeling and in de buurt when it clicked: the girls wanted to earn a little spending money by taking Oli for a walk around the neighborhood.
In light of our previous adventures, I capitulated immediately.
Fifteen minutes later they arrived back with a deliriously happy Oli in tow. Without thinking it through – always a mistake with Catarina – I gave each girl a Euro and sent them on their way.
The next day the doorbell rang.
I should have seen it coming but didn’t. There on my doorstep stood the ever-enterprising Catalina, big smile plastered on her angelic face.
‘Zal ik Oli voor een wandeling nemen?’
It is only then I realized I’d paid such a lucrative fee the day before that Catarina had immediately seized on this money-making scheme. By my calculations we’d be in financial ruins within a couple weeks if we kept this up, while my little capitalist padded her dog-walking retirement plan. Lord knows whatever happened to Anja, obviously cut out of any future action.
Surely I nipped this foolishness in the bud, right then and there.
Well, sort of.
Let’s just say I had a little chat with Catarina about only walking Oli on the weekends, and once per weekend at that. Same pay, one Euro, but not the two I’d given her and Anja.
Catarina isn’t the only one who knows how to play hardball in de buurt.