Stopped, Thief

I was on a semi-crowded train heading downtown at rush hour last night, and I was trying to distance myself from a hectic, frustrating work day by reading on the metro. I tried to get a decent enough grip on a handrail with my other hand, but it was difficult because a man near me kept ending up in inconveniently close quarters, no matter how the onboards and exits at each stop shifted the crowd.

It was annoying, but not egregious. I wondered if he was just kind of a creep, but it wasn’t so creepy that I’d be certain enough to call it, and I certainly had nowhere else to move in the car.

At the stop before mine, I looked up as he moved around me to leave. Under the pile of sweater he had draped over his arm, I saw a tiny, distinctive flash of one corner of my bright blue wallet.

I often think that I’m too slow to move on things, too long to sort out benefit of the doubt, and it makes me nervous I won’t move fast enough in situations like this.

But it’s always the times when you don’t think at all, that you move the most decisively. Next thing I knew, I’d grabbed his arm and was yelling a surprising list of obscenities at (if I may say so myself) an impressive volume. He didn’t put up much of a fight, just denied it even as I grabbed my wallet back and started dismantling the stuff in his arms to see if he had more. The crowd was close around us but nobody moved or said anything, and he submitted to my search and verbal abuse until I let go of his arm, and then he just stepped out of the train and walked away as the doors closed.

I checked my bag – he’d managed to open up all the zippered pockets without me feeling it, but nothing else had been taken (or was worth taking, to be honest). A few people came to life around me and started with questions and incredulous recaps, a round of ‘oh boy!’ exclamations. My stop was next, so the conversation was short. Everything was fine, but it was hard to shake and everything felt more exposed than before. Relieved I wasn’t spending the evening figuring out how to cancel cards and IDs, but I walked home with the imaginary extra weight of a stranger pulling at the things I was carrying.

Photo by Shawn Carpenter,, shared via Creative Commons licensing.

4 thoughts on “Stopped, Thief”

  1. I know how you feel. Violated. Several years ago while I was riding the bus in New York City sitting sideways with an open window behind me several boys got off the bus and before it pulled away they jumped up through the window and tried to grab my gold chain around my neck, but luckily I too was very quick to grab the chain at the other end and all they did was bump my head against the back of the window. A happy ending for you.

  2. I wonder how long it takes someone to acquire a skill like that – being able to mess with someone’s purse while they are sitting there! You describe this scene so well. Yipes.

  3. Thank you for liking my poems. Your blog is great. I enjoyed reading your posts. I can relate to this post. My house was robbed a few years ago. I came home and saw my front door was slightly opened. I didn’t even think twice, as I ran inside through the house, checking all the rooms. I am glad you were able to get your wallet and that you didn’t get hurt.

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