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, https://www.flickr.com/photos/spcbrass, shared via Creative Commons licensing.