The inevitable has finally happened, I’m just surprised it didn’t happen sooner. I’ve traveled on public transportation on four continents, and somehow I’ve never been robbed. I guess, technically, I still haven’t been, but I did get a pretty good scare.
Pickpockets and petty thieves are everywhere in the world, not just where I live. Any place where there is a discrepancy in wealth, you’ll find people trying to even out the difference. Some of them will try to sell gum, or ask for change, and others will steal it. My run-in was with someone who wanted to steal it.
Last week I had a toothache, so I headed 8 hours by bus up to Quito. On my way out of town, I took the trolley to Quitumbre bus station. I’ve been on this line many times, and I’ve seen groups of pickpockets working. You can’t really just yell “Theif!” when you see someone stealing because you can put yourself in danger. Usually one person is picking pockets while the friends provide backup. I’ve stopped a pickpocket from unzipping a woman’s bag by putting my stuff in his way, but he moved on to steal from someone else. It’s frustrating to allow someone to do harm without being able to do anything. It’s a moral quandary for me because I think society should work together to protect each other, so I try to do what I can, when I can.
On this particular afternoon, the trolley was packed. People pushed themselves into those already inside and waited for the doors to close and push them in further. A man in a brown suit wedged himself in next to me. I avoid traveling with much more than cash and a cell phone, but since I was leaving town, I had everything with me. My bag was on the floor between my feet and I’d spread my money around in the pockets inside my jacket.
The man in the suit had a plastic bag in one hand and was trying to hang on, but he seemed to have a problem grabbing the bar with his free hand. He was breathing heavily from his mouth, so I turned my face away from him. We jostled around, and I noticed his hand in front of me where there was no place to grab a handle, so I kept pushing him very hard until he moved away from me. He didn’t have any expression on his face, and he found another place further down the trolley.
A seat opened up and I sat down. My pocket was unzipped, but there was nothing in it anyways. I kept my eye on him, to see if maybe I’d just mistreated some poor mouth-breather for no reason. I couldn’t tell, and he got off the trolley alone.
Later, when I bought my ticket at the bus station I realized that he’d earned the mistreatment. I reached into my jacket and I saw my shirt through a slit in the front. He hadn’t just unzipped my pocket, he had cut open the front of my jacket to get my money. I’d wondered what his problem was; I guess it’s hard to hang on in the bus with a razor in your hand. I’d pushed him away before he could get anything out of my pocket.
As aware as I try to be, I missed seeing this one ahead of time. Next time I’ll wait for a bus with fewer people on it, and I’ll pay more attention to how I react to disgusting behavior. It wasn’t a good experience, but I can patch my jacket, and it might help me to avoid worse situations in the future.