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Snatch May 11, 2009

Posted by Brian L. Belen in Ramblings.
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The number calling on my celphone was unknown to me, but it looked like a number from the wife’s office. So naturally, I picked up.

“Dear?” came my wife’s voice over the other end of the line. “I lost my bag. It was stolen.”

It took a moment or two to get over the disbelief, but she was able to relay the full story: she was a few steps away from the gate of the University where she works when a motorcycle-riding thug zipped by and snatched her handbag away. As best she could, she tried to run after the hooligan — who had the cheek to look back at her and smile — but to no avail. And as it was early in the morning, there were hardly any bystanders around to help, not even the University security guards, at least one of which was in her line of sight as it happened and all of whom were only able to come to her aid after she had stopped chasing after her assailant.

She told me all this with her voice sounding more and more panicked — but she was alright, which was the most important thing. Almost immediately, though, the depth of had been taken from her began to sink in. There was hardly any cash in her wallet, but all her credit and ATM cards were there. Some gift certificates from the wedding that we were supposed to put to good use. A few checks that she was going to encash. The bag itself: nothing fancy or expensive, but something she was so happy to buy on our trip to Thailand. Her celphone. Housekeys. Most importantly, her old (voided) passport and some visa documents, since we were working on getting her a US visa that week (and I had been the one who suggested she bring those with her that day).

Fortunately, she decided to wear her wedding and engagement rings rather than keep them in her bag, something she occasionally does while she’s in transit.

Almost par for the course, it just had to happen on a day where nothing we did that morning went according to routine. In particular, we had to leave the house early because I had to join my dad and attend to some things south of the metro. Sure, we planned in advance for how to go about getting each of us to where we had to go on the days I’d have to join my dad like this, but this was the first time we pushed the button on those plans. And look how that turned out.

As I was trying to stay calm listening to what happened I felt sick to my stomach. I wasn’t around when it happened and I was so far removed to be of any help anymore. But between the two of us, we kept our wits about us, did a quick inventory of what needed to be secured, and quickly set about doing so. Credit cards? Cancelled. Celphone sim card? Locked. Gift certificates? Checks? Voided. When all was said and done, all that remained were the personal information on her celphone and notebooks (something we couldn’t exactly do anything about) and getting the locks at home replaced (which we could attend to when we got home).

All that and, of course, the wife needed to find a way to get home. Losing the bag meant she had no cash on her. Fortunately, an officemate was kind enough to spare not just some cash but some time to be of help, and it was my mom who arranged to pass for her later in the day, which is why I knew everything was going to be all right.

“It just throws you off when these things hit you close to home,” was my dad’s reaction, and he was visibly disturbed by the news for the balance of the day. I agree. It’s not that you lost something. That would be different. It’s that someone took something from you against your will. It makes you angry. It makes you feel violated. Plain and simple.

Granted, maybe it could have been avoided. I mean, you hear warnings to that effect all the time — Beware pickpockets! Watch over your belongings at all times! — but sometimes one’s vigilance can only go so far. Besides, does anyone ever think that it could happen to them? Given that it already happened, how it was handled was not just a comedy but a tragedy of errors. University security was hardly any help: they were in a position to prevent it from happening but didn’t, and when the wife checked if the campus surveillance camera could be of any help was promptly informed that the person who had access to it didn’t know how to use it. (Later on, the one in charge of the security complement would be dismissed, a small consolation.) Just as pathetic, the University issued a security bulletin that was so vague as to be useless, and didn’t even indicate that the victim involved was a member of the University community.

Local law enforcement wasn’t any better. When the wife brought the matter to their attention by filing a police report, she was treated to a litany of “So it seems these kinds of operators are back in business again”, but in that noncommittal sort of way that allows them to look busy but really sends the sad message “Charge it to experience.” To be fair, considering that the perpetrator got away, it’s a longshot to expect that he’d be caught or that the wife’s personal belongings would be returned. But having said that, the police were useless in other respects. The police report? She couldn’t even get a typewritten copy from the station. And when she followed it up, the only way she could get through was to call the policemen personally on their celphones as it was impossible to get through the local hotline.

On the other hand, seeing the concern and compassion from those who really mattered was very touching. The generosity and understanding of the wife’s officemates, and the way that members of the family on both sides swooped into action really makes one feel blessed to be in such fine company. Especially with respect to my family. As the first real “crisis”, albeit a minor one, since the wedding, I think we all acquitted ourselves superbly.

And yet. Sure, it crosses my mind that we dodged a real bullet this time around (no one was hurt now, but we may not always be so lucky). But what really troubles me is the following thought: have things really gotten so bad that people resort to such things? I can’t count anymore how many times I’ve heard people say, in sympathy and consolation, “Just think that the person who did this really needs what was in the bag more than you.” It makes sense, I agree, but I refuse to think that way. I refuse to believe that when in dire need a person will falter and fall prey to such misdeeds. I refuse to believe that we are all just victims and or criminals waiting to happen, should circumstances permit. Most of all, I refuse to believe that whatever evil there is in the world cannot be overcome by what is good and right and decent about human beings.

For now, anyway. In the meantime, best to keep my fingers crossed that this is an isolated incident, try to put it behind me (getting the wife to do the same), and pray that things do get better. Not to mention stay away from motorcycles.

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