An open letter to the pickpocket on the No. 20 Kopaja

My dear sir,

Kudos to you on your fine accomplishment last Monday. I was completely oblivious to your wily deed for a good half-hour after I stepped off the minibus, until I did the Self-Pat Down of Doom in the office and felt nothing but crestfallen disappointment.

I must admit that early in your routine, before I knew that I was the mark, you had me feeling sorry for you. With your shabby clothes and receding hairline, you were struggling to generate much interest among my fellow travellers in your shabby A6 flyers that looked as if they were eighth-generation photocopies on a battered Xerox. Few people seemed interested in the Bandung reflexology service that you seemed to be touting for, and none at all were keen on having you demonstrate your technique on their hands.

The dejected look on your face briefly made me feel pity for you. But knowing that I once felt pity for you makes me now feel a pang of pity for myself, or at least for the me of last Monday.

So when you wandered up to my seat, looked me in the eye with a hangdog expression and reached for my hand, I was somewhat obliging. My left hand was clutching a retracted umbrella at the time, however you gently but firmly eased it into yours. I expected a squeeze, perhaps a pinch, and a bit of firm pressure. And you gave me those things, but pretty quickly you ventured up my arm with your right hand, until you'd reached over my shoulder and had brought my chest forward to my knees.

At the time I thought you were a bit rough, but then many Indonesian men are robustly physical, unafraid of delivering a firm slap. I had a hunch you were up to something sinister, so I kept a close eye on the pseudo-gold and silver watch on my left wrist. And when you let me sit back upright a few seconds later, I was sure to check that the watch was still in position. Which it was.

But my watch was not what you were seeking. As you well knew, my iPhone was sitting in the breast pocket of my shirt, within tantalisingly easy reach as I leaned forward. Your grip on it was so perfect and delicate - the sign of a true craftsman. Within seconds it had moved from my pocket to yours. And not long after, you'd called out to the driver to slow down so you could jump off. I don't recall if you had a grin on your face, but I suspect you're too good at your occupation to let a hubristic smile be your undoing.

Your unsolicited demonstration has led me to learn some of the theory and nomenclature of your occupation. Looks to me like you were working "single o" -- a "stick" (distractor), a "shade" (view-blocker) and a "tool" (lifter), all rolled into one. Your flyer -- an oh-so-crappy flyer -- was perfect as a "pattern interrupt" to distract me from my idle thoughts as I cruised down the street. And perhaps the pièce de résistance was using my own momentum as I sat back to effortlessly remove the goods from my pocket. Bravo.

One person I told my story to said they thought you'd been watching my pattern for a few days prior, knowing that I regularly catch the same Kopaja bus at about the same time, carry an expensive phone and would be easy prey. But I doubt you would have needed the reconnaissance. You strike me as the sort of petty crook who could use your intuition to find things of value, sizing me up on a single encounter rather than gathering clues over time. Instead, I think last Monday I was unlucky (and a touch naive), and you were fortunate (and rather cunning).

I wonder whether you've considered a career in Indonesian politics. Your ability to earn people's trust and assume a disposition of magnanimity in order to relieve them of the contents of their pockets would seem ideal preparation. Then again, there's probably more honour in being a petty thief on a minibus. I understand.

Jakarta can be a tough city to survive in, and we've all got to do what we can to keep our heads above water, sometimes literally. I'm guessing your line of work can be pretty lucrative on a good day. Enjoy your luck while it lasts. But remember, one day you'll pick on the wrong person, someone not as gormlessly trusting as me, and it'll end badly for you.

I've conceded that my phone has gone now, never to be straddled in my hands again. I hope you -- or whoever you sell it to for a fraction of the price I paid for it -- treat it well. Don't scratch the screen, don't drain the battery searching for Wi-Fi, and please don't ruin my 14-game Freecell winning streak.

Best wishes on your future endeavours,

Ari the Chump


Anonymous said…
lHi Ari,
Hope you can rescue all those phone numbers lodged in your iphone.
Similar situation happened to me in Prague at the station. Gypsies sized me up - took me for a sucker, distracted me, carefully, within a split second prized open my shoulder bag straddled over my stomach. Removed my wallet containing all my precious items. They lured me.
Oh well. Learnt my lesseon.
Don't feel sorry for stangers when we look like tourists, in a foreign land.

Love Aunty. xxx
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