Yesterday at the bus stop, I noticed a man wearing all black waiting by the back of the mass of people getting on the bus. He would get pushed forward, and then purposefully work his way towards the back; it seemed suspicious. I know from friends that pickpockets like to use the moment of climbing on the bus to snatch wallets and mp3 players as people crowd onboard, so I kept my eye on him.
I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Just as the woman in front of him took her first step on, he reached up and placed his hand on her purse. At that moment everything we’d discussed here on the blog about apathy and the evil of “minding our own business” flashed through my mind. You would never have known if I had chosen to stay out of it, but I wouldn’t have been able to face you today if I had remained silent like those around me.
So I pulled his hand off her purse and loudly said, “Gan ma?” (What are you doing?) He took a few steps back and barked something at me that I didn’t quite catch. Sensing the crowd starting to turn against me I pointed at the man and said, “Xiaotou” (pickpocket), and then explained to the woman, who was now looking through her purse, that I had seen him reaching towards it.
I had stopped a thief before in Guangxi, and knew that his buddies could show up at any moment to threaten me. I felt a surge of adrenaline, and my hands were shaking as I beeped my bus card.
At this point I realized my nerves were for nothing as the woman yelled at me for grabbing her husband. Apparently, he holds her bag for stability as he climbs the steps instead of the railing on the door.
Perhaps I was a bit overzealous; a friend had just told me a few days earlier that he had been on a bus when someone noticed their phone was stolen. The victim ordered the bus driver to keep the doors shut while another passenger attempted to call his phone. For a minute everyone froze and listened, but the thief had already turned it off. “Of course he turned it off,” an old woman growled as she pushed towards the door.
Giggles spread through the bus as I moved down the aisle, and one person even took a picture of me with their phone. I felt like a complete idiot and desperately wanted to get off the bus. I decided to ride it the rest of the way home (about 30 minutes), I told myself that I had just been trying to help a stranger so there was really nothing to be embarrassed about. Maybe it would give courage to someone else to take action the next time they saw something suspicious.
When I retold the story to co-workers this morning, they agreed that this kind of behavior should be promoted (people actually talk like this). They also reassured me that there were too many people like this woman, who complain when someone is just trying to help.
But then the conversation quickly switched to how I should be more careful in confronting thieves on the street. *sigh* Should I mind my own business next time?