Tainted Love

Pickpocketing. Barcelona is as famous for it as the city is for the Sagrada Familia. My sister visited the city in Easter and had her whole bag stolen. On my first day my housemates warned me about it and so did all the people at the BBQ. “It’s like a real life Oliver Twist” they said. And how right they are.
In the last few days my eyes have been opened to this underground world as I have travelled to and from school on the metro. I have always been aware, when my friends from camp visited last week I gave them the heads up and told them to be careful. I always tied the zips on my backpack together using these handy little wires my Dad gave me before I left. I thought I was being maybe a bit OTT, but I thought it was better to be safe than sorry.
Last Friday I was on the Metro on the way to school. My folder in hand, bag on my shoulder, I got on the metro and stood by the door (ERROR!). The journey is super short- only two stops…in fact I can’t work out if it is just quicker to walk sometimes (massively lazy at times!).  After the first stop I notice a man standing near me. He puts his hand on the handle to open the door of the metro. A little too premature I thought, considering we weren’t at the stop yet, but hey saves me having to worry about it when we get off. What a cheeky little distraction! We pull into the station and the train stops. He doesn’t open the door. What is this guy doing I thought. Well, I’ll tell you what he was doing- sneaking his hand into the front pocket of my backpack, which was in front of me under my arm! I have never felt so sick. Thankfully there wasn’t even anything in there worth taking- I always put my stuff in the main bit of my pack that I tie shut. I escaped unscathed as I hit his hand out of the way and got off the train. He also got off, and after a quick glance back at me he got back on the train on the next door along. I couldn’t believe it. I was in shock. I felt bad that I hadn’t shouted and made everyone aware. Never have I been so happy to get to school and see my friends!
Ever since, I have entered what I have now termed ‘the den of thieves’ with even more caution than before and most of the time I’ll walk instead. I am clutching the front pocket (which still never has anything of value in it) and have my bag completely in front of me. And since then, I have seen that pickpocket another two times, clearly working ‘his patch’ of the metro. Every stop he gets off and works his way down the train, eyeing up bags, a coat for concealing things over one arm. And every time my heart beats so fast and I am filled with a bit of fear. I have actually named him ‘Marco’ and think that maybe it would be best if I just befriended him so that if, on the off chance, my stuff is stolen I could ask him to get it back off of one of his pals.
Yesterday I took the metro with Vijay (one top American guy!) after we had lunch at Maria’s (a lovely Romanian girl with some awesome tattoos. The three of us work together in a teaching group) and realised that whilst it’s good I am aware, I shouldn’t be so scared. Due to my recent incidents we had been chatting over lunch about what we would do if we saw someone getting pickpocketed. Maria and I agreed that realistically, as girls, we probably wouldn’t do anything- scared they could have a penknife or could just follow us off the metro. But these people are the small minority and there are so many people in this city and most of them are probably lovely people. So today I woke up and thought ‘right that’s it, get over it and take the metro!’
What a great decision that turned out to be…. I jumped on the metro, relieved to see Marco was nowhere in sight, still clutching my bag and standing on the other side away from the doors. After a stop a girl gets on, bag on her back, looking around, potentially at an advert above the window. The next thing I know, a man appears and stands opposite her, eyeing up the bag whilst she obliviously looks on. I’d spotted him. And he knew it. My Dad told me to make eye contact, and that’s what I did, following his gaze to the zips on her bag. Coat in hand he takes a step forward and stands in front of the doors, a step closer to the girl. My heart started beating so fast, and I knew I should say something but I didn’t know what or how. My thoughts turned back to my conversation with Vijay and Maria last night. And then another man appears in front of me, blocking my view. I tried to move forward but he moved with me as the train came to a halt. His chest was in line with my head, and I was so scared I couldn’t even look up to see his face. And that was it. 10 seconds later, and the doors were open. I caught a glimpse of her bag open as I moved away from the men and down the carriage, looking back to find them no-where to be seen. I was shaking once again. I felt so ashamed of myself for not saying anything. But at the same time I think I am a slight, blond girl who doesn’t take much to be pushed over. I have to take that route every day. Is it worth me risking my safety for the sake of a phone or bit of money? They could have easily followed me off of the metro. Yeah, they probably wouldn’t have. But is it worth that risk? So at the next stop I legged it off of the metro. Stomach in knots, heart in my mouth. I walked down the road, and found my phone to ring my Dad. Poor Dad! Had his daughter sobbing down the phone, retelling the story, both of us unable to do anything about the situation except accept it as a fact of life here. I am from such an honest family that to watch such an injustice being done to someone else is so difficult for me to comprehend. But part of me doesn’t regret not saying anything, and I hate to say it but if I was in the situation again I’m still not sure I would have the confidence to say anything again. A coward? Maybe. I feel like I lived the experience with the girl on the metro and whilst I didn’t have anything stolen, unlike her I know exactly who did it and when it happened. And I will never be able to forget it.

I love this city. I really do. The people, the culture, the weather. But this is one thing that tarnishes all the magic of this place. And whilst it shouldn’t, it makes it difficult for me to fully embrace the idea of staying. 

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