Wednesday, July 05, 2006

 

Pickpocket

The rain had started when they finally emerged from the police station. The sky dark in the early evening. They stopped under the portico and he put his arm around her gently. “Well, that’s finally over,” he said “They got him. Don’t you feel relieved?”
She did not answer, merely nodding her head.

“This looks like an all day rain. Let’s not take a cab. We’ll get wet waiting for one,” he said. “Let’s take the subway.”

She agreed, nodding her head.

“Race you to the station,” he said and they both started running toward the station in the light rain. He stayed behind almost as if he were protecting her. At the station, they walked slowly down the wet steps.

He bought the tickets while she waited for him. The subway was dark and not very crowded and chilly from the rain. He put his arms around her as they walked along the tunnel. She seemed cold and did not look at him. At the steps that led to the station, she moved in front of him and he followed, walking as he always did, close to the side and keeping his hands on the iron railing.

It was sudden, or it seemed sudden to him. He was lost in thought about her and how she was coping, when someone brushed by him and shouted something. He was not so much startled as he was brought back from him reveries. The person that had brushed by him had pushed him slightly against the wall and was now running down the steps just ahead of him shouting. He thought it rude of them not to stop and offer an apology. He did not notice anyone around. Except for them, the tunnel seemed empty.

Out of habit, he slapped his front pocket where he always kept his wallet. He could feel the other hand there. A hand trying to force its way into his pocket. He grabbed the hand and pushed it away. He could not see the person who had brushed by him. They were already gone around the turn in the tunnel.

He turned quickly. A youngish looking boy, eleven or twelve, was standing on the step above him, a map in his hand. They both eyed each other. Time seemed to be in slow motion. The boys’ left hand reaching for the other side of the subway map, which he held in his right hand. Then quickly, in a soft warm voice he asked: “Is this the way to the main street stop?”

He never got to answer. The young boy was gone, disappearing like his companion, around a bend in the tunnel.

He was stopped on the steps. She was still walking ahead of him, and now was several steps in front.

He removed his wallet quickly and determined that there was nothing missing. His hand felt strange. He did not like the idea that he had held someone else’s hand, a stranger, and he brushed the palm of his hand against his trousers.

“Did you see that?” he almost shouted at her.

“That son-of-a-bitch tried to pick my pocket. That son-of-a-bitch.”

She looked at him quizzically. In an anxious voice, he told her what had happened.

“I just saw the one kid, “she said. “I didn’t know there was another one.”

“He tried to pick my pocket,” he said again loudly. “That little son-of-a-bitch.”

“It happened so quickly. I didn’t know,” she said.

They stopped at the bottom of the stairs and he looked through his wallet again and patted all his other pockets to assure himself that nothing else was taken.

“I wonder what I did to encourage him?” he asked.

He was young and strong. Not like some of the people he had read about, elderly women or sometimes men. Purse snatching was not uncommon. But what had he done?

“Nothing, “she said. “I don’t think you did anything.”

“That little son-of-a-bitch.” It was all he could say.

They rode home quietly. They did not talk about the trip to the police station. He would wait for her to bring it up. The trains were not crowded. He kept his hand near his front pocket during the ride and the short walk to their apartment. The rain had eased and they were only slightly wet when they arrived home.

She was quiet while he cooked dinner and they ate in the kitchen with the television on some news channel. Only once did he bring up the police station.

“Was that the one?” he asked.

“Yes, “she said. “I’ll never forget him.”

“But there is more to be done, the trial and all.”

“In six months the lawyer said.”

He went to bed early and lay there in the darkness. The day had been eventful and he hoped it would bring closure for her. The police were nice. They were patient and had even assigned a female detective to be with her.

Was it so long ago, he wondered, lying there in the dark room, with the rain dripping on the window? They had only been married for less than a year, both still working, but in different places in the city.

They usually both arrived home at about the same time. He took the subway and she took a bus, walking the several blocks from the bus stop. He often offered to meet her at the stop, especially if she had to work late. But she always laughed and said she was a big girl now. And she was a strong girl. A runner and biker and kept herself in shape. And then one night she arrived home hysterical. A man had followed her from the bus stop and forced her into an alley.

He took her the police station and she explained it all to them. He did not allow her to wash or change clothes. He hurried her to the station in a cab, all the while she cried and clung to him in the back seat. He was a stranger, she told them, the man that followed her and forced her into the alley. The seemingly endless night at the hospital and doctors and explaining over and over what had happened. The books of known offenders with their pictures that she looked through, finally pointing to someone.

“Yes,” she said, “that’s him.”

He tried to help, but all he could do was comport her and get coffee for her in the long night. She was able to pick out the stranger. How long ago was it? Two months, more, maybe nine weeks. She changed almost over night. He slept next to her in the big bed they picked when they were still planning the wedding. A queen size, they laughed. But now it was not the same. Now he went to bed first and then she followed, often when he had fallen asleep. Not like before, when they both lay there, in the big bed, in the dark and she snuggled up to him, like the newlyweds they were.

But now she was cold and distant. He had been patient with her, but he had tried often and she always said not now, not yet. She was distant in other ways. No long talks at dinner, or laughs. She was not interested in movies or dinner out, or parties with friends. She did not talk to him about the attack. He apologized again and again for not meeting her at the stop. He understood.

“It was not your fault,” she would say. “It was not your fault.”

And then tonight. The trip to the police station. The lineup. The detective allowed him to be with her as she tried to pick out the assailant.

“Number 4,” she said.

“Are you sure?” the detective asked.

“Number 4,” she replied matter-of-factly. She was sure. Even the public defender shrugged his shoulders.

He was brought back from his reverie when she came to bed.

And now she lay there in the darkness next to him. He could hear her soft breath in the still night. It seemed quieter tonight than other nights. Maybe it was the rain, he thought. He reached out to touch her, placing his hand on her breast. She moved away from him, his hand falling on the warm bed. She did not say anything for a while, and then softly she said: “not yet.”

He was disappointed, even a little angry. Wasn’t it over? He had been patient. The police had the man; she had pointed him out. There should be closure now, he thought. Of course there was still the trial, but that was a long way off. His hand still lay on the bed, where it had fallen when she moved away.

Lying there in the dark, the rain slowly dripping on the widow ledge, he thought he could still feel the young boy’s warm hand touching his leg and his pushing the hand away and he rubbed it roughly against the sheet. He could wait longer.

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