The Day that was not to be Seized
We’ve all been there: The kind of day when you decide to walk past all the warnings, only to be served a few hours later.
For me everything began on a Friday evening. After a quick TGIF drink I headed home early to chill and enjoy a good night’s sleep. While browsing online, a girl’s post on a Facebook group I am following caught my attention. “Warning everyone! My wallet was stolen today at Obchodna Street around 7pm. If anyone sees a black and blue wallet thrown somewhere, please reach out“.
“How can people lose their wallets so often?“, the question instantly popped into my head. “How come it has never happened to me and to others it happens every other year?“. This was the first sign, but one I definitely did not pay enough attention to.
Saturday came and for the first time after many weekends I had no plans whatsoever. The day started slow and continued to be so until lunchtime. Pressing one key per minute in an effort to blog, mixing leftover foods randomly to prepare the day’s wannabe lunch, refusing to put any pants on, you know the deal. Any grand plans to visit the gym or go grocery shopping were indefinitely postponed, sucked into the black hole of my procrastination.
Salvation came with a “ping!”. A colleague wants to meet for a coffee later in the afternoon. A new Greek girl had started in our company and she thought it’d be a nice excuse to meet up. All excited that my day would not go completely to waste, I swiftly ate up and picked some clothes I actually felt attractive in to get ready to cease the day.
As I was walking downtown, I realized I did not have any cash. I withdrew some banknotes but quickly regretted it; I can always pay by card, why carry all the paper? Sign #2, ladies and gentlemen, one that was also profoundly ignored. Breaking out of the chains of my lazyness made me feel like a superhero, so I couldn’t bother. Not on this Saturday afternoon.
I took the ladies to one of my favourite cafés in town, which I would normally be happy to name and promote; however, what is about to follow is not the best type of promotion for this decent business, so allow me to keep it secret for now. I mostly love it because of its wide variety in cakes and lemonades, two things I can never turn down. That evening the place was half-empty, something that I found quite impressive for a Saturday afternoon. I ordered a scrumptious-looking cheesecake with a beautiful buttery biscuit base, topped with a thick, mouth watering layer of strawberry jam. As my colleagues were getting to know one another, the cheesecake was all that was talking in a language I could grasp; nevertheless, I avoided to eat it in two mouthfuls as I normally would, afraid to be taken for a barbarian.
For Greeks having coffee and cake is a long and very social activity. No, we don’t like it when you take our plates and no, we will not empty the table right after finishing. That was one of the topics we were discussing, as people were changing in the tables around us.
When we first sat at our table, I noticed an animated old man sitting behind us; he had a hard time getting the waitress’ attention and he was desperately trying to order a piece of chestnut cake. He had long left and another man took his place, then another. At some point I stopped paying attention, until I felt a bump against the back of my chair. Having grown up in a big city like Athens, where pickpocketing is an everyday phenomenon, I naturally reached out for my wallet, which I realised was still in the pocket of my jacket. I ignored sign #3, put my hands back on the table and resumed my part of the conversation. A man in his late 40s or early 50s with gray hair left the cafe. Nothing suspicious here.
Next time we looked at the time it was already 19:30. The new girl had other plans, so we stood up and walked towards the registry, only… My wallet was gone. The familiar lump on the pocket of my jacket was replaced with an open zip and a dramatically empty inside. That man, the one that bumped onto my chair. He had done it, there was no question.
The rest of the evening was ruined. Phone calls to the bank to block all cards, numbering what was inside the wallet, trying to trace back all the previous steps. I had ignored all the signs and had now been served.
The worst part of every case of pickpocketing is the trouble you have to go through to re-collect what’s gone missing. Some types are especially painful, with ID cards being the biggest headache. After calling the Greek Consulate in Bratislava, I was informed that I had to make a statement to the local police so that they could declare the loss of the document to the Greek authorities on my behalf. Other things that I always took for granted suddenly became new reasons for agony. For one, I had no access to cash with my ATM card lost; I would have to wait for 10 days and probably leave on borrowed money through that period. Additionally, my gym card was among the loot and I had to pay a fine for losing it.
I took a deep breath and headed towards the police station. A row of clean but old green and white police vehicles were stationed in the frontyard, all bearing the motto “Pomáhať a chrániť” (to help and protect). It was a Sunday, the force was probably understaffed, it would be a miracle to find someone who spoke English. I rang the bell and had to already present a good case at the door before being allowed to enter the premises.
The conversation that followed went roughly like this (rough translation from Slovak – mistakes reflect my level of spoken language):
“Hello, yesterday a man stole my wallet”.
“Where did this happen?”
“At X cafe in the Old Town”.
“How much money was in the wallet?”
“20€ and identity and more cards”.
The man turns to the woman beside him “From all the people he happened to pick the Greek’s wallet, such irony!” then back to me “where was the wallet?”
Pointing at my jacket’s pocket “Right here. All this was on the table”.
“And where were you?”
“Also on the table, I was sitting”.
“You mean chair, right? So the jacket was hanging on the chair with the wallet in it. And how do you know who stole the wallet?”
“Was only a man and me and my friends near inside, no other”.
The man chuckles then picks up the phone “Hey, I have a case for you, happened in your area. Stolen wallet, a Greek guy who speaks poor Slovak but can communicate. Make the report, he lost his ID too”.
I left the building sweating from overtrying to make a point in a language I knew little of. Although it was never a life goal for me to give a police statement in Slovak it had just happened – and I kinda liked it. It gave me a feeling of achievement and success knowing that I was not completely helpless in my new home, I could make myself clear enough to be able to get what I wanted without having to resort to English.
While waiting for my report to be printed, I stared at the opposite wall. An interesting collection of posters, among which one writing “Racism is your problem too!” and another writing “the River Police is here for you”, a huge map of Bratislava separating one from the other. Few months ago, when I had first moved to Slovakia I would be really unable to pick up those lines and now I was just reading them, not even having to translate them in my head to make a meaning.
This weekend felt more like a whole week and ended up being much busier than I ever anticipated. Dear pickpocket, yes, I did feel violated and disgusted by your act. Yes, it made me uneasy knowing you bear my personal documents in your pocket. But thank you pickpocket for one thing. Thank you for reminding me that nobody’s above suspicion and – more than anything else – thank you for allowing me to prove to myself that I am strong enough to make it through in my new surroundings independently and with very minimum help.
That being said, I need to start embracing these few lazy weekends more. Maybe that was the last lesson to be learnt. Maybe I should take off my pants and throw some frozen halušky in a pan for dinner. On a second thought, maybe I shouldn’t even do that, writing this post was more than enough work to call it day…