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Incident on Train L-112​

Because Robbery Only Happens to Other People

It’s a sad truth of the law enforcement profession: sometimes, we aren’t very sympathetic to the victims of crime.

“Guy leaves his laptop on the table while he goes to the can? With all his work on it, and he hasn’t backed it up? What a dumbass!”

“Chick leaves a $25,000 musical instrument in her car, then parks in an underground lot on Hastings St? What a dumbass!”

“Lady moves in with a paroled sex offender, and wonders why he makes a move on her daughter? What a dumbass!”

It’s a cynical pattern, oft repeated. Well, today, for any victims in my past to whom I may have been less than sympathetic, let me say this: I’m sorry. For I, too, am a dumbass.

You may have heard about the crime in Brazil. It’s an inescapable fact of life here, and the fear of it shapes many people’s lives. All banks have armed security. All houses have walls, topped with electrified wire or broken bottles. Few people walk alone at night if they can help it.

I’ve been travelling or living in Brazil for thirteen years now. Today was the thirteenth anniversary of my first visit in 2006. I’ve led a charmed life, I must say, up 'til now. When Canadian friends of mine would bring up the subject of Brazilian crime, I’d always interject, somewhat smugly, “I’ve never had any problems.”

Well, today, pride took a fall. Today, I got robbed.

When I first came to Brazil, crime was at the forefront of my concerns. At first, I wore a money belt, until I tired of its chafing in the extreme heat. Then, I was careful to take only that money I needed the day and separate it in different pockets. Just like the guidebooks say. I was then, and am now, very aware of my surroundings.

But I never got hit. So, I got complacent. As a country at peace for too long, wondering what it needs an army for, I started to slack.

Today, I left the house with about 350 reais (about 170 CAD) all in one cargo pocket. I set out on the Metro to visit a couple of my favourite Sao Paulo haunts.

There was no way I was going to spend 350 reais that day. And the buttons on my cargo pocket were not exactly thief-proof.

But it hadn’t happened before. And so, of course, it wouldn’t happen at all. Challenger Fallacy was in full effect.

In the 1980s, NASA managers had been warned about the dangers of launching the Space Shuttle in cold weather. But they persisted, until that day in January 1986, when icicles were hanging off the sides of the Challenger. We all know what happened then.

It hasn’t happened yet, so it will never happen. I can’t conceive it, so it’s impossible.

It’s the oldest bug in our four-million-year-old operating system, and we’re all susceptible to it.

I was boarding a train at Se Station when it happened. Se is fairly notorious for this sort of thing. If you go up to ground level, you’ll see why. The busy, multi-line station is built underneath a crack-and-hooker supermarket. No matter how many times you pass through it, you must never forget that.

I was getting on a train. It was crowded. A man was pushing behind me. This is not uncommon, as Paulistanos can be a pushy crowd while boarding trains. I stopped short a few times and even threw an elbow behind me. “Parei!” I cursed. “Stop it!” But he kept pushing. I threw another elbow, heard a muttered retort.

Then, and this is the part that made me think, he pushed his way right off the train. I shouted “Asshole!” He looked back, and I made eye contact.

I should’ve clocked that face for what it was. I’m busted. I should’ve forced my way to the doors before they closed.

Should’ve, could’ve, would’ve. I didn’t. The doors closed, the train rolled out, and only then did I pat myself down. My back button on my cargo pocket was open. I would never do that. I reached in and pulled out exactly 14 reais.

That bastard robbed me! I breathed in deeply, feeling indignation, violation, and hostility for Sao Paulo and it’s pushing thieves all in one thought. Then, I pulled myself together, took a picture of the train identifier, and got off at the next station to file a report.

The young security officer was helpful but not encouraging. He told me the chances of my ever recovering my money were slim and or none. He showed me some mugshots, and I uttered the eternal phrase that makes cops everywhere roll their eyes.

“It might be him. I’m not sure. It happened so fast.”

I felt a right tool. He dutifully called into the control centre to try and pull the video. God, love rookies. I went back to Se to pointlessly look around, nourishing vigilante fantasies of punching the crap out of my robber, inflicting far more than 350 reais in dental work.

Honestly, I wouldn’t have known him if I'd tripped over him. I gave up and went home, determined to do the only thing a writer can do. Turn it into material.

A question nagged at me, the whole way home. I’ve long been a proponent of the idea that criminals, like lions at the watering hole, target the prey they think could be taken easily.

Had I slipped that far? Out less than two years, getting ever fatter, reflexes dulled?

Would my crime fiction creation, Will Bryant, have gotten robbed and stood there, flatfooted? Of course not. A thrilling chase and satisfying fight would have ended with the robber in front of an oncoming train.

I guess I’m not Will Bryant, after all.

I told my daughters my story. My five-year-old, Gisele, solemnly took some coins out of her little coin purse and put them in my hand.

“There’s some more money for you, Daddy. Now protect it!”

Damn straight I will, sweetheart. From now on, anybody who pushes me on the Metro will get a punch first, questions later.

Sorry in advance, Grandma.

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