A Thief on a Train

The train is pretty full as it pulls into Scott Road station. My pants are pretty muddy from work so I opt to stand rather than squeeze in beside another rider. One of the single seats is vacated at Columbia and I sit and get comfortable for the ride into town.

I'm dirty, splattered with gobs of freshly excavated mud. Blue grey clay from well below the organic layer. I get dirty for a living, but it's good clean dirt. Pieces of rock ranging from microscopic grains of slit to bits of gravel that tick, tick, tick their way around the drum of the washing machine. Evidence of a pay cheque earned.

Sitting across from me is another dirty man. His is a different kind of dirt. He is dressed in a grimy blue warm up suit with a stripe up the side that was once white. It doesn't quite fit him, but he can't blame the dryer as it clearly hasn't been washed in weeks.

His hair has been cut with a bowl and shears and his eyes are sunken in dark sockets. He moves as if his world runs in slow motion.

As I watch him, he is bent over picking things off of the floor. I catch a gleam from his cupped hand. It's full of jewlery, rings, necklaces and earrings. For every three pieces he picks up, another one falls out of his hand. Finally, he's got them all and he runs his hand over the floor and behind the seat to make sure. A ring falls from his hand but he's got it again before he can lose anything else.

He half rises into a hunch. His attention is focused into his palm as he fondles the jewlery.

As I watch I start to fume. I know he has stolen the jewlery from somewhere. It looks like he has the entire contents of a lady's jewlery box. I picture my mother's jewlery box upside down on her bedroom floor, the carved wooden lid gaping open.

My house was broken into last winter while I slept. The thief came right in and stole my brother's camera. There was evidence that he had crept all over the house. We installed security lights and changed the locks. I couldn't sleep soundly for weeks afterwards. I'm a construction worker, strong and able to defend myself, but I was still up all night. I imagine my grandmother, too afraid to sleep, tossing, turning and wondering if the thief is coming back.

He drops a ring on the floor again and as he bends forward I feel a strong urge to grab him by the shoulders and bash him into the wall again and again. I'm not a violent man, but I'm furious. He has stolen this loot from a vulnerable woman somewhere and now he is headed downtown to score a rock. I can feel my molars grinding. I take a deep breath and try to calm down. How can he be getting away with this? He is flaunting his plunder in front of the whole train. The old Sikh man sitting in the next seat is watching too, surely he must know what this man has done. Will anyone do anything?

As the warning bell sounds for the train doors at Edmonds, two Skytrain Police officers step aboard in unison, each to a door, announcing together 'Fare Inspection'. My heart leaps into my throat. I didn't have correct change to buy a fare at Scott Road. I got on the train without a ticket, taking the chance.

My face is starting to burn as the officer gently taps the junkie's shoulder to get his attention, "fare inspection sir". He looks up, blank. After a few seconds he seems to understand. He fumbles in his pocket, dropping an earring on the floor and stopping to pick it back up. A search of both pockets produces a crumpled transfer. The cop examines it closely and thanks him.

It's my turn. I feel a drop of sweat fall in my armpit. "May I see you ticket please sir?" the officer asks. I look up and stammer "I always buy a fare, I forgot today, I'm sorry", I can't look him in the eye. He puts his hand on my shoulder, "Sir, I'm afraid you are going to have to come with us." His partner is already headed over.

We are pulling into a station. I get to my feet and the two cops flank me. The doors open and they escort me from the train car.

Simeon Veldstra