I am not feeling very well today. The doctor at the urgent care center said my blazing sore throat was not strep. The next day it turned into a nasty cold. Now it is into my chest, and everything hurts. I look forward to the day when all sickness will be banished from the earth by the Great Healer.
But until then, I feel weak and puny.
But, occasionally I feel strong. Even invincible . . .
I sit on the back bench-seat of the articulated bus, my conference treasures and laptop bag under my left arm. Outside the windows, bright colored placards and store-fronts the size of billboards all shout in Chinese. Scooters dart and cars honk, pedestrians dodging them all. In front of a marketplace a dingy cargo truck blocks a lane, its open bay door exposing pigs hanging from hooks like shirts in a closet.
I am not alone, but my three work associates sit apart from me on the nearly full bus. A beautiful fall day, each stop along the way to Fisherman’s Wharf causes a new dance between those boarding and those leaving. The seat on my right is free.
A young man in his late twenties gets on the bus. He holds a jacket draped over one arm. The smell of alcohol wafts upward as he sits next to me. There are now very few seats left.
I continue to watch people. Chinatown is interesting. I feel a soft bump on my hip, but not like the normal vibration of an incoming call. I ignore it until I feel it again. Strange. I venture a timid glance downward. The man next to me is gazing the other direction, but his finger is flicking my cell phone, trying to pop it out of the carrying case. I reach down and pull my phone case off my belt, tossing it into my laptop bag under my left arm.
The man pretends he doesn’t notice. I stare forward, now very alert. The man shifts in his seat and leans forward, elbows on his knees. I watch in my peripheral vision. The bus is noisy.
What is he doing? Jacket still over his arm, he is leaning far into the aisle. Too far. I see his jacket, but not his hand. I realize his hand is in the coat pocket of the fifty-something Chinese man in the seat in front of us.
Fiery indignation erupts. I hit the man hard on the forearm, backhanding him like my great-grandfather may have done for a disrespectful word. He flinches away from me. As if I had just offended his manhood, his posterity, and his mother, he launches into a diatribe filled with every profane word I have ever heard, vehemently accusing me of hitting him for no reason, calling me crazy, proclaiming his innocence.
I ignore the thief and raise my voice, purposely loud. I want everyone in the back of the bus to hear. I talk to the Chinese man.
“Did you have anything in your pocket?”
The Chinese man turns towards me, bewildered.
“Did you have anything in your pocket?”
Unsure at first, he puts a hand in his pocket, then shakes his head. The man next to me is still spewing hatred. I turn to him, and accuse.
“I saw your hand in this man’s pocket!”
He denies it with more profanity.
“Your hand was in his pocket! You tried to steal my phone. I saw you do it. Why was your hand in his pocket?”
A few seats in front of us sit two African-American women. They are joining in the exchange, but I am so intent on the thief that I don’t hear what they are saying. The thief again denies his action. He accuses me of hitting him for no reason.
“How ’bout you and I get off this bus right now and go have a friendly chat with a police officer?” I nearly yell.
One of the women raises her voice.
“Who talks like that? Have a chat with a police officer? Whoa *N (n-word), let’s go have tea and crumpets with a police officer!”
What? Oh great. Now it’s about race. I hit the man because he is black? I don’t think so.
I again tell everybody on the bus what I had witnessed.
The rumble amongst the passengers continues. The thief quiets down. I watch him intently, ready to knock him into the aisle if he tries anything new. I see one of my friends, a big guy fully capable of squashing the thief like a bug, standing next to the exit. I am glad I’m not alone.
At the next stop, the thief gets up in a hurry and scurries off the bus. He doesn’t touch anyone on his way out. With him gone, the women start to laugh. They apparently think the entire scene was funny. I try to pick up what they are saying, but cannot. But their tone has changed. I don’t think they are laughing at me any longer.
I begin to question what I have done. Maybe I should have kept out of it. The Chinese man didn’t have anything in his pocket anyway.
I hear the bus groaning to another stop. Just a few more stops until mine. The Chinese man gets up, walking towards the exit. He stops and turns, catching my attention.
In that moment of time, the universe stills. We connect. I know what his bow means. I am touched by his profound respect, grateful for helping him.
I feel strong.
When I get off the bus, my associates burst into raucous laughter. One of them calls me “The IT Ninja”.
I smile. I wonder: What if the thief had a gun?
** Disclaimer: Just so that we are clear, the man next to me could have been purple or green. I am NOT making any statement about his race. Just like the women on the bus, if you as the reader turn this story into a racial expression, you do so on your own.
I am, however, making a statement about pockets: Keep your hands to yourself!