When in Rome… Hide Your Valuables?
They always say it’s the person you least expect. Well, “they” were right because I couldn’t believe who pickpocketed me on the subway in Rome, let alone that I had been pickpocketed at all.
Months before I left for my first-ever solo backpacking adventure across Europe, I made a shopping list. This list included a money belt that my dad insisted I buy to conceal my valuables under my clothes. He didn’t realize there was very little chance I would have a bulky belt bulge from under my shorts, but it was the thought that counted.
When I eventually went shopping, I ended up taking my dear old dad’s advice; kind of. I bought a PacSafe belt that had, as its name implies, safety features so I could wear the belt exposed – smart right?! I thought so.
So here’s where it all went wrong. It was my first day exploring Rome and I was only at the beginning of what would be a three-month long trip. It was about 6:30pm when I finally checked the time as I was leaving St. Peter’s Basilica, realizing immediately that I needed to be at the train station half an hour earlier.
I reached beneath the cocooned baby who was blocking the view of my lower half, and found four slender fingers in my belt’s front pouch.
I bolted to the nearest station, stressing about getting my ticket in time so as not to miss my train. I bought it and ran to the platform, paying no attention to the half open money belt dangling from my waist.
The train was coming towards the platform fast and as soon as it came to a halt and the doors opened I was faced with a sea of people thwarting my entry. They were packed in like a can of sardines, but I managed to cram my way in and claim a small space inside the doors before they shut fast behind me. I was already late to meet my host Maria who would be waiting for me at the end of the line.
I hate being late, so I was relieved to have caught the 7pm train, avoiding a further delay waiting for the next one. I didn’t mind that I was going to be sandwiched between the door and a bunch of random locals for the next 25 minutes because the air conditioner was blasting away the July heat, and I was on route.
It took only a few minutes before I figured out whose personal space I was invading. I felt horrible when I met eye-to-eye with this young woman in front of me with a newborn strapped to her chest. I was pressed up against the baby who was strapped to her chest, and I couldn’t have felt worse. I gave her an apologetic look and tried to squish up against the doors as if I would flatten like a pancake making more room for her and the baby.
For some reason the more I moved back, the more she pushed forward. At first I thought someone might be pushing her into me so I scanned those behind her looking for the culprit, but nothing seemed unusual. I then felt a slight tug on my belt, the one I bought because it “has a lot more security against thieves,” including clips to conceal the zippers. I reached beneath the cocooned baby who was blocking the view of my lower half, and found four slender fingers in my belt’s front pouch– a clear sign that the safety mechanisms had failed.
I instinctively grabbed at the fingers while trying to wrap my head around what was going on. As I held onto the hand tight I realized it was her, the woman with the baby. The hand slipped through my grasp taking refuge in her back pocket. I looked up at her in rage imagining myself as Cyclops shooting deadly laser beams into her forehead. She looked back at me nonchalantly.
I struggled to feel the contents of my belt as my hands shook from the adrenalin rush from coming face-to-face with a thief. I could barely see what was left inside with the baby still obscuring my view. In all my fury I couldn’t remember what I had put in the pouch. I only knew to search for the loaner phone, and miraculously it was still there.
Everyone remained silent as I looked over at my fellow passengers for sympathy, or a defence against this petty crime.
I yelled at the woman to give me back what she took, but she only yelled back at me in what I assumed was Italian. To think that this woman used an innocent baby as a decoy in her little scheme absolutely boggled my mind. Was it even hers?
Everyone remained silent as I looked over at my fellow passengers for sympathy, or a defence against this petty crime. I felt betrayed and disgusted at the same time muttering curse words under my breath hoping she would feel some sort of remorse as I came to realize all my bills were gone.
To make matters worse I was awkwardly stuck standing in front of the woman who robbed me until the next stop. I tried thinking up ways to retaliate with this strange window of time I had with her, but did nothing in the end.
As we approached the stop I glared at her once more before switching cars, clutching the belt with all my might. When I arrived at the last stop, I realized that just because the belt was meant to protect my valuables all on its own, it didn’t mean I could walk around without concern.
For the remainder of my trip, I concealed the belt and only accessed it in private. I stored a small amount of euros in my pocket for day-to-day spending and kept the rest hidden to avoid enticing another sneaky pocket picker. And, while I may have felt I looked silly, I had the best, worry-free Euro trip ever!