Friday, April 14, 2006

I was robbed. Actually my cousin was. The Jennifer J. story.

I guess we forgot to be scared when walking along the side of the street. I guess we forgot that this is the land of the snatch thieves and it does not matter where you are or how safe you feel or if it's broad daylight, you had to remember that the snatch thieves were ubiquitous (the three things you could depend on were death, taxes and snatch thieves) circling for victims, keeping an eye out for the less-than-vigilant, with a hope of making a killing.

Eve was walking a little ahead of us, chatting away on her cool new mobile. Her handbag (with its very short strap) hung merrily on the side of right side (facing the road). I heard the motorbike come close and instinctively flinched. I have been robbed before. I saw it slow down beside her, and this expressionless guy with a moustache grab her bag and hold on while his partner took off, zig-zagging across the length of the road to throw her off.

People always say, when your bag is snatched, just let go, it's not worth getting killed to save a few dollars, a compact, a lipstick and all your personal documentation. All I have to say to these people is, "YOU TRY IT!". Most times, you are unaware of what has happened when you find yourself being dragged on the street, aware of people screaming all around, and the bag is stuck to you. There is no way you can simply "let it go".

Anyways, there she was, almost vertical, being dragged across the length of the road. She looked like she was taking a real beating (in fact, the whole thing was so shocking it actually looked ridiculous, something out of America's Funniest Home Videos). Then the strap snapped and the bastards took off, leaving her poor, battered, bruised body to us. We had been chasing her (of course, to no avail) screaming (which alerted the neighbourhood but did little else) and when she was finally released, we rushed up to her. My friend Mary, half carried her to the sidewalk. Eve's face was grey and she was shaking.

"Mary, my skirt?" she asked. Eve, an extremely modest young lady, was aware that the whole street was converging upon us at this time and her skirt had ridden up. She didn't want all these open-mouthed bystanders to have an eyeful of her underwear. Mary, pale with shock, pulled down the skirt and sat with her arm around Eve. I sat on the other side and between us, we held her trembling body, trying to come to terms with what had just happened.

"Are you OK?" Stupid question, I know. But it's one of those you have to ask. Eve is a tough cookie. She never shows emotions in public and there she sat between us, trying to pull herself together. The people crowded all around. Three guys who had been standing close by and witnessed the whole thing, (one of them had a walking stick which he tried to poke into the wheel of the criminals' bike) came up to us and started to call the police. They had made note of the number (it was a fake licence plate). Another old bhai auntie came up to us and made sympathetic clucking noises.

A Chinese lady who lived nearby got her maid to run in and get some plaster and antiseptic, which she then applied to my cousin's feet (the skin on her toes had been ripped off) and put plasters (you would call them band-aids) on the affected areas. Another brought back her shoes that had flown off during the skirmish. The lady looked at the shoes and shook her head.

"It would be better if you didn't wear those now. They will just increase the pain." She then instructed her maid to go to her house and get a new pair of slippers, which she then presented to my cousin. The black leather shoes were put neatly into an MNG bag presented to us by a young Punjabi girl, who took out her own stuff first. Cars slowed down and stopped, offering us rides to the police station. Another lady shot off and brought back a glass of water for Eve.

In the course of a few minutes, we were subjected to such a great outpouring of love and concern that it took my breath away. This was the Malaysia that I had so cynically dismissed?

While this was happening, I asked my cousin what was in her bag to decide on our next course of action. Thankfully, there hadn't been much cash (although when she went to replace the documentation, like her identity card, driver's licence and bankcards, she would have to fork out a lot more). I called up Information to get the number for her banks to cancel her credit and ATM cards. It was all done in a matter of minutes. Whatever those bastards had got from her, they wouldn't be able to use her credit cards. And all that drama for RM40? The only really valuable thing that would have been in her bag was the new funky Motorola. That had remained in her hand through the whole ordeal.

I walked back to Mary's house (we had just taken a stroll down the road to go to a nearby restaurant) to get the car and as I drove up I was conscious of a traffic jam, as one driver after another stopped to offer help. When they got into the car (Mary sat at the back still holding Eve) everyone waved us off, having helped as much as they could. Frankly we were quite overwhelmed.

As the shock receded, Eve turned to Mary: "Did you know all those people?"

Mary shook her head.

"Boy, you have some pretty fantastic neighbours."

A little later we were in Mary's house and she had just made a cup of hot sweet tea for Eve. Eve doesn't drink anything with sugar but I told her rather bossily to gulp it all down as it would be good for the shock. Suddenly we were aware of some young boys (they had been playing football across the street when the snatch theft occurred and had made their way over to see what they could do). We overhead one of them saying that if he ever saw that snatch thief again he would "belasah" him good. (Roughly translated: beat the crap out of him). The young boys had led the police car that had finally shown up, to Mary's house. Eve remained inside while Mary went outside to make a statement. She was not alone. It seemed that the whole neighbourhood came to help tell the story, as well as share some of their own anecdotes about crimes that had taken place there not too long ago. A taxi driver who had driven up to us (thinking we wanted a ride) and witnessed what had taken place, had chased the thieves but lost them at a petrol station. He came to make his statement too. A police officer came to the house to speak to Eve. He told her we would have to go to the Brickfields' police station to make a report.

The rest of the night passed like a dream. We repaired to the station in question, went through the interrogation. The officer who took down my cousin's statement was both sympathetic and hopeful. A few years ago when I had my own bag snatched, it was standard operating procedure to harrass the victims. A stupid officer who had no business being there when I made my report, read it over his colleague's shoulder and started scolding me for "carelessness". I stared at him in disbelief and my sister, who was with me at the time and very much shaken up by everything started to cry. What I should have said (hindsight makes us all wise) was that the reason people like me got mugged was that creeps like him were not doing their jobs. But I was young then. And in shock.

In Eve's case, the nice police officer told her not to worry. These guys would be caught (although maybe not at once) and they would have to pay for what they had done. As we were not allowed to be with her (only victims are allowed inside to make statements) I started to get upset. There she was, hungry, in pain and all shaken up, and why was this taking so long? Finally, I stood at the window and started to glare at him. A little while later, he beckoned me in. "Do you have anything to add?"

"Such as?"

"It's strange. There were three of you there and you couldn't even get the number?"

This time around I was not gonna stand for any bullying. "When something like this happens, you are in shock. We were looking at her not at the bike!" I snapped. My cousin toned my words down and tried to explain this calmly.

Finally, he let us go, giving us his number for any further developments.

Mary and I linked our arms on either side of Eve and marched out. There was a vague Indian dude walking behind us (this was still in the police station but we were that jittery) so we turned around and glared at him, till he walked past us. Suspicious of everybody now.

We went across the road for a meal. The restaurant was dark, only illuminated by candlelight, which would have been kind of romantic, except that it was as a result of a power failure, rather than to add to the ambiance. Some food in her, the colour started coming back to my cousin's face. We started to chat about other things, work, Mary's parents (lovingly referred to as the old boy and the old girl). Mary told us that the old girl (who is all of 87) insists on listening to the entire BBC news everyday, even the economic portion. One day, the old boy happened to switch it off before the business news was over and she got upset.

"Why did you do that for? Now I don't know what the price of crude oil was today."

Mary was stunned. None of us (business reporters though we were) gave two hoots about the price of crude oil. Eve and I screamed with laughter. The next day, Mary read that the price of crude oil was US$65 a barrel for that day and told her mother, half jokingly. The old girl listened seriously, head cocked to one side, nodded in a satisfied manner and went on cooking.

"Heh. Your mom is smart. She knows that the price of crude oil affects the price of her vegetables," Eve offered.

"I tell you, if I ever ran a tv news show, I would hire the two of them like a shot. They really are very good and uptodate about everything," Mary said. We all nodded, having had the same experience with our own parents. They actually read the papers, while all we did was just work in them.

We traded stories about possible job opportunities, discussed Eve's upcoming wedding, my new job, and frankly except for Eve's slightly battered appearance, it seemed like just another meeting of the 3K Production. (We named ourselves 3K, short for Tiga Keling or Three Keralites). Part of me was amazed by how quickly things had sort of gone back to normal (or were we all pretending?)

She didn't want to go to the hospital for a check-up (I feel fine, really you guys, just tired, I'll go tomorrow) so Mary and I drove her home and prepared ourselves to face her Mom (my aunt) whom we hadn't called to tell, only because she would be climbing off the walls if we had.

We woke her up (we had to, Eve's housekeys were in her bag) and as she staggered downstairs, drugged with sleep, she came awake as she realised that it was not only her daughter standing there waiting.

"Auntie, I think you'd better sit down."

"Why? What is all this Jenny?"

"Mom, I was mugged. They dragged me along the road."

Her eyes widened in disbelief and it was only then that she took in her daughter's bedraggled appearance. "Oh my God, are you alright?"

She sank into her seat and as is usual when one is mugged (the experience is so common over here that there almost seems to be a procedure to it), she discussed her own experiences and that of her friends. This friend. That friend. How this one was injured so badly. Eve listened, nodding tiredly. The kid was just about done in. Her eyes were red and it was obvious that she badly needed a hot shower and to crawl into bed.

"Have you been to the doctor?" her mother demanded sharply.

"No. I'll go tomorrow."

"We wanted to take her auntie, but she wanted to come home."

Her mom rose to make us all hot drinks. She then gave her daughter a couple of Panadols and some water. Mary and I took our leave soon after, after charging Eve to go sleep and call us tomorrow if she needed anything. I left instructions about how to get to the JPJ to do her driver's licence, telling her to come over to my house and I would drive her, if she needed to.

Then I drove Mary back and when I finally fell into my own bed, it was nearly two in the morning and I was just about done in. Before I fell asleep, I remembered the kind faces of all those people we didn't know, people we would probably never see again, who had come forward to help.

This was Malaysia? I felt curiously warm as I snuggled down under my duvet.


goldennib said...

What a ride.

The overwhelming concern of the strangers on the street were amazing. This is a Chicken Soup story if I ever heard one.

Jenn said...

Haha. Yes. A Chicken Soup story all right. Chicky chicky chicky a little sozzled right now. Will be better tomorrow. Hic! (excuse me)