Pickpockets!

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By 2017-06-18

By Jeffrey Bickerton

What a 10 days it's been! First we were robbed blind in our own home, and now this... It all started 5 days after the robbery when we decided to cheer ourselves up a bit, by visiting Colombo for the weekend. I had never really been before, save passing through, so I thought it the right time to visit. In hindsight, I wish I'd stayed home and taken my chances with the villainous mob that had picked us clean five days before!

Anyway, the day began with our turning up at Galle station to catch the 10.55 express to Colombo Fort. I particularly wished to travel by train, it being an old boyhood pastime of mine, but my friend, by way of a warning said he'd heard somewhere, that it's dangerous travelling on trains, as there are pickpockets everywhere. "What nonsense" I said and assured him that sort of thing would never happen in Sri Lanka. Having secured our passage, we found seats by scientifically elbowing others out of the way and marking out our territory.... It was infernally hot. As if my thoughts had been carried to the train driver, he switched on the fans and we breathed life once more.

I spent the time gawping at my fellow passengers and drinking them in, as it were. They were a very C3 bunch, ranging from tourists with those impossibly large rucksacks - I mean to say, what possible joy can be had by carting those things everywhere in this heat? – to locals who appeared to have seen it all. Add to this, a gaggle of hawkers careering up and down the carriages, selling everything from water to foul smelling home-cooked delights, constantly under the watchful gaze of the alarmingly named, Railway Protection Force. "Why do I need protecting"?, I mused....ha! Little did I know what lay ahead...

Suddenly, the train lurched forward and everyone standing up, went for a burton, before recovering their poise and belongings. We were on our way.

Our train trundled along, passing life and offering a glimpse of the beauty that is undoubtedly Sri Lanka. I settled down to gawp at the passenger sitting opposite, marveling at his glowing red sunburn and impressive collection of mosquito bites. Passing places with wonderful names like something-duwa, something gama, something una, we eventually arrived at Mount Lavinia. Here my good friend, Priyantha got on board and we all sat, chatting away about this and that, before arriving at our destination, Colombo Fort.
I stood up and gathered my belongings. I was in the process of closing my shoulder bag, in which I carried my personal items,

money, passport etc, when my exit was blocked by a woman who just stood and simply refused to move. Her behavior struck me as odd. She seemed to be preoccupied with staring out of the window, as if looking for someone. Eventually, after three "excuse me's" and a sharp elbow into the ribs, she moved, blast her! She got off and I followed, whereby I was immediately pushed and barged around on the busy platform, but I did happen to notice that the woman immediately got back on the train and thought that very odd too! Pondering over this for a while, I then attended to the closing of my bag, when I noticed the wallet containing my passport was conspicuous by it's absence. Ye Gods! Surely not?. I frantically checked the entire contents of the bag, but the red wallet containing the passport had vanished without trace. I was livid.

Putting two and two together, I realized that the old harridan on the train must have deliberately delayed me, while waiting for her partners in crime to appear and organize the melee on the platform, in order for one of them to then practice his nefarious art of pickpocketing. Fate it seemed, or rather the old bag on the train, had marked me for her own!

Back in Galle, I had an appointment with the Police at Akmeemana Police Station, to report my missing passport and get an emergency document to cover me whilst waiting for a new passport. My friend, Nandana arrived with his policeman friend to take me to Akmeemana. I was greatly amused by this name, Akmeemana, because at first I thought it was some kind of stately home, you know, Acme Manor. Musing on whether there might possibly be a Lord Acme who resided there, we reached our destination and I found myself mingling for the first time ever, with what you might describe as, the criminal class.

Entering the "Manor", there was a prison cell with bars, just like you see in the old Wild West films, and I half expected the Sheriff to walk in at any moment to tell us the Apaches will attack at noon. A very miserable creature stood behind the bars and I mused as to what he had done to warrant this incarceration. Then, my friends policeman suddenly sprang to life and took matters in hand. By-passing the queue of suspects, who looked a bit miffed at our blatant pushing in, we were quickly led into the office of the big chief himself, who proceeded to vigorously document my plight on carbon papered sheets, stamp them, log them and eventually produce my temporary papers, which he then flourished triumphantly in front of me. Who said a PC plods? As smooth a work as I have ever witnessed, and as I always say, it's not what you know, but who you know.

On our way out, I looked across at the unfortunate youth behind bars. He looked fed up, but if I could speak his language I would have consoled him by saying its better to be safe behind bars in here, than out there if the Apaches attack!

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