My rucksack was stolen in a cafe at St Pancras station on Saturday afternoon, literally from under my feet. The bag contained my laptop and my passport, which is particularly annoying since I was meant to fly to a conference on Monday morning. My travel plans are in disarray, although, hopefully, an emergency passport can be issued; and I had to shell out on a new laptop (not to mention a new rucksack, and new stationery, as the bag also contained pens that I was rather fond of). Expensive as it may be, passports and laptops may be replaced, and fortunately most of my work was backed up (only one day’s work was lost). I’ve never felt particularly attached to a passport: it is after all just a tool, albeit a very useful one, and one with a shorter lifespan than that of most working animals.
The same will not be true of a SD card on the laptop, which contains photos from my time as an undergraduate: irreplaceable memories. Nor is it possible to replace the notebook full of painstakingly handwritten notes, taken at various lectures and conferences. And perhaps the saddest realisation is that these things — an SD card that’s falling apart, a diary, a collection of scribbles, a half-composed piece of music, a draft of a paper — are worthless to him, and, 36 hours on, he has probably thrown them away.
I cannot know his motives for stealing bags. Perhaps he is in financial difficulties and needs to make some quick cash? Perhaps he is in danger of eviction, or worse, if he does not settle a debt? Or perhaps he was just greedy? In any case, the thief did not realise, or didn’t care about, the inconvenience and loss that he has inflicted on me, which does not translate into gain for him. He saw me as merely a victim, or a donor, a means to an end.
What’s so bad about that?
I actually saw the thief as he sat down near me, some minutes before he made away with my bag. I didn’t pay attention to him: I glanced at him, even made brief eye contact, then went back to talking with my friends and drinking my coffee. No smile, no recognition. I paid so little attention that I couldn’t remember anything about his face. I can’t say if he had glasses, or facial hair, or what clothes he was wearing. (Fortunately, a CCTV camera got a glimpse of him, and perhaps the police will be able to collate enough shots of him to identify him, although I don’t have high hopes of getting my stuff back.)
Did I see the humanity in him? Did I see him just as anything more than an unimportant background character?
He likely knows my name, if he’s looked at my passport, or anything else in the bag. Do I know him as anything other than ‘the thief’?