Thank you, Montreal

20 11 2009

When my iPhone was plucked out of my hand by someone walking casually down Ste. Catherine St. earlier tonight, I didn’t know what to do.

It disappeared from sight even as I stood there, open-mouthed and slow to comprehend.

Did I just –?

Did he –?

Yep. He did. And there it goes. My phone. With everything. My photos. Addresses. Texts from the past nine months with the Wildman.

My phone. Everything was in there.

As my brain caught up,  alarm pushed air into my lungs and I shouted down the street, “Hey, you can’t DO that! That’s my PHONE!” And then we both took off.

Let me back up a bit…

It was busy on the corner of Peel and Ste. Catherine, brightly lit with Christmas decorations and the wash of fluorescence from store windows. I had stopped walking to text the Wildman, leaning by bike against the HMV storefront. I stood facing the wall with a dreamy half-smile on my face as I tried to text something funny and sexy and witty in 250 characters or so.

A group of young guys passed behind my back, and I noticed them out of the corner of my eye because they kind of paused… stood there for a second and looked at me. As a group. A bit out of the ordinary, but I ignored them — Do they think I’m hot? I’m so not hot tonight. What are they looking at?” — and went on with my text.

Another young man passed me and then turned, looked at me and surprised me by asking me full in the face if I had the time. I was about to say, ‘can’t you see what time it is?’ because I thought I saw him checking his watch even as he asked me. Then I turned to look at my phone to verify, and said “7:30″.

The words were barely out of my mouth when he reached over and took the phone out of my hand. Minimum fuss, maximum confidence.

This guy knew what he was doing.

I stood there dumbfounded. I, on the other hand, did not know what to do.

The other guys fell around him and they walked away, and the only thing that kicked my body into gear was the thought that that little guy had my whole history with the Wildman in his hand, and he didn’t even care about it, would probably just sell it.

That made me mad. That is MY PHONE, and you’re not getting away with it, Punk.

I roared out, “Hey, stop! You there, you have my phone!” My voice surprised even me. I didn’t think I had a roar, I thought I was more of a screamer. But there you go…

A power and an urgency I didn’t know I possessed pushed up from inside and I ran after him. He saw me coming and took off. I glimpsed the phone in his hand.

Little bugger!

“You have my phone! You can’t do that!” I said over and over again. It was all I could think to say. “You can’t do that! You can’t just take a phone out of someone’s hand… You can’t!”

I caught up to him and pulled at his arm to swing him around to face me. He dodged and pulled away.

I jumped on his back, wrapping my arms around his chest, still yelling. I was also still holding my pink BFA-free water bottle in my hand. I thought idly that I might choke him if I got too close to his neck. I should be careful. I didn’t want to hurt him. It was hard to hold him and the bottle at the same time. And he wasn’t giving up. He kept twisting.

His friends pulled me off. Or maybe he shook me off, I don’t really remember. But all too quickly he was off down the street again.

I took off again, shouting even louder. Now I had figured out something else to say. “Thief! … Stop that man, he’s a thief! He’s got my phone!”

I’m running hard, but shock has made me slow, not fast. And I’m wearing these stupid high-heeled boots that, don’t get me wrong, look great but aren’t made for running.

He’s getting away. My phone!

I keep shouting, getting louder. I know I’m causing a scene, I see people turn to look, but I can’t help it. I’ll keep yelling until someone comes out.

But I see the opposite of what I hope for… Instead of stopping him, people are moving out of his way. They’re intimidated, I think. No one wants to get in their way. He’s got a group around him and no one knows what’s going on, they just let him run by.

Now he dodges into the street. We’re about one block from where we started. Even though I’m a fast runner, I can see I won’t catch him on foot, he’s too slick, dodging cars and criss-crossing the street. I’m in despair, all of a sudden, and I imagine life without my phone. So pathetic!

It’s only a communication device… but I need it. I run harder.

Suddenly from my left I see a man in a business suit running diagonally across the street toward Phone-Snatcher Guy. Business-Suit man runs right up to him, practically tackles him and pushes him against the wall. But he can’t hold him and my guy slips away again.

Then someone else joins, and then a few other people give chase. I can’t see who, but people are not just looking anymore, they’re moving in the same direction we’re traveling, following along the opposite sidewalk, maybe hoping to head Phone-Snatcher off. I’m still hollering, shouting my head off, getting louder and louder. I don’t know what to do but yell and run.

Someone, ironically, drops a cell phone and it breaks apart on the street right in front of me. I stop to pick two of the pieces up, losing my grip on my water bottle as I do. I hold onto the phone and take chase again, only now I see there’s a whole crowd of people calling to me, yelling at him, following along. We are now a bigger crowd than the group surrounding the Phone-Snatcher, and picking up more and more people along the way.

He dashes into the street, a couple of men keep up and try and pin him down again. I don’t know how many times they grab him and he slips away, but the other guys in his group are also helping, pushing, shoving, urging him to keep running. I find out later they pushed one lady hard, almost causing her to stumble into traffic.

Finally we’re all grouped together: me, the phone-snatcher and two or three of his guys, Mr. Business Suit the saviour, a host of other people I can’t properly see, and a woman who taps me on the arm and says she’s called the police. It feels like half of Montreal has rallied.

All of a sudden if feels like this whole thing has sprouted wings and been taken completely out of my hands. I look at all the people around – there must be thirty, maybe thirty-five – and realize they don’t even know why they’ve been chasing this guy down, they just heard yelling and came running. I want to cry.

I walk up to Phone-Snatcher where he’s struggling, still trying to push his way clear to run and say, in a slightly more subdued roar, “You took my phone. You can’t just do that. Where’s my phone?”

He looks at me and, with a face of helpless, angered, wounded innocence!, says, “I don’t have it. It dropped into the street. It’s on the road.”

I’m convinced my phone is crushed. My history with the Wildman, our love texts, our photos – gone.

I pull away and tears streak down my face. I can’t help it, I’m crying like a baby as I bawl incomprehensibly about my phone. The woman next to me puts her arm around me to console me and tells me again the police are coming. A French-speaking man says he’s going to punch the guy and literally pulls up his sleeve as if getting ready to. Business-suit man is keeping an eye on the culprit and then someone else steps in… a tall black man with a distinguished look about him steps between me and the phone-snatcher and says, “You can’t touch him. He has rights, you can’t hit him.” I bawl at him that I don’t want to hit the guy, I just want my damn phone back.

I turn away. I don’t care what happens anymore. My adrenaline is still pumping hard and I can’t think straight. The next few minutes are a blur as we end up in front of the mall, the Phone-Snatcher has slipped inside and his protector is preventing me from going in after him. His barring me from the door is superfluous as I’m too tired now, and I can only think about my phone on the street. I don’t want to chase him anymore.

Then, after a short conversation with Business-Suit man, who shows me his knuckles swelling and a pinkie that he thinks might be fractured – God only knows how – I’m summoned to the revolving door by a petite woman who tells me the police caught the guy and have him, and my phone, downstairs.

Flabbergasted, I can’t believe it. I’m blown away. Completely shocked that they actually caught him, AND HAVE MY PHONE, I go with her downstairs, taking one last look at the crowd gathered at Ste. Catherine and Metcalfe. They’re talking away excitedly, and I hope they know that Phone-Snatcher is caught thanks to them.

Downstairs in the foodcourt of the McGill metro, six policemen surround a guy on the floor, bound with handcuffs. I start to cry again, feeling pity for him. He looks so small down there. One of the men hands me my phone and I’m shocked with the same sense of unreality as when it was first taken from me. It’s not crushed on the street like I thought it was. I can’t believe it’s back.

I start to feel guilty and burble that I don’t want to press charges. The lady who came down with me said to the police officer, “Well I want to press charges. They pushed me into the street, they were getting violent!”

The police then kindly explains to me that since they already had him in custody and had lifted the phone off him, I didnt have to charge him. He would already be charged. They just needed to get a statement from me.

That’s when I called the Wildman and sobbed over the phone, trying to explain why I hadn’t texted him back. The next hour was a draining non-event, writing out a statement of the events, getting the police to recover my bike – they found my water bottle and other glove too! – and thanking the people who still hung around. I was still in shock for a good few hours, and when finally released to go home, found myself clutching my phone and eyeing carefully every group of black teens that passed me.

Slowly I realized that I hadn’t been the only one affected by my phone incident. When Business-Suit man had picked up the chase with me, and as more joined in and we united in the end in a circle around Phone-Snatcher, I realized I wasn’t the only one assaulted that night. Others who took up the chase for me had to pay the cost too.

As the increasingly desperate group around Phone-Snatcher had pushed and shoved at the crowd closing in on them, they had only succeeded in angering everyone around them to the point that no one minded getting involved, even if it meant getting knuckle-bruised or shoved into the street.

A comforting realization settled around me with the knowledge that while something had been taken from me by one Montrealer, many more Montrealers had been willing to stick their necks out, risking dignity and danger for a total stranger.

Walking away that night, I saw Montreal in a new light.

This is a city of people who are willing to come together when called upon. This is a city of people who will rise up when it counts, who will step in and help a stranger, even if they don’t fully understand why. This is a city of people who rallies to a cry of need. They heard my call, and they gave chase.

Montreal, you showed me your true colours tonight, and for that, I thank you.

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3 responses

22 11 2009
Linda

Well spoken.. Call me emotional. One can travel far and wide with no one responding. Montreal,… you who specifically responded, may you have the same response back when you need it!

27 11 2009
Lara

Holy Smokes girl!! What an incredible story! I hope you are okay. You are an amazing storyteller, you had me on the edge of my seat the whole time. The kids kept asking me things and I was like “no not now!”
Love and miss you!

Corn Flake

27 11 2009
JP

It doesn’t surprise me a bit that you would take after him like that. Very cool. And its nice we can still trust some people.

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