Story time: Once tapped, twice shy

It was about 17 years ago but my memories are still very vivid. My oldest daughter was about 18 months old. We were getting ready to go on vacation - so I went to the city center to shop for her. I do not like shopping and I had never gone into the city with her to shop before. I always thought - a buggy with a child is too cumbersome in the city but I decided to go anyway.

I took the tram into the center. As I entered, people got out of the way and some even offered to assist me. I am always delighted when people offer to assist me. It was not necessary as most trams are made to accommodate buggies. I do appreciated the thought and kindness. I love spontaneous displays of kindness because it reminds me of the innate goodness of most people.

With my daughter turned towards me in the buggy, I left the tram after 10 minutes and started walking. I could speak to her and keep an eye on her while I went from shop to shop. Then I went into a store on the Kalverstraat - one of the busiest shopping streets in the city. The store was crowded but I knew there would be items I like there - so I decided to stay. It was not easy to navigate the aisles with the buggy and so many people. Thankfully, the children’s section was not too crowded. I quickly selected some cute items and headed to the cashier’s counter. I was immediately reminded why I dislike shopping. The line was very long and I was debating leaving and returning another time earlier in the day. However, I stayed as another day could be exactly the same.

Whilst moving slowly towards the cashier’s counter, I talked to my daughter and gave her a drink. It helped to pass the time. After a while, it was my turn. I placed the clothes on the counter and the cashier began to scan them. When she was almost finished, I opened my handbag, took my wallet in my hand then I felt a tap on my shoulder. This was bad timing. I replaced my wallet and closed the zipper of my bag, then I turned around to see a smiling old lady.

She inquired, “Is that your baby, Miss?”
I responded “Yes, she is.”
The old lady said, “ She is a living doll.”
I smiled and said hastily, “Thank you.”
I was very aware that soon it would be time to pay.

However, at the same time, another woman was speaking to my daughter and making baby sounds. She began touching my daughter’s face and hands. Instinctively, I began to turn the buggy 180 degrees, thus preventing the woman from further touching my child.
I politely but firmly said, “Excuse me!”

The woman walked away without saying a word.
I looked at the cashier realizing that it might be time to pay and it was. I turned my attention to my handbag, which to my shock - was fully unzipped - my wallet was gone! I looked around me. The old woman behind me was gone too.

I said to the cashier. “My wallet was just stolen!”

I had a sinking feeling. I was robbed by two women doting over my child, pretending to be nice.
I could not pay.
I wanted to cry.
I felt violated.

The young girl at the counter told me where to find the nearest police station. The person behind me said that she did not like that the lady was all over my child. I was certainly ambushed. Other people on the line became aware of what just transpired. They expressed their sympathy but of course no one could help me or really make me feel better.

As I walked away from the store towards the police station, I felt nervous, self conscious and very sad. I looked around for the ladies but of course I did not see them. I wondered whether they were watching me. I saw happy city visitors and tourists and wondered who, amongst them, would be the next victim.

I arrived at the police station and made the report. Thereafter, I cancelled my credit card and bank pass. I only had 10 euros in cash. They did not get much. The police asked me for their descriptions. They were familiar with this duo. Luckily, I still had my tram card so I could return home. I was miserable and wished I'd returned home when I saw that the store was full. I wished I hadn’t decided to go shopping for the first time with my daughter. I wish I could turn back the hands of time and do things differently - but I could not. I had to learn how to get over this horrible feeling and move on.

Ever since that day, I do not like getting tapped on my shoulder, but it happened again. Coincidentally, it occurred on a street not far away from the store where I was robbed. This area of the city is very touristy, so unfortunately it's the perfect place to catch unsuspecting preys.

Amsterdam Central station - February 2019

It was a dreary, rainy day when I met an out-of-town friend at the imposing Central Station in the city. Before we started walking down the busy and crowded main road - I told her that the street was notorious for pickpocketing and that there are many warning signs there. The street is called Damrak and it’s always packed with tourists and many travelers heading to the train station. As a result, we placed our shoulder bags firmly under our armpits and began our leisurely stroll to our lunch destination. A few minutes into our walk, I felt a heavy-handed tap on my right shoulder. Without hesitation, I looked over my left shoulder. There was a very tall man with whom my eyes connected and he gave me a sheepish smile.
I said to him, “I know this game”.

He passed me quickly and was joined by another man from the right of my friend. We watched them as they disappeared into the crowd. We spoke excitedly about my warning about pickpockets and what had just occurred. They obviously had a plan to get my bag. They were not successful. I had a strange but victorious feeling.

My friend and I spoke about the shoulder tapping game that children like to play. I was grateful that I knew it. She still told me that she was amazed by my intuition. She said that despite knowing the game, she would have looked to the left. I told her that I am not always this guarded. Then I relayed the story of shopping with my daughter. I guess "once bitten - twice shy" - so no one should tap me on the shoulder.

One can be robbed, any time and anywhere – but especially in crowded areas which are famous for pickpockets. One learns to be vigilant and more careful as a result.

The photo was taken by me with my iPhone SE2020.

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