“That gypsy over there! She took your phone while you were getting off the tram!” said a woman next to me as I reached into my pocket and looked up with an expression of panic.
I’d been in Sarajevo for less than twenty minutes. It was pouring outside, I was covered in luggage, and suddenly I had no idea where I was supposed to go. My hostel’s address was written on my smartphone, now in the pocket of a Bosnian gypsy.
I dashed back across the street to the tram stop, not even bothering to keep my umbrella overhead. There was a small crowd of people huddled under the glass roofing, trying to keep dry from the rain. Standing before them, I shouted out to nobody in particular: “Did anyone see who took my phone?”
Several bystanders pointed to a woman and two boys walking away in the distance. I recognized them immediately. One of the boys had been sitting next to me on the tram, and another was sitting next to my Canadian travel companion who I’d met just a few hours earlier in Mostar. The woman stood a few feet behind; I noticed her because she’d been rudely smoking a cigarette in the sealed passenger compartment. That is, until she threw it on the floor and walked away, not caring whether or not the still smoldering embers would melt into the plastic flooring.
I can only imagine how insane I must’ve looked when they spun around to see 30kg of luggage barreling down on them at a full sprint, screaming “HEY YOU! STOP WALKING RIGHT NOW!”
I was soaked to the bone. My shirt had gotten so wet that I’d already stripped down to my thin white tanktop, and as my Canadian friend later pointed out, my arms looked freakishly veiny – because of the double straps of my two backpacks cutting off the circulation. In my eyes flamed an expression of pure rage.
As soon as they saw me they froze in their tracks. I charged directly at the woman and stopped about 2 inches in front of her face. Our eyes locked, and I very calmly said to her, “You’d better give back my fucking cellphone…or we’re gonna have a problem.”
Neither her nor her boys seemed to understand a word of English, yet they clearly knew why I was there. The kids looked terrified, but their lovely role model of a mother kept her cool. She played dumb. I mimed a telephone to her, and she responded by showing me her own – as if to say “Here’s my phone! This is the only one I have.”
“No, my phone. You know exactly why I’m here, and I want it back, now.” Again I mimed, pointing at me, my pocket, a pickpocket motion, then at her and her purse.
She opened her purse to show me its contents. I immediately grabbed it and started sifting through. Inside were at least five different passports. “What the fuck is this?” I said.
“No phone. Documents. Documents.”
She’d clearly had a busy day ripping off travelers…But still, no smartphone.
I continued to search in her pockets and the pockets of her two boys – none of them offered even a hint of resistance. Yet I turned up nothing. Eventually she threw up her arms in exasperation before turning and starting to walk away. It was her way of saying “I’m done with you – you’re not getting anything back.”
I followed. I was desperate. “Help me, I don’t know what to do – I cannot lose that phone, and I know they have it” I said to the Canadian who’d now come across the street to join us. I decided that all I could do was follow them, for as long as it took. Hopefully we’d happen by a police officer who I could summon to do a more thorough search of his own.
“…Look at that boy’s back pocket…” said the Canadian.
A small square object roughly the size of a pack of cigarettes. Or a $500 smartphone. Somehow I’d missed it; perhaps while I was searching they’d managed to shuffle it back and forth between them. I thrust my hand into his pocket, and sure enough, there it was.
None of them looked even remotely surprised.
I was absolutely fuming.
“WHAT PHONE? WHAT PHONE, YOU LITTLE PIECE OF SHIT?? YOU KNEW EXACTLY WHAT I WAS AFTER!” I yelled, my nose one centimeter from his. I was so close to smashing his teeth in I can’t even tell you, but I ended it by placing my middle finger right between his eyes, spinning him around by the shoulders, shoving him away from me, turning, and walking back towards the tram stop.
It was the first time I’d ever been pickpocketed, and I truly don’t know how they did it. I had a huge backpack on my back, normal backpack on my front, and there was virtually no access to my pockets. I didn’t feel a thing. Not even the slightest brush.
You’ve got to hand it to them, that gypsy trash sure is good at what they do.
As I took a deep breath and walked away, I realized that a whole crowd of people had been waiting to see what would happen. The woman who first pointed out the gypsies was standing in the exact same spot as when I turned and sprinted away from her. “You are so lucky” she told me. “Nobody gets anything back from the gypsys. Nobody.”
I really was lucky. I’d hate to think what could’ve happened had I caught up with them down some dark alley, where I didn’t have the safety offered by twenty pairs of curious eyes.
With the address in-hand, the Canadian and I made our way to the hostel just three blocks away.
It wasn’t until the following morning that I opened my guidebook and realized that the whole encounter had taken place less than ten feet from the very spot on which Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated in 1914, ultimately leading to the start of World War 1.
Would you’ve gone to war for me if those Gypsies had taken it a step farther? 😉