Disputed matters

[Sent to the Phnom Penh Post and Cambodia Daily on April 25, 2011. Not published by either.]

When I ran into my friend Ted at a coffee shop yesterday, he was looking anything but relaxed. I was surprised, because I knew he had been away on holiday for the previous week. Yet when I said “Hi” without him having seen me yet, he actually jumped in his seat.

“Wow”, I said. “What’s happened to you?”

“I came back through Bangkok”, he said.

“What’s wrong with Bangkok?”

“Nothing, usually”, he answered. “But there I was strolling through the airport, pulling my bag behind me, when suddenly I felt a hand in my pocket!”

“Lots of friendly people in Thailand”, I said.

“Don’t try to be funny. This guy walking next to me had reached out and stuck his hand into my pocket.”

“What did you do?”

“I grabbed his wrist with my hand and pulled it out. He was actually holding my wallet. And when I let go of my bag and tried to grab my wallet with my other hand, he used his other hand to hold on to it. And then he actually said: ‘Let go of my wallet!’”.

“Did you call for help?”, I asked.

“Yes, but probably not loud enough — you know how noisy airports are. Plus I was trying to argue with this guy. And on top of that, he was wearing some kind of uniform, so passers-by probably didn’t think there was any need to intervene.”

“So you’re in the middle of the airport having a tug-of-war over your wallet?”

“Yes. I’m saying, ‘It’s my wallet’, and he’s saying the same thing. Fortunately, the wallet sort of flopped open, and my driver’s licence was visible in the middle, with my name and picture. When he saw that, he looked a little sheepish and let go of the wallet.”

“So that would have settled it”, I said. “And maybe it was even an honest mistake — he might have just been walking too close to you, and reached for his own pocket but got yours instead.”

“No way”, said Ted. “As soon as I put the wallet back in my pocket, he tried to stick his hand into my pocket again.”

“You’re joking!”

“I wish I was”, Ted continued. “‘Let go, that’s mine’, I shouted at him. He just looked at me calmly and said, ‘Dear Sir, there is no need to raise your voice. Surely we can settle this dispute amicably between ourselves. I do acknowledge your ownership of the wallet, which clearly contains a driver’s licence and other identification linking it to you.

“‘Then get your hand out of my pocket’, I said. ‘But Sir’, he replied. ‘There is no uncontested documentary evidence that this pocket is your property. And in fact, I happen to have a diagram which clearly shows that it belongs to me.’ And with that, he whipped out a bit of paper that had a drawing of a pair of trousers and some writing in Thai that I couldn’t read.

“I told him this was no good: I couldn’t read what his drawing said, and I had no idea where it had come from. I tried to ask some passing Thai passengers to help me with a translation, but the pickpocket would push in between me and whoever I was asking for help. ‘We can settle this ourselves’, he’d say. ‘We don’t need third parties.’”

“So what did you do?”, I asked.

“I started shouting for the police. And eventually a policeman came towards us, but he slowed down and looked doubtful when he saw that this guy with his hand in my pocket was wearing a uniform. He looked at me and …” At that point, Ted’s telephone rang and he broke off his story. After listening for a minute, he said, “Sorry, I have to run. I’ll fill you in on the rest later.”

With that, he was gone. I can only guess how this dispute ended.

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