Please note: This post isn’t intended to fear monger or exaggerate what happened on the evening. This is intended as one, true story on an issue which often gets referred to in passing but often not in depth. These events are true and happened on a boring, summer’s Sunday night. I know that the tile is a bit click-baity but I’ve tried not to dramatise the events and just tell them as they happened.
Our night started off fairly ordinary. The five of us met in the hostel that night. Two Americans, two Moroccans and me, the token Australian. Four girls, one guy. We bonded over aperitivo and decided it was the time of night when it was time to get gelato, as you do!
There’s something different about a city at night. We walked along the man-made canal in Milan which was buzzing with life, the crowd predominantly locals but also some tourists.
That’s when we noticed them. Two men, aged probably late 30s or early 40s. We were standing in a circle, bags in front of us and looped over our bodies, when one of them sauntered quickly towards us and then veered away. How odd.
Typical pickpocket behaviour, we agreed.
We were all on guard already, being in a public, busy place in the evening, and from that moment on resolved to be even more alert.
One of the men was easy to spot in the crowd as he was wearing a STUPID-looking denim waistcoat with some patches on it, fraying at the edges. Who seriously thinks that wearing a denim waistcoat in public is a good fashion choice in the twenty-first century?
We continued along the canal, and noticed these men in front of us, doing the swoop and retreat thing to other groups and generally eyeing up passerby’s. Being shifty.
We stopped for drinks at a riverside cafe and assumed we had seen the last of them.
On our way home, I turned in the street to see what the view was in the other direction and noticed them about 30 metres behind us.
“They’re behind us,” I murmured to the others and we all surreptitiously turned to look, one by one. At one point, we thought we had lost them again, but suddenly they were closer to us, trying to appear innocent.
We stopped at traffic lights at a four-way intersection and our solo guy whispered to us to hang back and let the shifty men cross first. We did.
As we crossed the street a few metres behind them, the men said something to a group of three youths (maybe early to mid-20s) hanging out on the other side.
The second we crossed the street, the youths fanned out ahead of us, creating a line, whilst the two men doubled back behind us. We were shielded from view of pedestrians on the other side of the street by a brick archway. They were attempting to encircle us.
One of the youths put his arm around the shoulders of the guy in our group. To his credit, he didn’t react and kept his hands in his pockets where his wallet and phone where and kept walking straight ahead, eventually shrugging him off.
The other two youths tried to sidestep in front of the four of us girls, but we walked steadfastly in a straight line. Once we had all passed through the group, we made a split second decision to cross the street to another side of the intersection which appeared busier.
They stopped following us.
We kept our eyes and ears peeled and hands on our bags until we were safely back in the hostel. It was an unexpected turn to an otherwise fun and relatively uneventful night, but I’m glad that things didn’t go south. They had the potential to and we were lucky they didn’t.
Pickpockets and muggers can be anyone. They can be dressed poorly or well. They can be local or they can be immigrants. Friendly or distant. Young or old. Working in groups or alone.
In big cities, obviously venture out and enjoy them, but stay safe and be alert – particularly at night. Trust your instincts and don’t get hurt.