“Petty Thief” – Avery Litwin ’25

It was the perfect day to be a tourist.  A light breeze danced through the air, carrying excited laughter along the steps leading up to the Basilique de Sacré Coeur.  Julien stared for a moment to scan the enormous church stretched majestically into the blue sky uninterrupted by clouds.  Its ivory white exterior sparkled so brightly in the sunlight he had to avert his eyes and concentrate on a group of sunscreen-slathered tourists in front of him, yelling loudly and snapping photos of the beautiful monument perched on the hill in front of them.  Americans.  The perfect target.  Julien checked his watch and smiled.  10:00.  It was time to move in.  

He pulled out his iPhone and began snapping pictures of the enormous building.  Continuing to stare up through his camera lens, he strolled forward.  The breeze swooped in and a white butterfly darted in front of him, flying up into the heavens.  Suddenly, he stumbled forward, bumping into what appeared to be a 40-something year old woman, whom Julien guessed to be the mother of the two American children screaming at each other in front of him.  She lurched forward, as Julien slipped his hand into the right pocket of her sweatpants.

“Pardon, je suis désolé!” Julien exclaimed in what he intended to be a charming French accent, shaking his head apologetically and holding up his camera in his left hand as if to indicate he had gotten lost in capturing the beauty of the church’s architecture.  He stepped away from the woman who turned around, smiling sweetly in forgiveness.  Julien bowed away, hiding her wallet in his hand as she turned back around, yelling and struggling to contain her children.  What a fool.

He checked his watch again triumphantly, and began leafing through the woman’s wallet, thick with cards and receipts.  It was only 10:05 and he had already acquired 150 Euros and a credit card.  He chuckled and watched the sun glint off of his golden watch, sparkling like a jewel.  The watch was his most prized possession, the first thing he had ever stolen, although rather clumsily, as a teenager.  The clock’s long arm clicked and hit 10:06, awakening Julien from his reverie.  He scanned his surroundings, patting the pattern of seconds ticking by on his thigh.  Time to advance again.

A pair of women in buns and summer dresses were sitting at a table sipping coffee next to the basilica.  Parisians, Julien guessed, enjoying a late summer breakfast.  As the woman in blond hair leaned over to her friend, Julien noticed a black satchel resting next to her foot.  Target acquired.  He checked his watch again: 10:08.  He began jogging up to the monument, taking the stone stairs in quick but methodical and measured steps.  Tick, tick, tick.  Reaching the top of the hill, he cantered gracefully, a runner, past hoards of tourists, grabbing a loose phone in an oblivious gray-haired British man’s pocket in his stride.  Finally, trying not to pant, he reached the elegant pair sipping coffee.  In between long strides, he ducked down inconspicuously and slipped a wallet out of the purse near the table.  The women didn’t even look up from their excited gossip as Julien disappeared into the crowd.

The sun was high in the sky, glinting off Julien’s watch as he checked the time again.  It was only 12:03, and already, he had stolen two more wallets and another iPhone.  A successful morning preying on the parade of idiots marching in front of him, by any means.  He was in high spirits, practically floating as he ventured down into the narrow streets of Montmartre, chomping on a turkey baguette sandwich.  He scanned the parade of people passing by him.  The air was alive in a cacophonous symphony of laughter, yelling merchants, and feet clacking on the old cobblestone streets.  He was almost overwhelmed by the sunniness of the afternoon, brimming with potential.

Suddenly, a red ponytail caught his eye.  A young woman was standing a few feet away from him, clutching a green purse and appearing slightly lost, facing a crêperie, while nervously watching the constant stream of people flow in front of her.  Julien finished his sandwich and checked his left wrist.  Tick.  12:08.  He was ready to pounce.

He took a harried demeanor, and charged into the woman, aggressively bumping her into a man with dark sunglasses holding a cane Julien hadn’t noticed before.  He looked up as the contents of the woman’s purse flew into the air and the man tumbled and staggered clumsily backwards.  Julien, realizing he was about to fall onto the hard pavement, lunged for the man’s hand to steady him. 

 “Oh mon Dieu, je suis trop désolé!” he apologized gravely, stepping back from the chaos.  He leaned over to help the woman pick up the contents spilling from her purse: pushing a chapstick, an inhaler, and a pack of chocolate granola bars back towards her, catching a glimpse of his watch.  12:09.  She didn’t notice him sneaking her gold bracelet or car keys under his foot as she stood back up, blushing slightly, and took off into the crowd.  Tick.  12:10.  Julien spun around as he snuck his finds from under his foot into his pocket.  

He looked up and felt a ball of fire rise into his chest and expand into a flaming panic.  The man with the cane, a few steps away, was staring directly at him.  His breath stopped as his heart beat rapidly.  The man continued staring, his gaze piercing Julien’s heart.  Suddenly, a butterfly darted in between the two men, immobile like statues but ready to lunge into battle.  Julien turned to watch it glide into the air, and dive back down to the sidewalk, its wings flapping into the shadows.  With a start, he realized the man had not even altered his gaze in the slightest to watch the butterfly.

Julien laughed out loud, scampering back into the rhythmic procession of the Montmartre locals and tourists.  How stupid he was!  The poor man was blind.  He had not seen a single thing.  Julien sighed deeply, inhaling the exciting scent of patisserie, sunscreen, and sweat.  He gazed into the distance.  The holy Montmartre church stared back down at him as white clouds passed over the horizon.  He smiled, flipping his left hand to check the time.  Next to him, the man with a cane turned, stared at the monument, and snapped a picture.

No glint met Julien’s eyes.  He felt his chest drop into his stomach, as he pawed aimlessly around his bare wrist.  His watch was gone, stolen by some petty thief.