The Thief

“Where’s my jacket?”

That was my first question after coming out of the bathroom at the Burger King just down the street from our office. We had gone there for lunch after church on a Sunday afternoon. Within seconds I realized that we had been robbed. While I was in the bathroom with Matthew, Tricia had taken our trays up to the garbage can to throw away our trash and get ready to leave. She didn’t notice when she went back to the table that my jacket, which had been on the other side of the table from her, had vanished along with the single man who had been sitting by himself at the table next to us.

A family at another nearby table happened to speak English and heard the commotion as we conducted a harried search of the area around our table and in the bathroom to verify that my jacket was indeed gone. They immediately went to some restaurant employees to tell them we had been robbed. The restaurant called the police, informed us that unfortunately the restaurant’s security cameras were not recording anything, and that there was little else they could do.

The rest of the day was spent with me going to the police station to file a report, Tricia canceling our credit cards, and figuring out how to proceed. One thing I had liked about that jacket was the number of zippered pockets which could hold a lot of small items. That advantage quickly turned into a drawback as I gradually realized everything that had been stolen: my wallet, credit cards, passport, cell phone, apartment keys, office keys, spare key for the OMS van, sunglasses, blue tooth headset, and bus pass (with an almost brand new monthly pass worth almost $50). We also had to get the locks on our apartment changed. Not only did the thief make off with our keys, but my passport contained an address card with our current address (Hungarian law requires foreigners living there with a residence permit to carry this card at all times). We were afraid that we could end up getting robbed again.

We were thankful that I hadn’t been driving our car that day because of car trouble. We had the OMS van, which was parked by the office a couple of blocks away. There was no way for the thief to identify the van. However, if he had stolen my car keys, he would have also had my garage door opener which was attached to the key ring, as well as our address. We didn’t have to worry about that one.

Two weeks later, I had replaced the passport and already received my new debit card in the mail. But replacing my New York driver’s license was turning into a huge headache. I had heard about other people who lost their wallet or had it stolen here and who later got it back along with some of their important documents. I prayed that I would get my driver’s license back even as I began the process of replacing it.

Then we got a call from a friend of ours who was our neighbor at our old apartment here. She said that someone had contacted our former landlady that they had found my wallet and keys. She gave us the phone number of the guy, and I called him to set up a meeting to get my things back. I was also a little suspicious, so I consulted some people and took our Hungarian pastor with me. It turns out that this guy was a street sweeper, and said he found my wallet on the street with the keys inside of it. Apparently the thief had put everything he didn’t want back in the wallet along with all of the keys and thrown it on the street the next district over from the Burger King. The street sweeper had seen my old address written inside my old bus pass (the passport with the address card were gone), so he put a letter in the mailbox at our old apartment. I was very happy to find that my driver’s license was in the wallet. It was also a relief to get back the van key, office keys, and our apartment keys. While we changed the lock on our door, the returned set also had keys to the front gate and the front door of the building. So we once again have two full sets of keys, which is a good thing for us.

We learned a lot from this experience, not the least of which is just how careful you have to be in a public place in Budapest. We had always known this from our first trip here, and thought we were pretty careful. It turns out we weren’t careful enough. But we’re thankful that we didn’t end up losing more than we did, and that we were able to recover several of the more important items that were lost.