Increasing car break-ins

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She was shocked to look at her little car with its window smashed in. Some ten minutes earlier, before she got out of the car, she had suspected that the street thieves would discover her laptop inside the car and break in the window to have it. But she had simply made the backrest of the seat tilt backward in such a way that it would cover the bag where the laptop was tucked in.
Then, she walked over to the office of the Customs Authority… While waiting for her turn to talk to a lady behind the counter, she could not have stable mind. …no vehicle’s alarm on her little car… She remembered what her friend once told her about a lost laptop from her car near this same place. … With all these thoughts in her mind she hurried back to her car. …But what she discovered after a couple of minutes was very irritating. She could not believe her eyes. Her laptop has been stolen. She was dumbfounded. The thieves broke in the window glass from the backseat side and opened the rear door before picking the laptop. They did what she had feared …
The big government office of the Customs Authority around Megenagna in Addis Ababa is said to be the notorious corner where laptops are scavenged from vehicles congested nearby. The area is so crowded that it can be taken for an open market site. It is too difficult for someone to get a parking lot easily. The young lady could hardly find a single space wide enough for her little car. Young boys with their muscles bulging out on their limbs beckoned her to drive over to a place a bit far from the Customs Office. Chilly winds of suspicion blew across her mind. ‘It seems very far… too far to take a glimpse at…’ But part of herself whispered in to her ears that the space she was pointed to might probably be safe.
She pulled up between two big pick-up vehicles and waited inside the car till the young boys who were staring at her through the window leave. She fondled through her bag as if she were looking for something inside. Then, when they left, she arranged everything. She cancelled the laptop bag using the tilted backrest of her seat.
She did not wait for a long time at Customs Office. But when she happened to be back, she discovered that the laptop had been taken away! A new apple laptop along with various documents including two hard drives each with the loading capacity of one terabyte. Her research papers… Oh, the manuscripts of her master theses! No copies of them were left with her! She is lost!
She placed her thin hands across her temples in despair. ‘How could this happen! … Does it mean I was very careless to leave my property like that? Oh, my God!’ she blamed herself with a feeling of remorse…
People have now started gathering around the young lady. Some were looking inside the car, through the broken window, and then stared at her curiously. Two little boys were heard saying in low voices, “they put their coat on the glass to muffle the crashing sound… then bang-it-splash with their arms”.
Her attention was captured by what the boys were saying, and she looked at them with enquiring eyes. “You boys… did you see them doing this, please…?” she enquired.
The boys stared at her and said, “no! … no! … we were not around here…” They darted away.
She thought that had these boys been around, they would not have come near the car. She took a close look at her shuddering cell phone and talked to someone tearfully. It seemed she was talking to her brother or a boyfriend. “I lost my laptop. …Yeah, I lost everything! … They killed me! It happened in an instant… like a lightening! I am lost! …I don’t know what I should do! … Yes, please come as soon as possible… Yeah, you two come together…” She hurled her cell phone on the seat of her car.
“Did they steal you something?” a gentleman asked her with sympathetic tone.
“My laptop… They took it! God! … I can’t believe this!” She said pointing at the smashed-in window.
“Oh, my God! … I am very sorry! …What damn things they are!” The man held his head. He looked kindhearted.
“Now… don’t waste time here. Report it to the police. Car break-in is a common incident in this area. Better for you to go to police station,” somebody from the crowd suggested.
“Is there any police station around?” the young lady asked.
“Yes, down there! I can show you,” a little boy retorted. Then another one followed saying, “can I please watch the car?”
The little lady did not say anything. She thought that she would not leave the car again for the vultures. She would go to the police station with her brother and a friend…
She looked at her wrist watch and said throwing her glance to the street, “yes, we can go now… My friend and my brother are coming…”
…In the police station along with her boyfriend she briefed about the incident to the police officer. “It is a white apple laptop… leave alone the laptop… the charger is very expensive… It costs around birr 4,000! Mind you, only the charger! Can you believe that? Besides, it is not available these days here… Two separate hard drives each with big…big loading capacity…”
The police officer silently jotted down what he was told on a big ledger. Then he leaned on his swivel chair and said, “yeah! … This theft is becoming a usual trend around here… Particularly, the thieves are known to hunt only laptop computers and tablets. You see, you should not have kept your laptop in the car…”
She stepped in, “what could have I done? … I can not carry heavy things on my back. I have a bad back…”
“Yeah… when they see a bag inside a vehicle… even if it is empty, they do their level best to take it out… They smash the window in and grab the laptop. They scavenge these things daily from vehicles. To your surprise…” he leafed through a note book laid on the table, “yeah, … over the last month 120 laptop computers were reported to be stolen from vehicles. You are the 121st to come here for the same theft reporting! I am very sorry…,” he said glancing at her with stern look in his face.
She lost in thought… ‘What is the guy talking about? What the hell am I supposed to do? What does “you are the 121st to report” mean? … He seemed to be a man of tall talk. This means I cannot get my laptop back. What the hell is he doing here? Is he not one of the responsible persons who should protect us from such thefts? But now he is philosophizing about the incidents being occurred near his nose. He is telling me that the police are getting tired of the thieves who are roaming around his office. So, what? …’
Her boyfriend nudged her off her thought and pulled her by the arm out of the office. She was in deep sadness. “We don’t need to waste our time here… We will do something different to find your laptop. But …before that I want you to do something,” he tried to reassure her.
She looked at him with requesting eyes.
“Yeah, if you keep secret what we are doing, we can probably get back the laptop… Promise, you won’t tell anyone a single word about this.” Her looked serious.
She nodded her head in agreement.
“I should get back the laptop by hook or by crook. But we are expected to pay a big amount of money.”
“I am ready to pay whatever is asked for that laptop! I need it back!” She jumped and put her hands round his neck looking in to his eyes. “Please, get my laptop back. Don’t worry about the money.”
“I will try. There are places where the thieves are said to handover stolen laptops. I heard while my acquaintances were talking about this. I will have to approach them for the solution. We will see if this works.”
Yes… finally the young lady was lucky to retrieve her laptop with everything untouched. She had to pay around birr 12,000 before she received it back.
A young man who told me this real incident tried not to dwell on things regarding the place where the stolen properties are traced. The people who collect stolen laptops from the scavengers are approached cautiously by close friends. They don’t welcome anyone unknown. If you need to re-claim your lost or stolen laptop, you will have to approach a trusted and reliable friend of these shadowy people… Hey Mr. police man… can you hear that?

The writer can be reached at gizaw.haile@yahoo.com

BY Haile-Gebriel Endeshaw