Shortly after Amita got off the metro she realized her watch was gone. She knew she couldn’t possibly have left it at home because she had checked it just before boarding the subway and it couldn’t have simply fallen off because she recently replaced the band. That meant it had to have been stolen.
That ticked Amita right off. It wasn’t a particularly expensive watch—simply an old analog Mickey Mouse wrist watch where his arms acted as the watch hands—but it had great sentimental value. She had gotten it on the family trip to Disney World when she was a kid and it was the only souvenir she had left from the jaunt thanks to her mother giving away her Minnie Mouse doll. Sure, parts had been replaced over the years, like the battery and it now sported a sparkly purple band made out of a fluffy fuzzy material, but it was still her watch and Amita thought the changes were a fitting metaphor for how she had grown over the years. That watch had seen her through puberty, her first kiss, her first heartbreak, her first job, and all of adulthood up until this very moment.
Obviously, her life would go on even without the watch. It wasn’t like someone had snatched a kidney or something, but her wrist felt extremely naked without the constant companion. The lack left her feeling more than a little off kilter and completely ruined her night. She could barely concentrate on the movie she had gone out to see with friends despite the fact she had been looking forward to it for weeks. Nor was she in the right mindset to joke with them at dinner afterward about the potential dates around them or enjoy their stories from recent adventures. Honestly, getting her watch ripped off ruined her night.
On the ride home she started trying to think about what kind of replacement watch she could get. Probably something more adult and serious, especially if it would get her mother off her back about looking more professional at work. Though that shouldn’t matter in particular, since she was stuck doing back of house stuff away from the customers. All she could really think about was scouring eBay for an exact replacement and by the time she reached her stop for home that was exactly what Amita decided to do. Maybe she could even find her stolen property there.
When she got home her mother complimented her on her new watch.
The statement didn’t compute. Amita just stared at her blinking dumbly as her mother gestured toward her wrist. Slowly she looked down and couldn’t believe her eyes, as there was a watch just as her mom suggested. It was a delicate little affair, clearly a woman’s watch through and through. It she had to guess she’d say it was stainless steel in a gold tone and not a watch with any actual precious metal composition, but it was still pretty. In fact she’d call the slim sleek design almost elegant which when combined with the no nonsense analogue face made it a clear lady’s watch. It was not her style in the slightest.
“It looks nice, Amita,” her mother repeated. She patted her arm just above the watch. “This was a sensible choice, nice, but not flashy. Professional. I want you wearing this to work from now on instead of that rat watch.”
“Mickey’s a mouse,” Amita automatically retorted. It was an old argument dating back to when she first started working for her parents’ shop in an official capacity where clients might see. “And you don’t have to worry about Mickey anymore.”
Her mother went upstairs before Amita could blurt out that her Mickey watch had been stolen or that she had never seen this watch before in her life. It must have been stolen, since she certainly hadn’t bought it. However, that didn’t make sense either; who had ever heard of a real thief giving their loot away?
It would be just her luck if she had met a modern day Robin Hood. That sort of luck would land her in jail. With a snort Amita tossed the watch in her sock drawer, intent to never wear it again. Tomorrow she’d buy a real replacement watch that wouldn’t get her sent up the river on stolen property charges if the wrong person saw her wearing it—not that she knew for certain that it was stolen, but it was a strong possibility and jumpsuits were so not her style. As she got ready for bed she decided to write the day off as a wash and that in time she’d forget that this had ever happened.
Something strange started happening after that. It seemed that whenever she went out Amita would come home wearing a new watch. She didn’t know where any of them came from; save for the cheap Timex piece she bought the day after Mickey was stolen. That legitimate watch was never stolen, but it often had a companion or two on her wrist whenever she arrived at her destination. Once when she went to the corner store and returned home literally less than fifteen minutes later she was wearing a new watch. That shook her up. Whoever this creep was knew where she lived. At least they never violated the sanctity of her family’s apartment or work, though they regularly collared her just outside them. The same couldn’t be said of her sock drawer, which was now overflowing with timepieces.
Her parents thought she had a watch problem. While technically true, there were simply too many of them for her to know what to do with, she wasn’t pouring her life savings into this eccentric collection. However, since she couldn’t exactly explain the situation to them—someone she didn’t know kept putting watches on her wrist without her noticing for unexplainable reasons—she couldn’t alleviate their fears about her spending habits. Heck, the situation was unbelievably fishy to Amita and she was the one experiencing it. The situation was untenable long term.
Things came to a head two months later. When Amita came home (wearing a sapphire encrusted antique that looked like lit had come out of the Queen’s private collection and was immediately thrust into her coat pocket along with the rest of her hand when she realized what she was wearing at the grocery store) to find her family waiting for her. It wasn’t simply her parents either, as her sister, Meera, and her stupid fiancé, Vinay, was there as well. She supposed she ought to feel grateful that they hadn’t summoned every relative in the greater metro area, but this was still an awful ambush.
“Let me guess, an intervention,” Amita sighed as she shut the front door. “Can it wait until after I put these groceries away?”
“Amita, now is not the time for jokes,” her mother said.
“We’re worried about you,” her Meera said.
“You don’t have to be,” Amita said over her shoulder as she made a beeline for the kitchen. She knew they’d follow, but at least she could somewhat pretend this was a normal evening. Dealing with groceries was one of the most mundanely important tasks a person could do and it could suck up one’s focus if done right.
“Amita, you have a problem!” Vinay shouted. “Think about what you’re putting your parents through!”
As much as she wanted to make a snarky comment about melting ice cream, Amita held her tongue. This wasn’t the time for levity and as much as she found this whole situation frustrating, the truth would only make things more complicated. No one would believe they were anonymous and utterly undetected gifts. More likely they’d think she had developed kleptomania and that would result in her getting stuck with a chaperon whenever she left the house. Considering how little freedom she already had, Amita would do anything to avoid that fate.
“And what exactly am I putting them through?” Amita asked. Her mother groaned loudly and gestured at the ceiling.
“They’re both worried you’re throwing away all your life savings on watches of all things,” Meera said. “Unless this is some badly convoluted scheme to woo a watchmaker, I’m pretty certain this is alarming behavior.”
“I appreciate the worry, but I’m not spending all my savings on anything, much less to try and net a man,” Amita retorted.
Perhaps that was a slight exaggeration, as she had spent rather a lot over the years on makeup, not so much to make herself feel better, but in hopes of landing a date with the right guy. However, she’d never spend over her preset limits that were in place to protect her long-term goals, which included moving out of the house. Sadly, though goals were a long way from being fulfilled. She wished her were already out of the house and then this watch thing would be a nonissue, save for the worrying stalker aspect.
“Then what’s on your wrist right now?” her father asked, speaking for the first time. “You’ve barely had it out of your coat pocket.”
That absurd piece of jewelry was still on her wrist and the clasp was such that she couldn’t get it off with just the hand it was stuck on. If it weren’t her family she might have been able to convince them that the jewels on her were costume pieces—because honestly who had rocks that big—but they were the ones who taught her her trade. She was trapped between a watch and a hard place.
“A watch. My watch.”
“Let’s see it.”
There are certain points in one’s life that are clearly defined turning points. Amita realized this was one of them for her, as she knew without the slightest bit of doubt that for the first time in her life she was about to openly and intentionally defy her parents. She shoved her hand with the watch deeper into her pocket and shook her head. Her father frowned.
“Amita, this isn’t some sort of game. Show me the watch.”
“Amita, show your father the watch,” her mother chimed in as if both her parents telling her would get her to do it.
“I said no. I’m an adult. It’s my watch, why should I show it to you?”
“If you still live under our roof than you will do as we say,” her mother said.
“Then perhaps you should pay me enough that I can live under my own roof, if you insist that I work for you!” Amita snapped. “I’m a licensed jeweler there are loads of shops that would be glad to have someone like me on their team!”
“Let’s not lose our tempers and start saying things we cannot take back,” her father cut in before Amita could finish the natural conclusion of her thought process. “I am going to ask you to show me your watch one more time, Amita, and you will do it. Do you understand?”
“And if I don’t, you’ll what, ground me? Send me to bed without dinner? Take away my internet for a month?” Amita laughed as her parents stood there looking stunned. She had always been the good dutiful daughter who had never given them any trouble. This wasn’t even the sort of trouble Meera used to get into, which seemed to have left them reeling in inexperience. “Not tonight, Papa, I’m out of here. Have a nice night everyone.”
“Do you realize what you’re doing?” Meera demanded. Amita smiled bitterly at her as she walked past.
“No, but that never stopped you,” Amita said. “Tonight you get to be the good sister and deal with my mess. For once.”
Vinay moved to stand in front of the door and opened his mouth.
“Zip it and get out of my way,” Amita ordered, pointing a finger at him. He shut his mouth and complied.
Once she was through the entryway door Amita ran down the stairs, bolted out onto the street and fast walked two blocks before stopping to process. She couldn’t believe what had just happened. She had never argued with her parents like that before, not even during her rebellious teenage years. Which, to be fair weren’t that rebellious, but the main point remained. She hadn’t exactly burned any bridges with her family; however, there was no way she was walking back through that door tonight. She had some pride after all. That meant she had to figure out where she was staying tonight and try to come up with a general plan for what she was doing. First and foremost, that meant moving on before someone came out of their family’s building looking for her. So Amita took a couple of deep breaths and started striding confidently in the direction she had been trotting in earlier. She’d figure out where she was going later.
Her wandering eventually landed her on the metro. Amita still wasn’t certain if she was going to a friend’s place, an all night diner, or even a movie theater, but the metro was a good place to be. It would satisfy the urge to keep moving, but still give her a chance to stop and think about her next step. She obviously couldn’t go back home tonight, not after storming off like that, but she knew she’d return in the morning or at least by tomorrow night. Pride had to be balanced with practicality.
She had just decided to go to her favorite night owl friend’s apartment when something sparkly caught her eye. It was just a burst of light and when she turned her head for a better look she didn’t immediately spot it. Honestly, it just looked like any other regular subway car: a seated mother corralling three small children as they tried to climb the chairs, a sleeping homeless man, a couple of frat boys in popped collars talking two decibel levels too loud for the situation, and a girl hanging onto a pole. The girl drew her attention.
Amita frowned as she tried to figure out why she was focusing on her. She didn’t think she recognized her from anywhere in particular—she didn’t hang out with a lot of women who dressed in baggy coats and knit caps during the summer—but something about her was still drawing her attention. Then she spotted it. A purple sparkle that was absolutely dazzling whenever the girl twisted her wrist. Of course in a city as big as New York there were probably lots of people with the same replacement watchband as the one that had been stolen. Amita knew that, but still felt the situation called for further investigation. After all, there was still a one in nine million chance that this was her watch thief.
Over the course of the next two stops Amita shuffles her way down the subway car until she’s just out of touching distance. She knows her move wasn’t particularly stealthy, but the girl hadn’t seemed to notice. Why would she? As a woman of color Amita wasn’t a particularly noticeable threat and was used to being ignored. She had probably recognized her as a non-threat and then went back to focus on whatever had to be blaring out of her comically oversized headphones.
Still, she was close enough that if the girl would just move her… yes! She could see the watch face. It was a Mickey Mouse watch with the cartoon character’s arms doubling as the clock’s arms, just as she had suspected. Amita could even see three scratches in the brass rim just above the 11 that she had caused during a rollerblading accident. This was definitely her watch.
“Hey,” the girl said, shooting her a smile. Amita didn’t return it. “What?”
“That’s my watch,” Amita said.
“Watch ya talking about?” she laughed. Amita had the distinct impression she had said ‘watch’ instead of ‘what.’ It was a pretty good indicator that she had heard her.
“I said, that’s my watch,” Amita repeated. “You stole it. Or else bought it off someone who did steal it.”
“No way, this is my watch. My legitimate watch!” She stroked the band, pulling it to her chest protectively.
“Oh really? When did you acquire it and did you put the purple band on it yourself or did it come that way?”
“Dude, I do not need to answer your weird ass questions about my watch. There are probably tons of Mickey Mouse watches with purple bands in New York City,” she said. “Yours isn’t that special.”
“Can you explain those scrapes?” Amita demanded, pointing at her watch. “Because I can!”
“Oh really? Well, what happened?” Her tone was still combatively disbelieving, but Amita was surprised to see genuine interest in her eye. That robbed her of some of her fury. She didn’t get why a thief would want to know more about her.
“Rollerblading accident when I was twelve. Tripped on some cracked sidewalk, face planted, and scraped my watch on gutter grating.”
Even though it had been more than a decade ago the memory invoked the taste the blood from her busted lip and washed her with childish panic over injuring her precious watch. Her father had buffed most of the damage out of the watch, but hadn’t been able to completely irradiate the damage. It had been a good learning lesson for her he said; proof that when you break something it can never be completely. Actions always have consequences.
“That’s a really interesting story, but still doesn’t prove my watch is your watch,” she said. “Good effort, but try again.”
“Fine. Take off the watch.”
“What, so you can steal it from me? I wasn’t born yesterday.”
“If I was really going to steal it would I do it between stations after calling all this attention to myself?” Amita asked. The car was nearly empty, but they had the attention of every awake passenger.
“I don’t know what you’re planning to do.”
“If it’s my watch, and I know that it is, there’s an inscription on the back of the watch that includes my name, Amita. Dad made certain of that so that no one could steal it and claim it as theirs, which is exactly what you’re doing! So take it off and prove that it isn’t mine!”
“I don’t have to—” she started, backing up slightly before exhaling loudly and slumping in a seat. “Okay, fine, you caught me. Are you happy now?”
“Not until you return my watch.”
“Seriously? Won’t any of the other watches that I gave you do instead?” she whined. “The one I gave you today had enough rocks on it to put a down payment on the Taj Mahal.”
“That was you?” It made a weird sort of sense, if Amita thought about it, that the pickpocket who took her watch would also be the one giving her new watches without her noticing, but this whole situation was so weird. “Why didn’t you just give me my watch back?”
“Because it’s mine now!” she insisted, clutching the watch tightly for a moment with her other hand before releasing it to look down at Mickey. “And… because it was yours. Why can’t you be happy with the other watches I gave you? I tried to pick out ones you’d like based on your taste.”
Amita suddenly felt very tired. She sat down on the bench seating beside her. “Who are you?”
“And you’re what, a pickpocket? Cat burglar, general thief-extraordinaire?”
“I don’t generally go in for such grandiose terms, but basically yeah,” Constance said modestly. She almost seemed to be preening. “It’s a legitimate business for me.”
“And for whatever reason you decided to give me watches every day after you stole mine two months ago.”
“Ah, that’s what I just said.”
“Because I like you and I wanted to make you smile. Like, the first time was an accident; running into you again on the Metro after I took your watch earlier in the day, and you looked so said I had to do something. I was hoping it’d make you smile.”
“So why didn’t you return my watch?”
“Okay, rule number one is that you don’t return what you already took for yourself because that’s just bad business sense. Plus, I have to keep the stuff I take from the really hot chicks; it’d be wrong to sell that and forget them.”
Amita was going to ignore the fact Constance had just called her hot for the moment. That was interesting, but not worth getting distracted over while trying to sort out this mess. She had to figure out what the most pressing question was and get that answered before she lost this window of opportunity.
“…then it became kind of a game after that,” Constance trailed off and Amita looked up sharply, realizing she had missed something, hopefully nothing important. Constance smiled at her.
“I’ve been getting at least one watch a day from you for the last two months. Did you start stalking me—”
“—It was only a teensy bit of stalking!” Constance cut in, holding up her thumb and forefinger an inch apart for Amita to see. “I didn’t follow you into any buildings or anything, except for the Metro because that’s like our special place. I’ve got rules, ya know?”
“Did you start stalking me before you stole my watch or after?”
“Okay, if I had known about you before I acquired your watch I definitely would have been leaving you presents before that.” Constance covered her face with her hands. “Look, I’m not great at talking with pretty girls and you’re super pretty. So I thought presents might work? All girls like presents! I like presents.”
“So you gave me stolen watches.”
“I redistributed watches to you. As presents! That’s totally legitimate.”
“Not in the eyes of the law,” Amita sighed. As a general rule she didn’t have a problem with pickpockets—at least, not the ones who only targeted people who could afford it—and she had certainly worked with thieves of dubious nature plenty of times before. This was just… a lot. She took the stupidly gem encrusted watch off her wrist and held it out to Constance. The thief’s eyes focused on the watch with laser precision. “Look, can I just have my watch back? Please? I’m willing to trade.”
At first Amita thought she was going to ignore her, but after a long moment Constance sighed and takes off the Mickey Mouse watch. In an instant the jeweled monstrosity had disappeared and her watch was back in its rightful place—her left wrist. It was almost magic how quickly she had moved. Even knowing it was going to happen Amita’s brain hadn’t really processed Constance’s movements and she’d probably be wondering for a while what she had done, even though she had seen her do it.
“Are you happy now?” Constance huffed, arms crossed and clearly sulking. “I really liked wearing your watch.”
“Yes,” Amita said. She was pleasantly surprised to realize she was genuinely happy with how the situation had turned out. “And for the record, the next time someone catches you with their stolen property you could be a little more gracious about returning it. Since I got my watch back I’m not about to call the cops on you.”
Constance crooked an eyebrow. “Yeah?”
“And next time you think someone is hot after you’ve stolen their stuff, just return it. Don’t give them creepy stalker-pickpocket gifts because you have no idea how much stress that stunt’s given me.”
“What if I bought you dinner as an apology?”
This was not the direction Amita had expected the encounter to veer. Beyond the shock of catching her thief/stalker, she had expected the person to disappear like dew at sunrise upon confrontation. Not for her—which had been a huge surprise on its own, though it was sexist for her to think that way, especially considering her friends—to sit there, return her watch without much complaining, answer her questions, and then ask her out. Honestly, Constance was nothing like the vindictive boogeyman Amita had built up in her mind over the last two months. She didn’t set off any sort of alarm bells or creepiness warnings in Amita’s head. That was probably the reason she was such a good thief.
“So, what do you say? Go out with me?” Constance asked, working up enthusiasm as she launched into her pitch. “I can wine and dine like the best of them and I can get you a serious discount at any shop in the state.”
“Seriously?” Amita asked in disbelief. Constance nodded vigorously. She looked like a hopeful puppy. Amita considered her options. It had been months since her last date and she hadn’t had a more earnest offer all year. Plus, anything had to be better than her last suitor, toenail guy. “Fine, but on one condition.”
“When you’re with me there’s no theft whatsoever. Deal?”
Constance looked a bit like she had bitten into a lemon, but she nodded.
“I’m not saying you can’t pursue your ‘legitimate business’ on your own time, but you don’t pull that shit when you’re with me.” Amita waggled her finger. “And don’t try to lift anything around me without me noticing. You need to stay above board. Seriously, I want plausible deniability. Okay?”
“You have yourself a deal,” Constance grinned. “When can I pick you up?”
“Ah… maybe Friday, at eight?” Amita shrugged. “Something casual and low pressure.”
“See you Friday!” Constance promised.
Before Amita could say anything else or rethink her decision, the subway car came to a stop at a station and the doors opened ushering in a new influx of bodies all wearing sports memorabilia. There was a crushing mass of people for a few seconds before everything cleared enough for her to breathe. Constance was gone without a trace. Amita shook her head, but she couldn’t keep a smile off her face. She didn’t have a clue how she could ever introduce Constance to her parents, but she hoped this would develop into something that would eventually need explaining. In any case, Amita was sure Constance would be better than toenail guy and she looked forward to a wild ride without any more watches.