Charlie couldn’t tell exactly what the phone was until he slipped it out of its case and even then its other specs – model and memory size, which would determine its price – couldn’t be only known once he turned on the phone and made it work. The problem, of course, was that it was locked with a passcode, and if you couldn’t figure it out, it was easy to turn next month’s rent into a brick.
There were other more elaborate ways which involved cables, computers and words like ‘jailbreaking’, ‘DFU mode’ and ‘GPP’ but that was Nick’s specialty, for which he had a stand in Greenhills . Charlie was smart enough to know what he was good at, which was stealing, and stick to it. Had he made it past second year in Koronadal, he might have become a Nick, or better yet, a Mr. Garcia, who bought whatever Charlie could sell with cold hard cash, then dumped it in line via pseudonyms like Triciababy or Sweet Loreen.
Charlie had spotted a Samsung Galaxy Note on FB Marketplace that was being sold by Triciababy with the story that she needed a kidney transplant, and he knew it was one of his mics because it had a small chip at the top right of his screen. Mr. Garcia had paid 3K for it and was now showing it for 8.5, which seemed unfair, but he didn’t even know how to describe the phone, much less make up a story. He scanned FB Marketplace to get an idea of what to ask Mr. Garcia, but it always came down to what the man was willing to pay, as he could come up with reasons like “outdated” and “digitizer “, which just meant that Charlie could have chosen better if he wanted to have enough money to buy a new bike. It was easier to steal a bike than to pass something to Mr. Garcia, who probably wasn’t even his real name.
He could have told Mr. Garcia to try it himself to find out how hard it was to choose a specific model – most of the time. You had to be in the right place, with the right kind of people, to score something high-end, like an iPhone 13 or Galaxy S21. You didn’t find the ones in malls and markets that Charlie felt comfortable with, in the shirt and sneakers that made him look like a college student waiting for a date or buying jeans on sale, especially when he carried a book or two.
But the Kakampink rallies changed all that. It was a pickpocket’s dream – tens of thousands of people massed in the street, all dressed in pink, which meant he only had to invest in a pink T-shirt to lose themselves in the crowd, according to the songs and the fingers. panels. Many of these people looked and even smelled like they had just stepped out of a shower. Charlie didn’t pay much attention to the simpler people who might have been his uncles or cousins, looking for the clusters of privilege.
Charlie already knew who was holding which phone and where they kept them when their hands were otherwise occupied. He had spotted the woman and her iPhone at least fifteen minutes before moving in; her phone had rung and she tried to take the call but put it back in her shoulder bag when the noise made conversation impossible. In her thirties and looking ordinary, she didn’t look particularly rich, but with the pink T-shirts, we never knew her.
It was during the candidate’s speech that everyone seemed the most distracted. People cheered and raised their arms. Charlie wasn’t interested in what turned them on or made them angry – like “martial law”, when terrible things supposedly happened, long before his time: murders, tortures, rapes, like a war movie, which he had seen and enjoyed quite a bit. None of this had anything to do with him. And if it was so bad, why did they keep coming back to it?
It didn’t take more than a few seconds for Charlie to swipe the phone and disappear into the monochromatic crowd. The woman never felt anything. Charlie glanced back at her and saw that she looked ecstatic, swinging both hands in the air, her eyes closed as if praying.
Back in his room at Paco, he turned on the phone – the last of the four he had picked up that day. A photo of the woman and a little girl filled the screen, typical wallpaper for people her age. He asked for a password. He had ten tries before it locked for good, but Nick could handle it, so just for fun he tried 1-2-3-4. It opened. People could be so simple. It was an XS, 64GB, four-year-old model that he could sell for, oh, 7 or 8K.
Instinctively, he walked over to the photos. There was always something interesting to be found there, sometimes embarrassing secrets the owners would have been happy to pay for, so Charlie thought he was doing them a favor by cleaning up their phones and erasing the past. There didn’t seem to be too many pictures on this woman’s phone. One of them with a man, posing in front of a fountain, obviously taken from an old photo. Several shots of little girl, daughter and mother, daughter, daughter, daughter, mother in bank teller uniform, daughter in fairy costume. Here and there, office excursions, Hong Kong, Taal, Baguio. Third birthday party, then suddenly girl in hospital bed, close up of girl sleeping, close up of girl’s hand, then flower arrangement next to framed picture of girl. And then the girl with her eyes closed, a dozen of them from different angles, because the light kept bouncing off the glass. He remembered the mother at the gathering with her eyes devoutly closed; they looked alike.
Charlie had lost his father as a child and his mother was back in Koronadal grinding corn. He hadn’t seen her in five years, but every once in a while he sent her photos of himself via a cousin’s phone, posing in shades in front of a new car and on the beach in the Dolomites. At least she knew he was alive.
He knew enough to wipe the phone; Mr. Garcia wanted them clean and usable, and doing it himself instead of Nick would save him money. But when his finger hovered over “Erase All Content and Settings” he stopped and wished the password was something other than 1-2-3-4.
* * *