I once caught a guy behind me on the escalator trying to reach into my bag (I later realized that this was his last of several attempts at picking my pocket after we got off the same train), and I was similarly surprised -- and heartened, if a little scared -- by the ferocity with which I went after him. It was strictly verbal, and consisted mostly of curse words and "all my stuff better still be in here!" kind of threats (it all was; he wasn't a great pickpocket). I always feared I would be paralyzed in such a situation, especially considering the extreme lengths I will otherwise go to to avoid a public scene of any kind, but I really was so focused on laying into that guy that I just. didn't. care.
I should note that this interaction took place during the day, on an escalator of a very busy Metro station in DC, and I was encountering a man who was taller than me but also quite a bit older and similarly framed. I didn't fear for my physical safety. I have no idea how I would have reacted had any of those factors been different.
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