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Those stubborn, jangling suspicions? They're a gift

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If it hadn't been for something the young woman at the back of the bus instinctively sensed, there wouldn't have been cause to notice the young man as he boarded.

"He was shorter and kind of scrawny," Ali, a 19-year-old University of Manitoba student, would recall.

He was a bit older than her and slight scruffy, she added on further consideration.

Otherwise, he appeared rather common, carrying a backpack, wearing a ball cap, T-shirt and shorts. He had a tattoo on the back of his neck.

Yet, there was something that made him stand out in an uncomfortable way.

"He seemed a little bit off," she told me the next day. "But nothing big."

Nothing big, until he brazenly bolted off the bus with her brand new Apple iPhone 4.

Why did she sense something about him so quickly when she admits she didn't pay particular notice to anyone else on the bus? More importantly, why didn't she listen to the uneasy feeling she had about him from the start?

I suppose where it really started was earlier Wednesday afternoon, when Ali boarded the No. 14 bus on Ellice Avenue near Polo Park. She had finished a shift at one of two jobs she works, this one as a sales associate at a men's clothing store. Ali took a seat near the back and promptly began doing what young people commonly do to pass the time: Texting her friends.

She'd only had her iPhone since Saturday, when she and her mother purchased it on a student plan from the MTS store on Kenaston.

Ali was still texting when the young man got on by the University of Winnipeg.

Later, she would decide he must have noticed the iPhone in her lap as he passed by and took a seat further back. Where he could see her.

And where he could hear Ali's messaging being interrupted by a call from her mother. It was only when Ali said goodbye to her mom that the young man approached and asked if could use her phone to make a call.

"When he came up and asked, I thought something might be off," Ali said. She remembered being a bit hesitant. "But then he brought his backpack and sat beside me."

Oddly enough, that otherwise creepy closeness gave her a sense of security. He had her iPhone in his hand -- seemingly trying to call someone -- but he and her smartphone were right next to her. So what was to worry about?

She found out just after the bus crossed the Norwood Bridge and stopped by Santa Lucia Pizza.

He leapt up, iPhone in hand, burst off the bus, ran through the restaurant parking lot, and disappeared.

"I was in shock," Ali recalled. "I turned to the back of the bus, with my hands out and said, 'Did anyone see that?' "

Then she noticed the backpack.

It was still on the floor where he'd dropped it when he sat down.

Inside she found a bottle of prescription pills, what she called a "retro" video camera and a piece of paper with a guy's name on it.

She contacted police and made a report. But it was her report to me -- about how she remembered him boarding the bus, "but only him" and how she felt he was a "bit off" -- that brought to mind something I thought she should read.

She and everyone else. It's called The Gift of Fear. Written by American security specialist Gavin de Becker in the late 1990s, it endeavours to make women in particular pay attention to the often subtle danger signals that their survival instincts sense, but they too rarely listen to and act on. The book could also have been called The Gift of Intuition, but that might not have made it a bestseller.

Anyways, in Ali's case, those seemingly subtle signals might have started sounding when he boarded the bus, in a neighbourhood that is sometimes sketchy and in front of a university he didn't look like he attended, even if school had been in.

Or subconsciously, Ali might have noticed not only the "bit off" way he appeared, but the "bit off" way he looked at her and the iPhone on her lap.

Whatever instinctively made her feel uneasy, it wasn't enough to prevent Ali from trusting him with her smartphone. Maybe next time she -- and you, too -- will listen to that built-in human app that's been around since apple was the forbidden fruit:

Your gut instinct.

Meanwhile, I have good news to end on. When Ali bought her iPhone, she also purchased a warranty that covers loss.

And theft.

That's using the gift of intelligence.

And, yes, Ali, perhaps even the gift of intuition, too.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 11, 2012 B1

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