I tried to do the right thing the other day, but in doing so, I think I ended up making quite a cock-up of the situation and wish I’d just pretended I hadn’t seen a thing. In the heat of a moral dilemma something bizarre came over me and I’m not sure if I’m proud or ashamed. Perhaps in making my confession to you I can just forget that deep inside me lies a moralistic crime fighter, or maybe I’m just a self-righteous wanker. You be the judge…
I was standing in a little Ma’n’Pa type deli in my local shopping strip. I’d never been there before and I have no affiliation with the place, in fact, I was not overly thrilled with the quality of the ham I bought so I will probably never go back….not to mention the fact that I’m well embarrassed.
An elderly dude shuffled in carrying with him the aroma of Old Bachelor. You know what I mean – it’s a little bit of tea, a little bit of musty fustiness and a sprinkling of urine for good measure.
He put a tenner on the counter.
‘The usual, please’
While the lady proceeded to cut his devon or brawn or whatever the usual may be, I was putzing about with my purse, when I saw this old gentleman behave in a most ungentlemanly fashion. He took a Honey Nut Bar from the counter and he put it in his pocket. Fairly brazen, one could say as I was not half a meter away holding my shocked ham…..or shocked, holding my ham, I believe would be more accurate.
A million thoughts raced through my mind, all of them heavily laden with exclamation marks, and I have no idea why. Who am I? The smallgood police? A retail watchdog? Wonder Bloody Woman?
Why do even give a shit? I mean, really, it’s not like I never stole anything.
I went through a stage in the summer holidays of my 13th year were I was so damned light-fingered I was like Oliver Twist without the torn pants and whole orphan baggage. You name it, I filched it. Food, lollies, clothes, jewellery. I was shocking. I was led astray by the wrong crowd, yes, but ultimately I found it quite thrilling. That said, I doubt this octogenarian was doing it for a thrill, although it may be how the old codger can gets his jollies these days.
I wanted him to know I saw him, and I wanted him to feel bad about stealing. I got my vigilante on.
I don’t think for one single second that this is a black and white situation. I mean, stealing is bad, mmmmmkay……but maybe this guy just wanted a treat? Maybe his monthly pension didn’t stretch to nut bars and he just wanted to stick his dentures together one last time before he turned his toes? Hell, maybe it was part of ‘his usual’ but that mortifying scenario didn’t even cross my mind until someone gently pointed out that perhaps I’m simply a big, fat bully.
Anyway, I took $2.50 out of my purse and I slipped onto the counter in front of him and I leaned quietly into his flappy, old man ear –
‘That’s for the bar you put in your pocket.’
He looked at me blankly, all confused and bewildered. Possibly feigning ignorance, or more likely he was struggling to understand me as suddenly I was speaking all growly and husky, like Batman, and even Lois Lane is all like “Quit mumbling, Batman – Just enunciate for God’s sake”
‘I saw you do it, now put it on the counter. Do the right thing and pay for it.’
Who the hell did I think I was? I honestly don’t know what came over me, I should have just minded my own business but to be quite frank, I have always struggled with doing so.
‘Alright’ he answered quietly and I walked outside.
Good deed done. Dishonesty averted. My cape was un-tarnished.
Had I left it there, perhaps I wouldn’t be feeling like this right now. The situation was more or less sorted, I got my point across and he learned his lesson. Right?
Wrong. I became this self-righteous, uppity, freakozoid, and this is where it all went pear shaped.
I didn’t walk away. He started to collect up the money, but his shaky hands dropped a coin into a display. The shop lady came to help him.
‘That lady just gave me some money’
He was putting the money in his pocket, she was looking at me and I was looking at him and his little sphincter would have been clenching in that unique way it does when you know you’re busted. She walked up to me asking if I was ok, I said ‘yep, don’t worry about it’ and she walked away.
Was he sticking the money in his pocket?
Was he going to use it as I intended?
It didn’t appear so. Maybe he was taking his time, working out how to get the offending bar from his pocket to the counter without being obvious, but he was going too slow, I wanted that bar out in the open now. I could see the tasty snack poking out of his hip pocket so walked up to him, grabbed it out of his trousers and slammed it on the deli counter in front of the shocked man….then I quickly grabbed my pram and rushed of to a chorus of him calling out –
RightO. RightO. RightO.
I’ve only ever really known one other person to say ‘righto’ and he was an ex-lover…..it felt strange to be thinking of him in that moment.
My heart was pounding. I’d done the right thing, hadn’t I? Stealing is wrong, isn’t it? But I bullied a poor old man…..why did I do that?
So, there it is. I tried to do the right thing, but then I got carried away with myself and intimidated a poor old clepto, and I just can’t stop thinking about it.
If he was a teenager I would have been doubly on his case, but should I have let it slide because he’s old?
Should I have made excuses for him and turned a blind eye?