Who gets to steal?

This blog begins in the local supermarket with two shoppers ahead of me in line. While the cashier rang up an order for the first in line, I watched the elderly woman ahead of me. If anyone else saw what I now shall describe, I didn’t see any outward sign. I didn’t say or do anything either, although afterward I wondered if I should have.

Even if I hadn’t been bored and searching for something to watch, the woman in front of me would have caught my eye because of her attire and her blank affect. Although she looked clean enough and her hair was neatly combed, something about her seemed homeless without having the usual disorder and grime. On her head sat a pillbox hat made of pea green fabric. Her dress was shin length, dark blue with a gypsy-like drape to it. She wore white hose and black shoes.  One hand rested on the rim of a square, four-wheeled cart she’d brought with her. The cart was loaded with plastic shopping bags, all of which appeared to be stuffed with more plastic bags. At first glance I’d thought the cart was full of round pillows. On top rested a small cloth purse, a few items of clothing and some papers.

I watched her set two small plastic drink bottles on the checkout stand. Then she dug into the purse and removed an avocado and a tube of deodorant, which she set on the checkout stand next to the drinks. The deodorant looked unused and the avocado seemed pristine as well (although I’m not sure how to tell if one’s just been removed from a bin or if it’s been in someone’s possession for a while). The next thing to come out of the cart was a small plastic sandwich baggie, the kind that only folds closed and is so small it barely holds 2 slices of bread. The woman picked up the avocado and deodorant and with some difficulty, jammed them into the little bag, holding it closed with one hand while shoving the works into one of the larger bags in her cart.

By this time my eyes were wide open. Her next move was even more unexpected. She quickly picked up the bag from her cart and walked forward, squeezing behind the man whose order was being rung up. She went to the front of the store where there is an unused counter next to an ice machine. She quickly placed her bag on the counter, whirled around and returned to her place in line.

I expected the cashier to notice some of these activities, but I didn’t see any reaction. The man at the head of the line didn’t notice, but he’d been watching the cashier process his order. I turned around and looked at the people in line behind me. Surely, someone had seen!

To my amazement, the large man immediately behind me appeared to be crying. Tears rolled down his cheeks. Maybe he just had allergies. I didn’t want to engage him because he looked like he was having a really bad day. Behind him some kids were jumping around so I knew their mom hadn’t been seeing anything except what little Pete was grabbing off the candy and magazine racks.

The cashier started on the woman ahead of me, looking at the two drink bottles. The odd woman reached into her purse, pulled out a card of some kind and held it up in the air next to her right ear. The cashier stared at this card and instead of taking it from the woman, kept looking at the card while inputting something into the register. Then she asked the woman for $3.20. I knew this was not enough to cover two drinks and an avocado and a stick of deodorant, but the cashier went on normally and finished the transaction.

I almost said something but what could I say? What if I wound up making a false accusation? I wondered if the mystery card accounted for the gap in payment. Or maybe the cashier just wanted to avoid a scene. Or…. or… In any event, the woman took her drinks and wheeled away. Moments later, she left the store.

After I paid for my few items and hit the parking lot, I heard footsteps running behind me. It was a clerk from the store chasing after the strange woman. She called out, “Ma’am, you left a bag behind in the store.” Could things get any weirder? I could be wrong, but it looked like the woman had stolen from the supermarket and then forgotten her stolen items, only to be helped to get them by an employee of the store she’d robbed.

I’ve heard that old people can get away with “things.” Maybe this is just an example of this magical situation. Any thoughts?

Mickey Hoffman is the author of the Kendra Desola mystery novels, School of Lies and Deadly Traffic. Visit the website to see some etchings and read more about the novels. www.mickeyhoffman.com

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~ by mickeyhoffman on August 19, 2014.

2 Responses to “Who gets to steal?”

  1. That kicked my imagination into high gear. The old lady has dementia. The weeping man behind you was her son. He has an understanding with the supermarket to come along behind his mother and pay for whatever she takes. His heart is breaking because the strong woman who gave him life has become somebody entirely different, somebody who probably doesn’t even know him anymore. He still loves her and chooses this way to take care of her as she cared for him when he was helpless.

    Sorry. It hits close to home.

  2. That’s a fine addition to the story and it certainly is a possibility the man knew her.

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