I was walking toward one of those self-checkout thingies at the grocery store when I saw a $5 bill sitting in the cash out tray. I looked toward the exit to see if I could tell who might have just walked away then I looked around for other possible witnesses before I flagged down the little lady that works at the monitoring station.
In the amount of time it took me to put my arm up and signal her, I saw a teen or pre-teen boy at the next machine reach his hand into the tray and snatch the money. I heard him say, “Ooh, that lady lost her $5.”
“She didn’t lose it, you stole it,” I thought. The store employee came over and I announced loudly, “well there was $5 in this tray but I’m pretty sure I just saw this kid pick it up and shove it in his pocket. He kept his back to us.
“really?” she said. “That’s morals for ya.” And we both stared at him with our arms folded waiting for him to reply. He did. He grabbed the cart of the elderly woman he was with and strolled out the door as if we were talking about some other moral-less kid.
I could have stopped the woman and said, “Hey lady, your kid just stole some money.” Or I could have done what my Dad would have done, and poked the kid with my hard jumbo-sized fingers and made it clear that he was going to give that money back or else.
But in my staring him up and down and wondering what kind of kid would steal something in wide open view of a crowd of people and then just stand there like he didn’t do it, I noticed his clothes were extremely dirty. His shirt had holes in it, and even though they were a dark blue color, I could see the layers of dirt on his shorts.
It made me think about the time a friend of mine was in a store and quietly gave thanks when he saw the couple in front of him paying for their groceries with food stamps (This was back when they looked like food stamps.) He left the store not far behind them- just in time to see them loading their groceries into an $80,000 car.
It also made me think of the time when I was a kid shopping with my mom and kept pleading with her to walk past the deli so I could get a sample. At the time, the store always had someone near the counter dressed in all white offering samples of meat or cheese on a stick. It made me feel like I was an adult at some fancy setting whenever they would offer it to me. And biting the meat off the stick without dropping it was a small but favorite thing of mine to do.
I guess I was begging for the meat counter drive by a bit too much or too loudly because a woman, a complete stranger said to me, nearly 4 years old in the shopping cart, “What’s the matter? Your mama don’t feed you at home?” She was in a crowd of three other ladies all of which cackled like those hens in the old Foghorn Leghorn cartoons. And I saw her make a gesture to one of them just short of a ‘high five’ as if she had just accomplished something by making a smart remark to little kid. I remember her face so clearly that if I saw her today all wrinkled up, covered in age spots and with thinning gray hair I would still recognize her enough to run up and punch her in the face.
As it turns out we ate just fine at home, but dang, what if that little meat square really was all I was going to have to eat that day? What’s so funny about a starving four year old?
I didn’t deserve her vicious comments. Nor did my mom who was with me, or my dad who worked very hard to ensure we were always very well taken care of (and we were, too.)
That lady was my earliest definition of what it truly meant to be a “bitch.” And I knew then I never wanted to be that.
So as I stared at the lanky boy with the semi-curly Beatles (no, not Beiber) style walk out the automatic doors with his “found” $5 in his pocket, I let all of my notions and opinions go with him.
Maybe he really needed that money far more than the woman that left it behind.
Or maybe he was just a bad kid and a thief who’ll be doing time 3 years from now for grand larceny.
The only thing that’s certain is that I’ll never know for sure and I can’t assume anything. I can only hope that whatever his reasons, in due course, the money -and the theft- serve their purpose and he gets what he deserves.
I bet this song gets stuck in your head, too! (Gap Band - Early in the Morning)