The sheet of stickers mesmerized me. They were puffy, plastic glitter-filled beauties that glistened under the harsh fluorescent lights of the department store. Costing $1.50, I knew I didn’t have enough money to buy it. Heck, I didn’t even have any pockets on me. Without hesitating, I grabbed the sheet of stickers and stuck it under my dress. It wouldn’t stay. So I tucked it into my underwear. Patting myself down and making sure my flat, now rectangular stomach didn’t look too strange, I turned to walk away.
Which was when I saw the salesgirl staring at me.
Pretending I hadn’t seen her, I waddled towards my parents and we left the shop.
I wondered why she never called out my deviant act to the authorities. Maybe she was compassionate? Maybe she was scared? Maybe it was because I was only three years old then, and she didn’t know how to report on a shoplifting toddler…
Back home, I knew I’d done something wrong. It wasn’t a clear statement in my head though, like ‘You broke the law!’. I didn’t even know the definition of stealing. What I felt was more akin to a deep sense of guilt and the need to hide. So the moment Mother disappeared into the kitchen, I crawled under my bed and hid the sheet of stickers between the mattress and wooden boards.
I couldn’t actually use the stickers on anything, for fear that Mother would ask me where I got them. So whenever I longed for them, I’d crawl back under the bed, take the stickers out and watch the little glitter-filled stickers twinkle.
I have no idea what eventually became of those stickers, but following on from that incident, I began shoplifting and stealing. It was a quick and easy fix to get what I wanted without needing to actually pay for anything.
I began taking coins from Mother’s purse, which was always delightfully heavy with loose change. I knew enough to take a few so she wouldn’t notice them missing.
Older, I took notebooks, pens, beautiful stationery and colourful papers from my friends, my cousins and the neighbourhood shops. The opportunities seemed endless, the thrill, exhilarating.
And when I became a teenager, I stole money regularly from Father – he always thought it was due to old age that he couldn’t keep track of where his money went. Sorry dad. I’ll tell him the truth one day.
I would have continued traveling further down this road if not for a pair of socks.
When an acquaintance was caught in the act of shoplifting, the school made a public announcement, warning us of the severe consequences that would follow – both from the authorities (shoplifting was rife in our neighbourhood) and our school’s disciplinary board. But that wasn’t the worst. It became public fact that the shoplifter was caught while taking a pair of polka-dotted socks. The insignificance of the item (and the fact that they were polka-dotted) made her the laughingstock.
And me… an honest person from that day onwards. No way was I going under for a pair of polka-dotted socks.
It was also the realisation that someone I knew could actually get caught, and that there were consequences to the act, which finally woke me up from my fantasy world. My shoplifting career was officially over.
Today, as a reformed shoplifter, I advocate the rights of the law everywhere I go. No stealing, no lying and definitely, no ‘borrowing things and forgetting to return them’. I hate that. Especially since I paid for my possessions.
So please excuse the fact that I do remember what I lend, and that I actually have a notebook that tracks who borrows something from me – clothing, books, money…
You see, I know how easy it is to become a thief.
It only takes a sheet of stickers that sparkle.
[A walk down the corridors of my past, inspired by WordPress’ Daily Prompt: Breaking The Law]