Me! A Shoplifter?
By Rafiq Ebrahim Valjee
Unaware of an unexpected nerve-wrecking experience I was about to face, I entered a sophisticated Toy store in the Mall at York Town in a Chicago suburb to buy some toys for the twins - my two four-year old grandsons. Looking at various toys and checking the price tags on them, I couldn’t find something good at the price I wanted, and so I walked out slowly. I had only gone a few feet away when I heard footsteps behind me. I looked back and saw an obese cashier standing near me. “Excuse me, sir. There is an action figure stuck to your jacket. Did you pay for it?”
I was taken aback. Just how that toy did get stuck to the jacket by the pocket? “Oh, that,” I said casually. “Must have stuck accidentally. I am sorry. Here take this.” I tried to get the thing off, but it was stuck so firmly that I couldn’t.
“I am sorry; you will have to come inside. The manager wants to have a word with you.”
I was ushered inside and came face to face with the manager, a jet-black complexioned woman with sparkling white teeth and determined jaws, obviously belonging to one of those special breed of human beings ever ready to pounce upon you any moment without notice. She took me to a small room at the back of the store where I saw a heavy-set short guy with a gun in a holster tucked under his belt. “This is James Basher, our security man,” introduced the manager.
A tremor went down my frame, for I felt sure that I was in a deep hole. They seemed confident that I was a shop-lifter and that I had stolen a toy. “The merchandise is still on your person,” said the guy, raising his right eyebrow skeptically and putting his hand on the gun meaningfully. He then asked me to sit down on a chair, and as I sat I felt myself sinking deep down. Perhaps there was a suction force below and my feet got raised a few inches off the floor.
“Yes, this Iron Man figure somehow got stuck to the jacket and I just can’t get it off,” I managed to say, feeling utterly helpless in that posture.
“Don’t worry,” said the jet-black manager. “We have means to get it off. A little cut with a sharp knife would do the job.”
“No way!” I blurted out. “You are not going to damage my Armani jacket. Besides, you are badly mistaken. I am not a shop-lifter, believe me. Do you seriously think I stole this cheap five-dollar thing?”
“Every shop-lifter says that,” said the heavy-set guy. “Once when I was working at a jewelry shop, a man, who by the way looked like you, walked out with a gold ring attached to his shirt. Later he confessed that it was not by accident, and that shop-lifting was his hobby.”
The woman laughed, and nodded meaningfully at me.
“So what are you going to do?” I asked in a voice cracking with anxiety.
“Just sign on the dotted line,” said the security guy, producing a document.
I looked at the paper. It said that I had stolen the merchandise. “Do you think I am an imbecile? Why should I sign there? Hey, let me take off this silly thing.” I said, trying once again to get the Iron Man off.
“You won’t be able to do that,” he said. “It has a layer of potent glue at the back. Now, look here, if you won’t sign we will have to call the police for your arrest.”
“Hell!” I yelled. “Go on, call the cops. I have nothing to fear since I didn’t steal that toy.”
The manager reached for the phone and called a number. “Soon they would be here.”
“Listen, why don’t you understand that it was a pure unintentional act? I have never shop-lifted in my life,” I pleaded, once again trying to make them understand the real scenario.
“Wait till the cops arrive. They won’t believe you. They would immediately hand-cuff and whisk you away,” said the manager, and then both of them began to laugh. “Did you see how he was leaning on the rack on which the action figures hung?” asked the security guy. “Even a fool can deduce that he intended to pocket one without paying.”
The manager agreed.
It was a grave situation. What will my family members and friends think when they come to know about this happening? And what will be the effect on my four grandsons? Surely, the eldest and the most observant would not hesitate to put down in his log – the one he has kept to record all the negative acts done by his relatives – as ‘my grandpa was once put behind the bars for shop-lifting.’
Some ten anxious minutes later the police- a one-cop force - arrived. I turned and suddenly my face lit up. The cop was my old friend Mike Benson. He was employed by my former employers, a large retail outlet store, to do an off-time job as a security officer, years back. He was a friendly guy and took delight in flirting with the girls at the Service Desk where I, too, was posted. We had a great time in those days, and often after the store closed at night we went to the nearby Mexican restaurant to have pizza and a drink, beer for him and coke for me.
“Hi, Mike,” I said. “Nice to see you after a long time.”
He looked at me for a second. His face showed an expression of restrained mirth and then immediately he made a stern face. “Don’t pretend that you know me. You have committed a crime and you will have to pay for it,” he said. Addressing the manager, he said. “Give me the details of the case, and I’ll take away this guy to the station and put him behind bars.”
There followed a short conference, before Mike grabbed my arm to pull me out of that entrapping chair and take me away. “I’ll complete all the paper work and do the needful,” he said. Turning to the security guy, he cautioned, “Be careful with the gun. Don’t ever playfully touch it like you have been doing for the last few minutes... Some guns, like the one you have with you, are very sensitive to the touch. It might fire any moment.”
Once we came out, Mike burst into a peal of laughter. “My friend, I never imagined that one day I would find you in that ridiculous chair with your feet up in the air and I would be called in to arrest you.”
“So, what are you going to do? Take me to the police station and get me booked?”
“Of course not! Could I ever believe that you are a shop-lifter? My very good friend who always had a great respect for law and order? I just pretended that I didn’t know you to appease those people at the store.” Saying so, he gave me an affectionate hug.
“Thanks Mike. Do I have to get in your police car, or I can drive my own?”
“I’ll tell you what? Just get into my car and we will go to that Mexican restaurant and have some pizza and a drink to revive the old memory.”
“But what about this Iron Man? How can I get it off?”
“Go to a chemist. He will definitely be of help, but if you don’t want to damage your jacket, let it remain stuck to it as a memento!”