I was seventeen when I first stole something from a shop. It wasn’t something I couldn’t afford, or something I was embarrassed to purchase. It wasn’t by mistake. It wasn’t deliberate either, though, it was no well thought out heist. It wasn’t even something I needed. Not at the time, anyway.
I was walking through the lanes of the supermarket near my house. The shelves always looked overstocked, bursting with variety only intended to confuse the onlooker into purchasing more. I wonder if they kept the shelves stocked like that purposely, fifty-two bars of soap in an area meant to hold fifty. One couldn’t resist picking up the two extra bars of soap, thinking they can help restore the natural order of the lattice some night shift worker had terribly failed at.
I wonder if the night shift worker, on the other hand, had a tips and tricks manual, where on a page titled “How to con a shopper into buying more soap”, he had read that he must attempt to fit fifty-two bars of soap on the shelf designated for fifty. A corresponding manual for the day shift worker probably had a page with the same title, but this notified him that he must constantly replace the extra bars of soap that shoppers picked up with new bars of soap, to keep the gratification of restoring order on the soap shelf alive in every passing shopper.
For years and years I walked the same lanes, pushing my cart with all the items I had been passively manipulated into buying, sifting through the same shelves, and one day, I saw her. She was new, her apron too tight on her bosom (obviously belonging to the frail old lady who used to manage the makeup counter all the years) and her eyes sparkled with enthusiasm reserved for people who don’t manage make up counters in supermarkets. She would, every now and then, glance at the mirror and fix something that didn’t need fixing – her eyebrows, her ponytail, her mascara.
The make up counter was bang opposite the entrance, and every man who entered through the door noticed her the way I did, and every woman who entered through the door noticed her, differently, but undoubtedly. The day I noticed her, I heard one of the staff telling another “We’ve sold no makeup since she’s come. Something needs to be done.”
The other replied scornfully “It never helps to have a pretty girl on the makeup counter. Men want to go there and make small talk and never buy make up. And the women just never buy make up if there’s too many men around”
One of the staff quickly added “Besides, the whole point of buying make up is to feel prettier. Imagine going there and trying on a shade of lippy. You’d still feel so unattractive standing next to her”
The next day, the New Make-up Girl had disappeared. No doubt for all the reasons discussed between one of the staff and the other. The old lady was back at the make up counter, as she had been for many years, and I walked up to her to welcome her back.
“Good day, my dear, what would you like?”
“Just some kajal, thanks.”
“Wonderful. Here you go. All these years I’ve seen you here and this is your first buy from the make up counter!”
“Yes, I just never noticed I needed anything from it before”
As soon as the words escaped my mouth, I saw a smile on the old lady’s face and realization dawned on me. The New Make-up Girl was the two extra bars of soap.
I was seventeen when I first stole something from a shop.
A stick of kajal.
Out of spite.