Marva Longmore – The Unlucky Thief
The Unlucky Thief
A Short Story By
Samuel chanced upon me when he saw me paying my quarterly telephone bill at the busy Post Office in Star Parade. I glanced over my shoulder to see him standing in front of an old man and a woman, waiting to collect their pension. The queue stretched far back to the entrance. I said a vacant “hello,” asked how his Mother was, and dusted him off like a dirty blob of stray lint with the final words, “Take care Samuel.” I tried not to make eye contact. I was at the entrance; I was nearly there. Samuel blocked my escape.
“Wait there a minute,” Samuel said like we were meaningful. I should’ve put my earplugs in: drowned out his noise. But I didn’t. Like an idiot I waited for him. “Alma? Isn’t it?” He said unsure of my name. My body bristled impatiently. I gave him my best false smile. The smile stuck on my mouth like a lead weight. I thought: what do you want? This had better be good. Talking over the head of the old man Samuel told me his story.
“I went to the Post Office in North Park and I asked the man if he could do this for me. He told me to go to the other Post Office in Park Avenue. They couldn’t do it either, and if this man can’t do it, I don’t know what I’ll do.” “What is it?” I asked looking towards the open door with the wet pavement glistening with overnight rain. “You see it’s my daughter. She’s due to go into hospital today in Birmingham for an operation on her kidneys. She’s been on kidney dialysis and I need to get up there,” Samuel said.
“How old is your daughter?” I asked. “Nine. And I,…..” Samuel replied. “Next please,” The Postmaster interrupted. Back in the day the Post Office dealt with books, before they introduced the card account system. Samuel walked up to the security screen made of toughened glass with a slit at the bottom big enough for the customer and The Postmaster to put their hands under to carry out transactions. He pushed a benefit book under the glass.
“Can you do this for me today I’ll even let you hold my book until next week Monday. PLEASE! I just need to ahh umm,” Samuel finished lamely. The Postmaster shook his head. “No sorry, I can’t do this for you, have you tried North Park?” “Yes, but they won’t do it,” Samuel whined. “What about the one in Park Avenue?” “I tried that one, too but they wouldn’t do it,” Samuel shrugged. The Postmaster mirrored Samuel’s shrug. “The date on this benefit book says next Monday you’ll have to wait until Monday.”
We walked out of the Post Office together. I didn’t want to be here with Samuel’s mess. Samuel was a thief. Who was my neighbour! At that moment I wished I had the power of invisibility. The damp morning air smelt of car exhaust fumes, faeces, mould, and take away.
Samuel held his head in his hands. “What am I going to do? I’ve got to see my daughter. I haven’t seen her in a while,” Samuel said. “Have you tried getting an emergency payment from the Social? I’m sure if you explained, they’d give you one,” I said. “No I’ve asked Social already. They told me I was over my limit. I tried two Post Offices already. I cursed the manager in Petersfield, he said unless I apologise, he’s not letting me come back again,” Samuel said. You obviously didn’t apologise hard enough. I thought.
“The other Postmaster in North Park banned me and The Postmaster in Park Avenue said no,” Samuel said. Why didn’t that surprise me! We walked towards Petersfield High Street. Petersfield was still drowsy from the night before; it was nursing a huge hangover. Most of the shops were closed albeit a few grocery stores, the pharmacy, Shoe Shop and Freezerland. I could do without this. He’s getting on my last nerve.
We both stood there: waiting. Samuel scanned the shops like an infra-red beam thinking. I felt like a slug: impaled on a stick, belching, drooling, squirming and twisting to get away. I’d blended with Samuel. His shit was now mine. We both stank of the street. “How much does it cost to get to Birmingham?” I asked. “Twenty four pounds return,” Samuel replied. My lips moved. “If I had any money on me I’d give it to you even if I never saw you again. But my credit card is at home,” I said.
“I beg you please. I really need the money. Can you go home and get it?” Samuel put his hands together and prayed. Last time I checked he wasn’t a churchgoer. What? Are you serious? You’ve got to be kidding me. God help me. What am I doing here? I ask myself. I can’t believe I’m discussing money with a thief.
Alma, you’re an idiot!
The twenty pounds inside my pocket yelled:
Samuel and David Watson lived next door to us with their mother Shirlene. I’d never seen their father. Shirlene was a single mother. She was a nice kind lady, from Trinidad, Port of Spain. Shirlene had an infectious laugh that made you smile with her, and a tiny waist that flared out into generous hips. She always had a cigarette dangling at the right side of her mouth. That’s where all cigarettes lived: her mouth was a talking cigarette.
Aged five and seven my sister Rosetta and me played with Samuel and David in the dirt filled garden of our home making mud pies, writing our names in the mud. We all fell in love. We double dated. Samuel was my boyfriend, and David was Rosetta’s. We kissed each other secretly in the garden away from the prying eyes of our parents. We didn’t care if we got caught out. So what! We were in love. At age five; I was a loved up little monster. Nobody was going to spoil our fun.
We pledged undying love to each other in the mud. Drawing a big heart with our initials inside! And fantasised about the names of our children when, we grew up and got married! Years passed by. Having two young males living under the same roof; nightmare! They were competitive, fighting like mangy dogs. The walls juddered with the force of the fighting. Rosetta and me pressed our ears against the wall when we heard the fighting.
Shirlene was the mediator. Somebody complained to The Council about the noise. The Health and Safety officer came around to record the noise levels. The Council monitored the family for a period of two months, the fighting grew. The Council evicted them and they were all re-housed.
When I’d first seen Samuel approaching, I screamed silently. He didn’t look good. And to think that he’d come to me in his hour of need: as if that was an honour. I don’t know why I didn’t tell him to scram. I’d seen Samuel intermittently in my teens, not to speak to, but in the distance. He always seemed to be in a hurry. His skin had lost its shine over the years, becoming dull and grey. It was as though a vacuum cleaner had come by and sucked the juice out of his face. His face was badly pockmarked. He looked half dead.
Samuel’s face had the hardened look of a hawk. His eyes were dull, unblinking and uncaring. The streets had claimed him as one of theirs, and he ran into its arms willingly. I remembered running my fingers through his hair as a five year old. It was now twisted up into funky dreads. A few strands escaped from the navy blue Nike peaked cap that he wore. Samuel’s clothes were black and blue. Hanging loose, he wriggled uncomfortably, as though trying to escape an imaginary itch. His clothes were shabby and his pockets had holes in them. He looked raggedy.
“I can’t do that Samuel,” I said firmly. We came to a standstill outside Freezerland. I heard the tills whirring. I looked on the shelf that housed the cinnamon and raisin bagels; my breakfast. Five packs left.
The twenty pound note screamed again:
Spend me, spend me.
I couldn’t move. I was snookered. “Isn’t there anybody who can give you some money, what about, your Mum?” I asked. He looked me straight in the eye. “No. Her sister died. She bought a ticket to go to America for the funeral. She packed her suitcase already. She hasn’t got any money, she’s broke. I was up at 6:30am this morning knocking on people’s door to see if they could help me. The Police even stopped me. To ask what I was doing up this time of the morning,” Samuel said.
“What about David?” “David? I haven’t seen him. Might be in a jailhouse for all I know,” Samuel said. He raised his eyes to the sky. “I thought you kept in touch?” I asked. “We don’t chat. True say through him I got into trouble with some people. I had to pay off some of his debts,” Samuel said bitterly.
David and Samuel! They’d been so close even when they were fighting. I wondered, what had happened there? But I didn’t care anymore. He was trouble and I knew it. “There must be somebody you know that can give you some money to get up there,” I said. “I haven’t been down these sides for years,” Samuel said. Liar I thought, so what are you doing down here now? I ask him silently. “Everybody I know has moved,” Samuel looked me straight in the eye. “Don’t you know anybody who can give you a lift up there?” I asked. “No,” Samuel replied. He was all alone.
His eyes suddenly lit up. He took a credit card from his pocket and waved it in front of me. “It’s from a company I sometimes work for. “That’s why the name is different, you can, hold it,” he said brazenly. “No thanks,” I replied.
We stood silently, taking in the traffic. Cars drove by sporadically and stopped at the traffic lights a few yards down the road. The exhaust fumes created a smoky haze. I’d hitched a ride in Petersfield with Samuel. I didn’t know what to believe. How could he have come back to nothing? Surely a thief has assets. I was drunk on all the information Samuel had given me. He had a plaster for every sore; an answer for everything.
When you have friends that are thieves the general idea is that: things go missing. What’s the point asking another thief about a stolen item? In those rancid years that I hadn’t seen Samuel, he’d become a professional beggar. “Boy. I don’t know what else to do then,” Samuel said. “I don’t know either Samuel,” I said. “I’m desperate,” Samuel said. “What are you going to do now?” I asked. “I don’t know,” Samuel shook his head. This action dislodged the cobwebs that had been hampering him all morning.
His eyes sparkled back to a brilliant white. He had a plan. “I’m going to have to do a robbery,” Samuel said as nonchalantly as if he was asking somebody for a spare cigarette.
I looked really hard at this man. He must be high on drugs. Drugs wouldn’t have given him this clarity. Would they? He was stone cold sober. His threat laced my body like frostbite. Help me God. I whimpered like a neutered dog. My veins started crimping. They ran up and down my spine like nervous tics on speed. “No don’t do that. It’s not worth it!” My voice rose. It sounded as though I was five again; high and screechy. “I don’t know what else to do if you can’t help me,” Samuel said wheedingly. “There must be another way,” I said.
The cars zooming by were only going one way. Samuel only knew what he knew. I noticed that this was his way too. I remembered dimmed arguments heard through walls years ago over money taken from Shirlene. Promises of paybacks never fulfilled. It slowly dawned on me why family and friends had cut him off. His ambition to be a lifelong thief had been achieved. He’s a loser. I began to wonder if this jackass had a daughter at all. My brain started bubbling.
I started to ease myself away from him. I look down the road, Mum was walking towards me. “There’s my Mum. See you. Mum there’s Samuel, remember him?” I said. Mum eyed Samuel warily. “Hello,” she said. “Hi Mum,” he replied. Samuel raised his hand. “Excuse me Mum, could do me a favour? I just need…..” I cut him off. “Don’t lend him any money,” I hissed out of earshot. “No. No. I haven’t got any money. I’m a pensioner I don’t have much,” Mum said. Pensioners are exactly what Samuel likes. Easy prey!
“Okay,” Samuel said. Samuel had accepted his fate. “See you Samuel, take care,” I left him still standing there. “What was all that about?” Mum asked. “His daughter is in hospital in Birmingham and he wanted some money to get up there,” I said. “Why doesn’t he get a job?” Mum asked. “Hmmm. Where are you going Mum?” I asked. “To the bank,” Mum replied. “I might as well come with you. Samuel might rob you,” I replied.
Whilst Mum was being served, I kept looking out for Samuel fearing he’d return and I hid behind a leafy rubber plant. I broke out in a sweat. I turned around to see where Mum was in the queue. I turned back to face the street. My heart fell to the ground like a stone as I watched Samuel. He drifted around the corner like a dark shadow in dark clothes. Even a thief has to get dressed for work. And Samuel was as good as his word striding towards Park Road where the busy bus stops were situated and people were on their way to work.
But Samuel had already decided on a job, one that paid well, with hours that suited him. He was going to be the best criminal he could be. He was his own boss; self employed. He was going to make money today one way or another. And with his burning ambition of self-employment, he was hell bent on making someone’s day, a nightmare. Samuel was careful, very careful. He only stole from the older, vulnerable, young and weak; life’s wildebeest. If you look at wildebeests in the jungle! They’ll run straight into the jaws of a lion without the lion having to break a stride. And Samuel was that predator.
I went back to my house; Mum went back to her house. Later that evening, my Sister rang me. I told her what happened. You know what she told me, “I saw Samuel an hour ago. He asked me for a £1.00. He’s always begging.” We laughed at Samuel’s bag of tricks. Was he for real? Samuel and David were lifelong thieves. We reminisced about the arguments that went on next door years ago sometimes lasting a week! Seems like this happened only yesterday.
Samuel and David were as bad as each other. They actually stole money from their Mum’s purse. One thing about the pair of them, they were consistent: they never smiled. Their faces both looked as if they were carved from granite. They were opportunists. But one day they were both sent to prison for three years for mugging a pensioner. Whilst in prison they talked and walked amongst other hardened criminals. They were released from prison, not rehabilitated. They were worse when they came out. To be unleashed on an unsuspecting public!
But in his haste to getaway Samuel forgot one thing: his credit card. He’d left it on the ground. A passerby picked it up and handed it in at Park Road Police Station. It obviously wasn’t his. What credit card company would give a thief a credit card? The police lifted Samuel’s fingerprints from his DNA. He was on their list of well known muggers. It was only a matter of time before they caught up with him. And five days later the knock on the door told Samuel his time of freedom was up.
Samuel used the old familiarity we had as children to lie and cheat to get money out of me. I was brought up in a rough neighbourhood. But I was always taught to be polite to people whatever their circumstances. That’s what I was doing; being polite. I was doing what people should do in these situations: keep your friends close and your enemies even closer. I haven’t seen Samuel since. And if I do; the same rules will apply.