I walked towards the tills and started digging in my handbag for my purse. I’d found a t-shirt that I thought would be an excellent addition to my dance class wardrobe. As I scratched about, I noticed that my mobile phone wasn’t in its little pocket. I dug around a bit more and couldn’t feel it. So I dumped my bag on the floor, knelt down and scratched around with nervous enthusiasm – while people watched me curiously. After much searching I discovered that my phone was not there. Neither was my purse.
I retraced my steps and ended up back where I’d been looking at dance clothes. There was nothing on the floor. About ten minutes earlier, I’d had an odd experience. A lady had approached me from the left and had started looking at the same items as me. Then another lady approach me on the right – she was friendly and chatty and noted how lovely the gym-wear was that season. While we were ‘ooh-ing’ over the colour choices, another lady appeared behind me, lost her footing and crashed into me.
I’d thought nothing of it at the time. All of these ladies were of at least two generations ahead of me and seemed completely benign. In fact, as the ‘behind-me’ lady crashed into me, I pulled her up, concerned that she might have injured herself. The more I tried to pull her up, the more I kept falling over. The chatty lady on my right attempted to help me up too (she wasn’t very good at it). We giggled together awkwardly and after a couple of stumbles, we were back on our feet. All three women then disappeared, as though we hadn’t just been entangled.
As I stood in front of the clothing stand, I looked around wondering if I could spot any of the ladies – maybe they’d help me look for my lost items. I couldn’t see them anywhere. So I popped the t-shirt back on the rack and went looking for a shop assistant to ask if they had a ‘lost property’ box. I waited in the queue until I was called up by the cashier.
“I wanted to find out if you’ve had items handed in today. It’s not a good situation – I seem to have lost my purse and my mobile. Would someone hand those in?”
“Unlikely” answered the gentleman.
“It’s possible I just left them at home in another handbag actually.”
“You probably didn’t” he continued, “we’ve had a few problems lately. Follow me.”
I found out that the gentleman I’d approached was actually the store manager. He took me into a back room to where a man sat behind a bunch of black and white TV screens. They spoke for a moment and then he called me over.
“This is our Security Manager, Jan. He’ll ask you a few questions.”
Jan started by asking me if I’d encountered anything unusual while I’d been walking around the store. I explained the situation with the lady falling into me. I told him I was certain that these ladies wouldn’t have taken anything from my bag – the one reminded me of my granny and was very sweet.
“That’s precisely why they might have robbed you” said Jan. “They’re looking after children and grandchildren, and sometimes they feel robbing young targets, is their best bet to support their family.”
I didn’t believe him.
They asked me which area of the store I’d been in when the strange falling incident happened. I described the gym section and where I’d been standing along the clothing rails. They nodded at each other.
“Not far from the door,” continued Jan “It’s a clever spot with a clear escape route.”
I shook my head. Then Jan pulled up footage from 20 minutes earlier. We had to move around the timeline a little bit before we saw me walking into the frame. Then I watched the three ladies move around me – like sharks circling a seal. Jan slowed down the video. As I fell over and was helped by the lady on my right, we watched the ‘quiet’ lady on my left put her hand into my bag and pull something out. As I fell a second time, she put her hand in again and seemed to pull out another object.
They got me! The men asked me if I wanted to press charges – but warned me that it was unlikely to come to anything but that they’d keep an eye out for these ladies again (apparently they seldom hit the same store twice). I declined and left the store feeling really defeated. Why had these ladies stolen from me, a young student? I lost a little bit of hope in humankind that afternoon.
I sat at home reflecting that evening. I could never trust a stranger ever again, I decided - nor would I ever help anyone seemingly in need. After a few days of being unkind and unhelpful, I decided that while those ladies had stolen my phone and my purse, I couldn’t let them steal my character (and joy). I felt rubbish!
I remembered this moment recently as I was thinking about how I can find ways to help others more, moving into 2021. I know supporting others gives me a sense of purpose and makes me feel better about just about everything. It was a good reminder that even though there might be moments when I feel let down, that being kind is always the right thing to do. Always.