A nine year old pickpocketed me, and I wish I were joking
Today I parked the car and walked up to the kids’ elementary school, to pick up my two youngest. There are usually a couple-few dozen people waiting around the exits to pick up their kids before the bell rings, and today was no exception.
RING goes the bell, and kids and teachers start to file out of the doors, waiting in packs or finding parents and heading out. I feel a little tickle against my left buttcheek.
Now, let’s stop right there. Post-bell-ring is always a mild madhouse, and the kids are none too careful about bumping and brushing up against you as they bulldoze toward their designated adult. But. (1) I’m long in the habit of checking my pockets any time someone brushes up against me. Maybe it’s growing up in a bad neighborhood, maybe it’s world travel. Who knows. (2) This was different. This was little fingertips dancing quickly across and away.
Unpause. I watch the little girl who had brushed past behind me walk eight feet away, and slip something very covertly into the hand of a woman – obviously standing and waiting for her kids – standing with arms folded, leaning up against a pillar. The little girl looks directly at me and moves away. The woman looks directly at me and looks away. I keep watching, through my sunglasses and under my hat. After about a minute, the woman unfolds her arms, and from that hand tucks away a folded set of bills into her purse.
What. The. Frak.
She looks at me again, and begins to walk away across the parking lot, surrounded by a group of kids and parents. I can’t actually tell if the little girl is with her; I’ve been watching the adult too hard.
I follow, catch up with her.
“I saw what you did. I saw what she did, and I’m telling you: don’t do it again.”
She is adamant, puzzled. “What are you talking about?”
“You know exactly what I’m talking about. I saw her, I saw you. Do not do this again, or I’ll get the authorities involved.”
She denies again. I say, “I’m not going to make a deal out of this right now. But I’m telling you, stop.” I walk away.
A crossing guard asks what’s up, and I tell her. She is flabbergasted. She does not know who the woman is. With so many parents around, that’s no surprise.
Freeze frame again. We humans have a bad habit: we like to reverse-engineer things we’ve seen, either to fit the facts we want to be true, or to unfit facts we don’t want to be true. I don’t want there to be a 9 year old girl at my son’s school who is being taught to steal. I don’t want there to be a woman that is so clearly serving her child so ill. I would far rather be wrong, so I start to think, “was I even carrying any money? Maybe I’m wrong, maybe she’s just handing her change from school lunch or something. Maybe…”
Nope. I’m not going to do that. I know exactly what I felt. I know those definite looks I got. I saw the money. I saw it all.
Unfreeze. I could have made a bigger deal. I could have demanded the money back. I could have let it go without saying anything. But I think I did exactly right, exactly what I – with the benefit of hindsight – wanted to do. A bigger deal would have caused a scene and led nowhere. Demanding the money, or worse, grabbing the woman, would have started a fistfight in the middle of a bunch of children. And I can’t even identify the denomination(s) of money I had in my back pocket. A $5? Two $1s and a $10? No earthly idea.
But I remember well enough what the woman looks like, I think. And I was wearing a freaking fedora and sunglasses, if you can but dig it. Maybe another day, I’ll be wearing a light pair of jeans and reading glasses, with my hair tucked into a ballcap. Maybe there’ll be a $5 pinned to the inside of my back pocket, just sticking out where you can see it…