fifty-five (while you were away)

by nike, March 19, 2015

I did shoplift something once, when I was a teenager. I went to K-Mart with my best friend and (deliberately) dropped the stolen goods into a milkshake I had purchased especially for that purpose. I don’t remember what the item was that I stole. Intended to steal. In the end, I didn’t have the guts to go through with it. I left the milkshake on a shelf in the store and walked out. My face burning.

Don’t think this is because I’m a good person. One of the most moral people I know is a shoplifter. Or, at least, a petty thief. She told me once that she regularly steals small items by not scanning them at the self-help check-out at the supermarket. Not large or expensive things, necessarily. A box of tic-tacs, maybe, or an extra piece of fruit. Nobody notices. Possible not even the store.

I’m telling this to avoid telling you the story I set out to write.

While you were away, I ate junk food and spent too long at the shopping centre. I wandered around in Myer for a long time. I tried on shoes and clothes, with no intention of buying (or stealing) anything. My stomach was bloated and painful, because of the junk food. I was in the designer clothes area when I knew I needed to fart. I looked around; there weren’t many other customers. There was a saleswoman at the counter, distracted by some housekeeping task. I moved as far away as I could from anyone else and let go.

This is what happens to normal people. Healthy people. But also to people who have embarrassing diseases. Dampness. I knew I would have to find a bathroom soon. To check for blood. Or shit.

I glanced over at the saleswoman again, absentmindedly touched something expensive and soft, and tried to remember where the closest bathroom was. The saleswoman caught me looking, frowned, caught herself and shifted into gear, smiled, put down the clothes she was tagging and moved towards me.

I moved away. Quickly. She smiled at me again, less brightly; I knew she was coming to ask if I needed any help. With sizes, perhaps. I refused to meet her eye, moved away. Was the smell gone? Dissipated? Was it following me, or had I left a loose stench wafting near the silk shirts? I moved faster, nervously. A blush heat-prickling the skin of my throat.

You should always meet a salesperson’s eye, and smile. You should not look shifty, or start walking away. Almost running. It is difficult to explain yourself to the security guard. The difficulty is complicated by the look on the security guard’s face. And the face of the salesperson. Do not keep staring at their noses, trying to work out whether the sneers they share are the kind reserved for thieves, or for bad smells.

While the security guard searches my bag, I wonder which offence, if confirmed, would make me less likely to revisit the store. The shame of being a thief; or the shame of being human.

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