He took a huge swig of the bottle and swiped his mouth to his sleeve, watching the grocery store. It was now or never. The winter was already coming, and he needed to get indoors. He rarely drank, but he needed this to get on with it. He lowered the bottle on the ground and took the first hesitant step towards the store. Everything in him screamed he was going against all he believed in, but hunger and coldness made anyone understand humans were made of flesh and bones. Sometimes he entertained the thought he was privileged to know this. But he would be the only one here or anywhere else thinking that. Yes, he lived his life as some philosophers aspired to: Thoreau and the rest who understood the simple living. But his plans hadn’t started from freedom to choose. It had become to be of the circumstances he couldn’t control.
For the past two years, he had lived outside the city in the forest in the tent he had built. But yesterday, after making his usual walk through the town, he had caught a glimpse of the news the fall would turn into winter next week, bringing in the icy rain possibly turning into snow. Last winter had been impossible, and he would not beg for alms nor confine to the housing shelter’s rules. He had his dignity and his convictions. The only two things left of the civility in him those with abundance had seemed to forget in their pursue of material to be part of the human condition. That was why the knife in his pocket pressed heavily against his personhood. It violated all he believed in.
He dragged the front door open; the bells chiming over him. He glanced at the counter. A petite girl was twiddling her phone, looking bored. It was no wonder at this dead hour. He shook his head and looked at his feet. He was never cruel or brutal. Violence was the worst action a man could take in this world. He had always been a pacifist since his childhood. He never took a swing at the older boys, nor anyone who came at him with their fists. They had called him a sensitive child. He hated such labels. There had been nothing sensitive about taking in a beating without letting out a cry. It had been a choice rather than fear. But how could you explain that to a kindergarten teacher or those who came after them? What did they know about pacifism when all their visions told them about normalcy and sheltering the child from harm? There was nothing normal about him, and even how hard he had tried, he had never fit the tight mold where children, adolescence, and adults were put.
He made around the store, pushing food inside his overly large green softshell jacket. He was sure the girl saw his actions from the monitors. The bliss of technology. He made sure she did, and those who needed the tape would. He had only one goal now, and that was to land himself in jail for four months. The older homeless men had said an armed robbery would do the trick. He would have to get the money out of the register as well. While robbing food was offendable, it wasn’t as highly valued in the world beyond the forest as cash was. Money was more important than a carrot, or a banana which travels to this store had taken countless vehicles and hands. Even so, the value lay in the thin piece of paper—the ones made from his trees, which were less valuable than the printed notes with holograms. Then there was always the possibility the judge sentencing him would think nobly and consider stealing food as a basic necessity.
His stomach felt tight after he had done his stroll around the store and had to face the girl. Would his actions forever scar her? Or would she even care? Just a story to post on her phone. The phone she hadn’t taken her eyes off the entire time, missing his deeds. He stopped in front of the counter. The girl, Emma, as her tag read, lowered her phone on the desk and looked at him disinterested. It was better than the looks he sometimes got. Usually, his shabby exterior were met with disgust.
“What?” Emma asked as he could only stare at her at in stunned silence.
How he missed the bottle he had left outside. It was no wonder some people found solace in there. He never drank, but this time it had seemed like the sensible thing to do.
“Could you do me a favor?” he asked and showed the inside of his jacket.
The only reaction he got was a raised eyebrow.
“I have stolen all this, and now I need to steal your register as well. For that, I have to take a knife from my pocket. I mean no harm to you or your store. I will sit outside the store and wait for the police you ring. Might you say that I threatened you and you are afraid of me while I wait? I promise I will only sit there and eat some of the food. I might as well.” He added the last part more to himself.
“Okay,” Emma said.
“You mean it?”
“Whatever rocks your boat.”
“I will take the knife out now.”
She nodded, looking more curious than afraid.
He took the knife out and said, “Now, open the register and put the cash in.”
Emma did as told. She handed the back full of cash and asked, “Do you want me to call right away?”
“If you could. It’s quite cold outside.” He swung the knife in the air.
He left her there and sat on the grocery steps, still hearing the bells chime from the closing door. He tore the seal of a feta salad open and began to eat it.
Thank you for reading and have a lovely day ❤
P.S. When I was in high school, my history and civics teacher told us how the local homeless people with alcohol problems used to commit crimes during the late summer and fall, knowing precisely what they had to do to land them in jail for the winter. That has stuck with me. A year or two ago, I read in the papers how the elderly in Japan are doing the same because there’s no social care for them, and it’s the only option for them to have health care for their specialized needs. And yesterday, I read in my local paper how a minister proposes to cut our social security measures all around because it’s the only way to get people to work. How this system is creating lazy people. One thing I agreed with him was to cut taxation of businesses. However, I would emphasize small business as the mom-and-pop shops as a whole provide more jobs than big efficient companies do. In Finland, we have this fallacy mega corporations are the salvation to our economy, and they are making laws to advantage their existence. Long are gone the individual grocery stores from my youth. There are only two significant players (plus one smaller one, which is shaking the markets) and many of our politicians sit on their boards. I’m 35, and I have forgone my free health care (it’s still cheap, it costs me to see a doctor in public health care around 13 euros,) along with the right for social service workers (from job centers to social security) to decide cases individually and take the person into account, and a lot more. I get the economic situation is tight; still, I wonder about the absurdity of there being more money around than before, yet every year there isn’t enough for everyone. And I hate the pathos the unemployed are lazy and their downfall is their fault. As some of you know, I grew in a city that hasn’t recovered from the 90s’ economic crises. Some are still paying debts from their crashed mom-and-pop shops, scraping by. And I fear what will follow from this pandemic. The low-income servers’ jobs are gone because restaurants and bars are kept closed (plus other small businesses are suffering,) and those open don’t have enough customers to support their high rent (commercial rents are insane, when I got to hear the sum of the bookshop I worked, I was astonished and it wasn’t even in prime location.) Does my economically intelligent elected minister think it’s their fault? I don’t want anyone have to rob a store to get into jail so they can be taken cared or not to freeze to death. Our system is rotten where we celebrate those who profit from others misery and criticize those who have had the mistake to be born in wrong town or family or decade or even month (I recommend reading studies done about the “curse” of being born in December/end of the year.)
© K.A. Ashcomb
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