I’m feeling hot now, claustrophobic. The room’s very small and it’s busy. There’s only one desk in the office and three strangers deciding my fate. At some point someone’s going to ask me why I’ve been shoplifting and I know I need an answer. What will these people want to hear? Is there anything I can say that will get me out of this room? I’m confused and want to be at home. How the fuck did I let things get this out of hand?
There’s a knock on the door and my heart rate increases again. It can only be something to do with me. The door opens, two police officers walk in, and I feel my heart pounding harder now. I know what’s going to happen. I’m really scared. All of the questions that have been going through my head have been answered. I’m not stupid. I know what the police are going to do. They are going to arrest me. There’s nothing else they can do. It’s not like the time when I was nine years old, when someone called the police and they’d give me a bit of a telling off. This was more serious.
I sat in the chair hoping that by some miracle I had suddenly become invisible. I hope that it’s something, or someone else that they have come about. I’m not going to get away that easily. I’m trying to kid myself.
They are here because I’ve been shoplifting. Everyone in the room knows that. The small room shrinks with the added bodies. Still no one says anything to me. Five people are standing near the open door, talking to each other, and again the thought that I might go unnoticed goes through my mind. Maybe they will leave me alone. I feel like crying, but I don’t want to, not in front of them.
One of the police officers really scares me. He’s a big ugly looking bloke with a large waist and even larger chest. There’s no doubt in my mind that he’s dished out a bit of police brutality in his time and a 17-year-old sausage smuggler will provide him with some fun.
I’ve never been arrested before and when he asks me what I’ve been doing, I don’t know what to say. I can’t speak because I know if I speak I’ll start crying, and I don’t want to do that. He wasn’t directing that first question at me anyway. It was school teacher speak and completely rhetorical. He was looking at me, saying it to me, but I wasn’t sure if he was trying to make me answer. I’m just about to open my mouth and speak, but the manager, whose office we are all in beats me to it.
The manager says, “He’s been shoplifting. We’ve seen him a few times a week for the last month or so.” This hits me – a few times a week for the last month! They’ve known that I’ve been doing this for the last month and they’ve not done anything to stop me. Why today? Why not tomorrow? I could go home now and never come back again. I was confused and didn’t understand. If they’d known I’d been doing it since the start…
Then everyone’s attention turns to a screen in the office. I see myself on the screen. I’m walking down one of the aisles. I watch myself turn around, checking to be sure that no one is watching me. I don’t look up. No one had ever felt the need to let me know that supermarkets have cameras that watch people like me. I don’t know what to do. They’re all busy watching this monitor and I wonder if I could just get up quietly and sneak out. I’m intrigued, my eyes hooked on my image, watching that small person walking through the aisles with a basket in his left hand and a packet of sausages in his right, wearing a large checked coat. I look at him and I feel sorry for him. Why is he doing that? Why can’t he just put the sausages back and disappear?
It’s me. I know it’s me and I know what happens next. I know that when the little person moves his hand to put the sausages in his pocket they go inside the coat, but I’m sitting there, praying that they’ll fall on the floor instead. I start thinking about the checkout when I was feeling nervous. I had known there was something wrong. There was that split second where I was going to dump the sausages in the confectionary trays they put next to the conveyor belt to tempt you, but I can’t change anything and the figure on the screen will only get a few seconds of sunlight.
The police officer turns back to me like a judge about to deliver the sentence. He has a female colleague with him, who can only be a few years older than me. She has a nice sympathetic smile. I feel comforted by this and start to relax. I’m tired and want to sleep now. I feel more reassured. Sleeping often makes everything okay.
The fat police officer’s voice disturbs me. He asks for my name. I tell him. He says, “So what do we do with you now?” I don’t answer, as it’s another rhetorical question and I don’t get his sense of humour. He knows what I’ve done and doesn’t need to ask me for help with police protocol. I stare down at the table and want to cry, but not in front of him. I just want to go home and get into bed. I find it difficult to answer him. I shrug my shoulders and look at the other police officer for help, but her smile has gone and she’s writing notes. He asks me about my parents. I tell him that I don’t live with them anymore. I tell him that they threw me out.
I have a plan now. If they feel sorry for me they will go easy on me. I tell them, “They threw me out and I don’t have any money to buy food with and I know shoplifting is wrong and I’m really, really sorry.”
In a gentle caring voice that takes me by surprise, the big police officer tells me its okay and we can talk about all of that later when we are at the police station. He apologises to me and I don’t know why.