Thursday, 20 April 2017

The Steal and the Reparation

In my youth I committed a crime. An impulsive, acquisitive act that didn't hurt anyone in the vicinity at the time, nor would it when the article was missed, if it ever was, or at least that's what I thought because in the end it always does, affect someone, that is.
And here comes the excuse: I was young! And overcome by wanting an item I'd spotted and knowing I could get, right there and then, without having to save up or lay out any expense, or waste time in tracking down the very thing, for it was there, the exact copy I wanted on display. Even retrospectively, the remembrance of that moment fills me with the same keen yearning, in spite of the item being here, in front of my left elbow on the writing desk.
That first sighting was exquisite; a little thrill ran through me, raising hairs on the back of my neck and causing my skin to flush, a sensation mostly felt for I'm sure I stayed my usual shade of pale, and the next step was, of course, to get close enough to touch it, to stretch an forefinger out and lightly tap its cloth-bound, rough exterior and trace the gold embossed lettering.
This I did with a shaking hand as if it were the hand of an vengeful God about to proclaim his wrath, so that the tentative caress led to glances being exchanged between those who had also stopped by and those who stood at their customary posts, and that being so both my hands dived into the pockets of my overcoat where they opened and closed their fists around household keys and coins.
I was the only one that lingered, transfixed, yet not inattentive to the impression that floor staff wished to shoo me away and rid the entry-way of my open-mouthed, goggle-eyed admiration. I was not, I think, what they had in mind with this attempt to revive interest in forgotten authors and their lesser known and less circulated works. I outstayed the curiosity they wished to arouse, and what's more didn't attempt to browse any other novels. My green eyes fixed on the looked-for, longed-for object, just as their eyes, of varying shades and size, were fixed on me.
I'm not, you understand, usually the pilfering sort, and I might have found a way to pay a lending fee if it had been for lending, but a small neat handwritten sign stipulated that it was: For Reference Only. And even if the first had been an option, I mightn’t have returned it, the urge being greater not to, and so, my assessment then, as of now, is that it would have in the end amounted to the same crime: making something that wasn't mine, mine.
And the second, well, in my opinion that wasn't even worth my consideration. What good was merely fingering the pages, in haste to commit to mind in parcelled-out time the delicious prose, whilst observed doing so? There was no private pleasure in that, even if a less detectable corner was found, which left off-the-premises borrowing. To borrow is such a manipulable term, and much preferred to thieving.
As luck would have it, Mrs Bird, the priggish overseer of the book lending shop, got distracted, as did the other floor staff, by some animated boys outside who were taunting some poor creature, and that, I'm sorry to say, was the ripe moment in which I impulsively acted. The left hand came out from its pocket and grabbed the much desired novel, concealing it as best it could in the folds of my overcoat; the free hand drawing the fabric around me as if for warmth and in preparation for an exit. Then I sallied forth as staff and patrons alike were turned towards the windows facing the high street, and slid right instead of the usual left that would have taken me home in half the time but meant I passed by their watching eyes.
The irony is this novel, unnamed deliberately in case you're wondering, which has been in my possession for forty odd years has always felt as if it were visiting, as if at some point in its history it would leave me, and that rare moment, like the moment of its theft, came. Yesterday.
And so, I returned, a much older man with said thumbed book tucked under my coated arm, to the scene, changed as it is, to amend my youthful folly.

Picture credit: The Theft 1894 and the Restitution 1920, Max Beerbohm