One day K was like any other 7 year old and the next day he was a thief. Like most boys his age, his penchant for sweet things commonly led to a host of foolish decisions that characterize young men. He was not old enough for them to amount to serious consequence but neither were they profitable for his growth and maturity. As often as other children would eat at the cafeteria, he would spend his money on sour straps, ice cream, sour jawbreakers and the like. You could say it was a precursor to obsession. To him, there was nothing quite like the first taste of sugar. From the moment it hit his tongue, his mood would light up. As the sensation trickled down the back of his throat, he would come away from his treat with eyes afresh and his brain acutely attuned to his surroundings. To his teachers it was clear that such a habit could only end in 2 ways: a maturing and refining of his appetite and subsequent renouncement of his former tastes, or a poverty of health from the endless cycles of consumption and withdrawal that still haunted older folk.
So it was no surprise that a new packet of mints that had recently been released to the market caught his attention in the middle of a supermarket this particular afternoon while shopping with his mom. They had started off the shopping trip like any other, with mom buying the necessary household items first before proceeding to dad’s more ridiculous and then K’s sister’s even more absurd demands. After multiple denials and negotiations with him and his sister, they approached the line at the counter. A transparent turquoise box winked at him from out of the corner of his eye. He was transfixed. Turning to it, he noticed that it had a sign reading, ‘Tic Tacs’, ‘new’ and ‘improved’ then other random letters that he could recognize but not quite string it into words that meant something. His hand extended out from him, picking up speed as it went along and then sure of its destination, snatched the box into his fist. Then like a man in shock of the treasure he’d found, presented it towards mom. ‘Mom can we buy?’ ‘No.’ ‘Why? I want it.’ ‘Because we don’t need it.’ ‘I need it!’ K’s mom began to unload her groceries. The distant look on her face was all he needed to know that his request was over before it had begun. This was all too much for him. ‘Noooooooooo!’ And then he stopped himself. This had happened to him too many times to know it never ended well. He stared at his mom as a well of hatred shot up and overflowed in him, darkening his mind and causing new and fresh thoughts to arise. As he swallowed and attempted to suppress such overwhelming emotion, a new impulse now impressed itself upon his mind. He felt at peace, though quite numb toward his mother, and stopped glaring at her. His face contorted itself then relaxed, relieved from the birth giving of such emotion. He unclenched his fist which were beginning to shake from holding the box of candy so tightly. He hadn’t even been aware that he’d been doing that. ‘Okay.’ He half smiled, as though reluctantly obeying although he never wanted to obey more. It was too suspicious otherwise, and what was needed here and now were not tantrums but cunning. He placed the box of Tic Tacs back onto the shelf. His mother was surprised, taken aback at the fact that the conflict was now over before it had begun. Then the immediate demands of the grocery trip set upon her and wasting no time she returned to unpacking the supplies onto the cashier’s table. In her heart she attributed its resolution to what she most hoped for – K’s moral growth as a result of her careful parenting.
K quietly returned his attention to what he and his sister were doing and began to help his mom by unloading more of the groceries onto the table. Once he was sure that she had directed her focus elsewhere, he grabbed as many of his groceries that she’d approved of; cereal boxes, yogurt, canned fruit, hot chocolate, and chucked them onto the conveyor belt with arms outstretched. The cereal box toppled over onto the floor just as he intended without breaking the packaging, enough for his mom to notice what he was doing but without attracting undue attention for a prolonged period. ‘Oops!’ He chirped. He shrugged his shoulders. He proceeded to pick up the cereal box with his back towards his sister and his mom now lifting paper bags back into the shopping cart. As he was straightening up with the box in one hand, he swiped the box of Tic Tacs without looking at them as though he had lost control of his other hand and then placed the two hands together on top of the cereal box, covering one another. Once he’d placed the cereal box on top of the groceries both hands were brought together, until approaching his pockets they drifted apart and then stuck, one in each pocket, where they nested.
It seemed like the lights in the store suddenly got brighter. K’s face heated up and he could even feel the reddening around the ears that he experienced when speaking in front of the class. He attempted to stand up straighter to relieve his flushed face but found he couldn’t. It was as though the weight of the store had suddenly come crashing down on his young tender back. All his thoughts were now towards the little package in his pockets and ensuring its safety. The voices of his mother and sister seemed far off. The line moved along and they headed towards the invisible twin pillars which could beep and detect if you had stolen anything. Just like magic. Like a dream, he followed his mom, gliding along the floor. Here came the first test. The two pillars came up towards his face, imposing its presence over him and then just like that vanished and he was through. He exhaled a sigh of relief. ‘What’s wrong? Are you tired of shopping?’ K’s mother squinted at him. ‘No! No! Nah. I’m fine. Fine. I mean tired. Just tired. Let’s go home.’ ‘Okay. Come along now you two.’ His sister skipped behind him and ran up to take hold of her mother’s hand. K lagged behind so that he could feel the box of Tic Tacs still in his pockets. It would be his little secret. It was then that as they were leaving the supermarket section and turning towards the direction of the parking lot that he caught sight of the security guard. A dark skinned and tall man, he stood upright facing the exit of the store. But K could swear that he was being watched out of the corner of his eye. He shoved his hand down the pocket more. To anyone else the security guard might as well have been staring at the wall. Yet K couldn’t shake the feeling that he was being watched. He shrugged. Surely if he had known he’d have come up to them by now. Nevertheless as they walked past him, he made sure to walk on the right of his mother and sister, using their bodies as shields from the penetrating gaze of this security guard. Time froze as they passed him. The shopping mall din became a quiet hush. If K had uttered a word he was sure he would have heard him. They passed one another in total silence. Then, nothing. As soon as they reached the parking lot, it was sunny again. The gentle vroom vroom of cars starting up reached his ears. And everything returned to the way it was. He heaved a sigh of relief, almost gasping for air. He was free. And yet as he jumped into the car, cutting in front of his sister and laughing, he felt like a piece of lead still remained in the square of his back like a backpack worn too long.
K did not remember how the rest of the afternoon passed, simply that it was a blur, liked a heated day of summer. The next thing he knew was that he and has family were on the rooftop of a car park, walking towards the elevators in order to reach the movie theater for dinner and a film. It was then that he experienced those first irresistible pangs, the ones people get when seeing a ‘do not touch’ sign or when standing over a cliff’s edge. As he walked by his mother’s side, never had he had more of an urge to speak, to confess his heinous crime and to attest to the world of his wicked misdeed! With every step his heart pounded and ached. With every sentence that passed in conversation with his mother, he would feel the sweat build up in his hands. His lips trembled. His mouth motioning to form ‘Today I…’ The final barrier and only solace was the strength of his stubborn 7 year old will. As they waited for the elevator he would fight to suppress it, swallowing and distracting himself with the very same candy that he stole. And offering it to the parents and sister he would be complimented for his generosity to her today. How cunning. And how wretched he was. The elevator still did not come. It seemed to like the 1st floor too much. The warm orange 1 shone above the elevator for what felt like an eternity. Would it ever come? Would it get here in time before K’s soul could hold back no longer or would he be able to crawl into the comfort of his favorite theater in time, suppressing all thought for the time being? The elevator light hit 2 and K could finally take it no longer. ‘I did it!!!’ I did it. I did it. It was me.’
K’s mother did not think much of that fateful night. Nor had she remembered it now in her mid age. But K had not forgotten it even after 20 years. The memory of that night stood out clear to him as though viewed from a film camera. He could recall it at a moment’s notice if he chose to. In every other family member’s memory it had long since receded into the category of vague impressions like food one has tasted before or a trip they had once taken overseas. There was no reason to have remembered that night. There had been no consequences, rather he had even been commended for his honesty. He was not sure which one was worse, the guilt of his memory that could not fade or the praise of his parents for precisely what he knew was wrong. Of course they had simply dismissed it as a childish thing that he would grow out of soon. And so he did. In his mind however he could never quite get the stare of the security guard out of it.
It was late one night when K was awake reading as was his custom. His son lay in his bed, and his wife was asleep next to him. And this is when they came. It began with a soft knock on the door. K thinking it was simply the house settling, lay content and continued to read, his eyes crawling to and fro over the lines of each word against his bedside. It was nice to enjoy the stillness of the night. Rap rap rap. Again came the knock. This time louder, just enough to produce the sound of wood on wood so that it could not be mistaken. Now K was puzzled. Who could that be? Believing it to be one of his neighbors, he slid off the bed and into his slippers. Grabbing his coat from a hanger he tip toed over to the entrance of his house and pried the door slightly open. In any event such an action would have been careless but it was a safe neighborhood after all. “We are here for Mr. K.” “I’m sorry I don’t believe we’ve met before, there must be a mistake.” “He does not make mistakes.” In the door way stood 2 men against the cold night air. They wore long dark over coats and must have been dark skinned for he could barely make out their faces. Being hidden under two hoods did not help either. He felt the eeriness behind their tone of voice and so did not dare to draw the door open any more. “Please step out for a moment Mr K.” This was a fairly reasonable request. The street lamps were on and the lights in the houses around his cul de sac were still on. Witnesses. Making sure he still had keys, he locked the door from the inside and closed it behind him. “All right everyone, I’m out. What’s so important that you need to talk me like this? It’s 1 am for goodness sakes.” One of the men murmured, “it’s a matter of life and death sir.” “Life and death? Please. I can’t even see your faces. How do you expect one to take you two seriously.” They stepped to the side allowing the light of the street lamp nearby to illuminate their faces. It was the sight of one that caused a chill through K’s bones. Suddenly the air seemed freezing and he wasn’t sure if he could feel his feet any longer. Underneath one of the hoods lay the same unmistakable face. It was the dark security guard from his childhood. He did not doubt it for a second. In fact it was almost as though his own self had been waiting for such a day to happen. In that moment he knew that he must go with them. “Please come with us Mr K.” “Why?” “You know why. You have always known why. Come. You still ask a lot of questions. Not much has changed in 20 years has it?” K hesitated. Not a moment too soon, he felt their arms around his. Not dragging, but guiding him down the steps and onto the curb. He felt his legs numbly obeying him, following their arms one step at a time. He knew that there was no point in struggling. They passed through the street, up the road and took a left turn onto the main road, which was illuminated by one lamp. There were no cars in sight. As they walked along the road they passed lit houses on one side and trees on the other. Every now and then, an owl’s hoot could be heard. K thought it was funny how none of the lit windows ever had anyone in them. After winding through the trees on one side of the road they finally stopped at a clearing no bigger than a soccer field. Despite having lived in the area for 10 years he had never been here. A sign into the clearing read “The Potter’s Field.” The two hooded men looked around as though scanning for something. Having located it at last, they brought K over to the far side of the field where a great ditch had been dug. By now K knew that there was no leaving. To deal with the situation he resorted to his dry humor like he always did. “You know security guards are meant to return the culprit to the store and recover the items that are lost.” The less familiar one chuckled. “I like him.” “By nature the job of guards are to keep people out. It is the person in which crime is present,” replied the security guard from the mall. Swinging K up by his arms, they lay him down softly in the ditch. From their coats they procured two shovels and begin to pile the dirt back from where it came. They dug, one shovel in sync with the other, not breaking a sweat or changing their breathing. As dirt began to pile up on K’s feet, he remarked, “but everyone has done something small like that in their life!” One of them nodded, the other as though speaking for him replied, ”We come for everyone eventually. But when is not up to us.” “Then who is it up to?” They shrugged. “The owner. We simply come when he sends for us.” Finally, K’s entire body was covered. Only his eyes remained, as though treading water. It was just long enough to see one of the guards procure a box of Tic Tacs. He just made out the letters “new and improved.” He walked over past K’s head and placed it just past him, in front of a large flat stone. As his vision darkened and his eyes began to see red around them, the guards slunk away, leaving nothing in the field except the wind and the rustle of leaves. On the flat stone over K’s grave behind the Tic Tacs, an engraving with ragged edges worn by age reads “awaiting the return of its rightful owner.”