Rain was pouring as the puppet show came into the village. With them came dark skies, thunderous clouds, and vicious claps of lightning that were brighter than any lamp invented. Everyone understood that the puppet business didn't stop for any sort of weather altercation however. The performers were covered, so what did it matter if the audience was soaked through their clothing for entertainment. As long as the puppeteers got their money from ticket sales, they could care less about the actual people they were providing for.
I suppose I shouldn’t be so cynical though. Without these travellers, I wouldn’t have an audience to steal from. Yes, that’s right, I’m a pickpocket. I’d say lock me up now, but you have no control over me, and this is my story to tell. I had no desire to go and stand in the rain for an hour amongst a crowd of wet and smelly townsfolk, but I needed to trade some sort of valuable to be able to eat for the next week.
My stomach growled loudly as I snuck into the crowd that had already paid. As if I had two dollars to stand amongst the waiting people. Nobody noticed me. I kept my head down, my collar up, avoiding eye contact at all cost. My grey overcoat became dark and heavy with rain water. Drops splattered on my head and into my eyes as the curtain was drawn back from the opening of the carriage.
A poorly woven doll with long blonde hair stood gazing out at us before she was propelled into an act of opera. The audience chortled as she stumbled over her words and played the part she was given. Or rather, forced into. Nevermind the sentiments of a rag doll, this was my time to shine. Easily distracted crowds were the best people to steal from because they were often drunk by the time they made it to the show. Anything that went missing would be easily forgotten about or forever misplaced in a drunken stupor.
My first target was a man with his daughter on his shoulders. His face shone through the rain and his daughters smile was illuminated by flashes of lightning. They were having so much fun watching the performance that the fellow didn't even notice the gold watch unclasp off his wrist and fall into my clutches. How convenient.
Another puppet accompanied the blonde. A male with ragged brown hair that looked like the top of a mop. Probably her love interest who found her castle with the desire to steal her heart. As the puppets let out shrieks of love and jubilee, I stepped past a woman who didn't feel my hand swiftly take a ring from her pocket. The rain started coming down in torrents and the audience became discouraged. Nobody could hear the dialogue over the booming and rumbling of the sky anymore, and soon the puppets were performing for an empty field. Like I said, they just cared about ticket sales, not the giant puddles of mud that had formed over the past half hour.
I ran to tuck myself under a thick branched tree for shelter. Taking my jacket off to hang it on a low bearing branch, this would be where I slept for the night. Maybe I’d follow the puppet show out of the village come morning. All I had managed to get was the watch and ring. Hardly enough to stay here with an attempt to thrive.
Lighting a match that had somehow managed to stay drive in my pocket, I checked out my prizes for the evening. The watch didn't seem to have moving hands, so it was presumably broken. The ring was scratched beyond belief with a dent on what should have been the upper side of the jewel.
“Do you like it?” A soft voice said from behind me. I swivelled around, tucking the ring and watch out of sight. “You don’t have to hide what you stole, son. I knew you took it.”
It was a small, old woman who looked tired beyond her years. Bags hung down from watery blue eyes as her knotted fingers were clasped in front of her. Her dress was just as soaked through as my jacket, she seemed to be shivering under the weight of her small frame.
“What are you talking about?” My voice croaked.
“Don’t play coy with me. I know you took my ring.”
Silence hung over us, encapsulating the damp atmosphere dripping from the branches. Cicadas sang in the distance, an owl hooted from above, Mother Nature continued her storm. I knew I had to break the tension.
“I need this ring.”
“That old thing? Why would a young man such as yourself need a busted piece of silver?”
“I’m so hungry, I have nothing to eat.”
“Well I’m sure you don’t plan on eating it, but if that’s your plan, at least let me tell you the story behind it first.”
“My mother gave me that ring. The last thing she gave me actually. You see, it’s been in my family for generations. That’s why it’s so beat up. It’s been handed down from generation to generation, going through tens of first borns. When my mother was on her deathbed, her body being taken away by God himself, she said it was my turn to have it. To give it to my first born.”
Silence filled the air again. How was I supposed to ask why she still had this ring, if she surely had had children at some point in her life? Or if this was all a fib, and she planned on selling the silver for herself? Part of me screamed to grab my jacket and run. This was my life, not some old woman’s.
“I know, you’re probably wondering why I still have it,” She sighed, rubbing into her knobbed knuckles. “You see, my husband and I tried for many many years. We were never gifted with the life of a child though. The good Lord didn't see it in this life for me. Now my husband is dead, as is the rest of my family. I couldn’t just get rid of the ring, it’s all I’ve had for so many years.”
“But why not sell it for money? You could do so many more things with your life if you had money!”
“Young man, money is not the key to happiness. Of course happiness can come from money, it’s the foundation of everything, except for true happiness. That’s not created through money. That ring has gotten me through many a hardship, I think it brings happiness wherever it goes.”
“I’m sorry ma’am but that just sounds like a self fulfilling prophecy you were never able to fulfill.”
“And you’d say you’re fulfilling your prophecy living a life like this?” She shrugged to my hanging jacket and stolen goods. My jaw clenched. Who was she to judge me? I had her property but it was mine now. “Look, I know you’re not a bad fellow.”
“You don’t know me.”
“Well, I’d like too. Nobody picks up a profession like yours without a need to fill some sort of void. Whether that be greed or hunger, pickpockets are always looking for something. What is it that you’re looking for?”
“I told you, I’m hungry. I haven’t eaten for days,” I sighed rubbing my eyes.
“Come home with me. I’ll feed you, and then you can do some work for me when you feel up to it.”
“Why would I want to work for you?”
“Because otherwise I have no choice but to report you to the authorities. I doubt they’ll treat you as kindly as I intend too.”
The deafening silence hung in the air again. The storm seemed to have passed during our short conversation because I could hear the nightlife again. People were cheering and jesting in the field by my tree. I nodded to the old woman and as she walked out from under the branches, I grabbed my coat to follow her. Perhaps this was a ridiculous idea, but worst case scenario, I’d rob her and never be seen again.