She considered herself lucky. She had a home, two healthy sons, a job, smattering of decent friends here in the Holy City and from whence she came.
By most accounts she was not lacking in basic needs, but her joints and painful gait gave a warning, a tell-tale sign that she was lacking in vitamins and in self-love - two very necessary features for a healthy life. Her hair shed as well, blond strings that attached themselves to bedding, throw pillows, and leftovers on plastic plates. She ate from plastic - less fuss, less mess, less dishes to wash. But she washed the plastic anyway. Throwing out reusables was unwise and wasteful, especially since nothing was more precious and soothing to her crippled soul than
saving as much as possible for her sons'.
Her pecuniary behavior transformed from being merely thrift-centric to being a sort of obsession. Going without an item,
giving up on a purchase, even a necessary one, was a gift for the future to her sons. She invented a personal manner of deriving pleasure and accomplishment from spend-thrift behavior. The small pleasure of material self-sacrifice became routine, akin to a religious obligation such as ablution or a silent prayer filled with anxious hope of receiving even a modest sign of reassurance in return.
Was she simply cheap? That ugly word with all its connotations entered her head mostly before bed. The question would give way to a late night accounting of decades of behavior that made her lift the grey sheet over her head in shame and remorse. And she would convince herself that there was place for self-forgiveness
and she'd whisper an entreaty as if asking for leniency for past indulgences. "But the boys were young and it was what I had to do to get through," she would repeat to herself. And a litany of events and recounting of regrettable scenes and purchases would keep her awake and tears would soak the threads of hair embedded in her
pillow. Most mornings she would rise anew, as if granted absolution and she would carry on her day successfully under a shadow of caution and supplication.
"The end justifies the means," she'd say to herself while walking.
She would stop in a convenience store, buy a small roll and toss a container of nuts in her bag. "It wasn't stealing. It was saving," she'd say. One can't live on bread alone.
Logically she understood that there is no deity that condones stealing, however harmless and small the daily pilfer amounted to. Yet, the pleasure of accumulating more while spending less gave her satisfaction. But there were times, especially at night, when she awoke to an unwelcome vigil. She scouted out no one but herself in the dark and cursed her inability to simply let herself carry on, without anguish or guilt for past indulgences and current petty crimes.
She hoped for a sign that would reassure her that her methods, however unorthodox, were guided by good, familial intention and that her pecuniary path, however irregular, was still honorable and worthy.
Some days went well. Other days, as to be expected, gave rise to a nocturnal crucible of self-reflection. She classified those difficult nights as untimely and unwanted as "Judgement Day." She focused on how to amend so that she could count her blessings and not the small amounts of change that she earned by petty crime.
She needed, above all else, a nod from above to reassure her that, however misguided her actions, she was headed in the right direction, as if she was riding into Nazareth on a white horse with a warm place to lay her head upon arrival.
* * *
The streets looked different that day. They seemed cleaner, maybe in preparation for the upcoming High Holy Days. There were things to purchase in preparation for the holiday and the stores would be full.
This was good and bad, she thought. Lots of internal commotion in shops. The stores will be full - mothers pulling out coupons, dragging baby carriages and shopping carts - a perfect plethora of decoys for lifting a few necessary items. "No, not today, take a breadth and go the righteous route," she said almost out loud. "Forego the insane and risky behavior and just swipe your damn credit card for the whole bloody amount like real people do - day in and day out. Lose the temptation to fool the system. You fool no one, just yourself and you'll end up in that dreaded nocturnal hell of self ridicule, or worse, a skanky police station. Judgement Day is coming up you fool, so be wise and count your blessings, not your money."
She entered one store. "Too empty", she thought and walked to another. She entered the second store, looked around and saw mothers, children, prams - a favorable setting. She walked up and down aisles, collecting her thoughts. She ripped off two plastic bags from the vertical metal rod and continued her tour down the aisles. She placed a bottle of wine in one plastic bag and violet smelling toilet cleaner in another. She scanned the aisles for where the mothers and babies in their messy carriages converged and nodded her head in favor. She headed to the frozen foods section and hesitated. She felt something wet and clammy and was sure that a purloined liquid had opened up in her bag, but it was just leakage from the counter she was leaning against. She leaned further over the edge of the frozen foods counter while casually placing the wine, toilet scrub and other items in separate sections of her deep shoulder bag, as if aiming to free up her hands in search of her credit card. She scanned the aisles a further time, no one seemed to be looking her way and she took off straight for the door.
She quickly exited the store, while making a rough calculation of purchase versus pilfered.
"Hey, hey, stop!!" A young mother called out to her while holding the hands of two little boys. The mother grabbed the boys and ran after the woman who had just exited. The woman panicked and shoved her purloined items deeper into her bag. She tried to run but the packages held her down. They slowed her pace, destroyed her balance and finally brought her to her knees.
The young mother and her two little boys ran after the woman with the bags, relentlessly. They cornered her as she was trying to regain her balance and continue running. The young woman and her young sons watched as she fumbled and ran and cursed.
She gave up, placed the bags on the ground and looked quizzically at the young mother and her two small boys. The young woman helped her up and flashed her a wide knowing smile and with an uncanny sign of good will touched her hair and softly said, "Nice work, madam and may God protect you and keep you and may He bless you and your loved ones with abundance, always."