Forgive those who trespass against us.

It’s finally happened. My home is a haven of criminality. I live surrounded by thieves, anarchists and drug abusers, but up until now, I have managed to remain a beacon of honesty and integrity, a light in the darkness, a paragon of virtue. And then I got caught shoplifting on Friday. This came as as much of a surprise to me as it does to you. Not because I didn’t expect to get caught, but because I didn’t know I was doing it at the time.

I was caught by the man (who in this case was a short, round little woman) taking a pie out of the Pick ‘n Pay without paying for it. As I always say, go large or go home!

Me last Friday.

Let me lay out my defence. Firstly, I was not feeling very alert. This was not my fault. My son, a lord of chaos masquerading as a sweet, sensitive boy, had decided to investigate the alarm clock in our bathroom. Naturally, he had set it for 2:30 am. As one does. South Africa is not the sort of place where one gets woken by strange noises in the middle of the night and takes it lightly. I lurched out of bed armed with a set of dangerous catch-phrases (“I’ll kick your arse so hard your dog will bleed!”) before realising that it was just a clock. Then I had to find it. Drunk with sleep and blind without my glasses, I lurched around for five minutes before finding it on top of the toilet cistern. Obviously. The rest of the family, shagged out after a heavy day of bringing civilisation to its knees, slept on oblivious, but that was it for my night.

Secondly, the good people at the Pick ‘n Pay had laid out a whole display of children’s’ toys at markdown prices, right next to the till where I usually pay (I do, I promise!). I had picked up my pie and was making my way to the till to pay when, in my exhausted state, I stopped to browse, happily daydreaming about how my sleep-destroying first-born was never going to get any of these. It took me a while to decide which one I would feel best about not buying him. Finally settling on a really cool radio controlled truck/helicopter, I smiled quietly to myself and started off back to work.

And then it happened. “Excuse me sir! Can I see your receipt please?” came a shrill, challenging voice. The penny hadn’t dropped yet, so I cheerfully fished out my wallet. I opened it up to grab the receipt, and saw the R100 note I had just drawn to pay for the pie, unbroken. Oh shit!

I have no idea how that got there!

Most people at this point would go into some sort of panic. All I thought was “oh dear. Here we go again!” my heart rate didn’t even go up.

You see, I have spent my entire life in a self-imposed but nonetheless intensive training program for incidents just like this. Not accidental shoplifting, but absent-mindedly blundering into the sorts of situations that other people only face once or twice in a lifetime. They say it takes at least 10 000hours of practice to become a genius at something. When it comes to blundering innocently into a world of trouble, I passed the 10 000 hour mark before I had all my adult teeth. My son may be a lord of chaos, but I am its master.

At junior school, I could cheerfully get ten minutes into a lesson before realising that I wasn’t even signed up for that class. Arriving at the right sport with the right equipment was beyond me. Minor issues like homework assignments didn’t even appear on my radar until the day they were due. And all the time I was learning how to cope with my disability.

High school provided me with a five year break. When I was at school, caning was the accepted method of punishment. I soon realised that I could happily ignore any duties or responsibilities in exchange for a regular beating. In my first year, I broke the annual beatings per year record, without ever actively misbehaving. It sounds barbaric in these enlightened times, but it was all very cheerful and civilised. And it did amazing things for my street cred.

At university, things went to hell again. I arrived for my first exam without any identification. I would phone home, spitting mad, to tell my parents that my bike had been stolen, only to find it, days later, exactly where I had left it. More than once, I arrived for exams only to find that I had studied the wrong subject.

And life has continued in this vein ever since. I went on a fifteen day holiday alone in the bush with only one set of underwear (I could tell you things about chafing that would make a Mongol horseman weep). I arrived at the airport, packed and ready for my first work conference, with underpants to spare, to find that my flight had left two days previously.

It’s never simple, either. Lots of people crash their cars. I crashed mine into an off-duty policeman. Lots of people lock their keys in their cars. I managed to do so with the engine running. Everybody accidentally cuts themselves. I managed to almost sever a toe at a remote hotel where the only doctor was drunk and only seemed to have six inches of bandage, and sewed me up with dental floss. Lots of people have found themselves hooked on a barbed-wire fence. I managed to do so as a raging bush-fire swept towards me.

A lovely day for a stroll in the countryside

You would think that I would learn to avoid these situations, but that part of my brain appears to be missing. The part of my brain that deals with them once they arrive, however, is a masterpiece. Coping with this sort of thing is like breathing to me. I can break into almost any house or car, not to steal but to get my keys out. I can push start a car when there is no-one around to help. I know what to do when my jersey bursts into flames while I am stuck on a barbed -wire fence. Getting arrested for shoplifting is no biggie.

The first thing that crossed my mind was that all the genuinely guilty shoplifters would say precisely the same thing as the innocent ones in this situation. So instead of falling to my knees and tearfully proclaiming my innocence, I strolled up to the approaching manager, told him I had been caught walking out without paying, and asked him what we were all going to do about it. This seemed to throw him a little. Then I told him that what I would do if I were him would be to ask the security guard whether she thought I was so confident a thief that I would walk straight past her with the contraband in my hand, or just a moron. She went for the moron option. I was a free man!

Or not. The manager told me that by now he too was convinced that I was a moron and not a thief, but there were certain formalities that had to be followed. The formalities seemed to consist mainly of following another man to the small, open booth where all the thieves go. And only the thieves go. The good people of the Pick ‘n Pay have placed the booth in full view of the public, since their lawyers obviously told them that putting up a set of stocks would be dodgy.

But I brought it in with me. I swear!

I tried to look like I was trying to sell the guard life insurance, but since I was dressed as a lumberjack, I don’t know that anyone was convinced. Mothers covered their children’s’ eyes. Attractive young women turned their backs on me. Small groups of Patrician-looking old men shook their heads and whispered about how it was probably drugs. And I signed a full confession to unlawful trespassing.

South Africa can be a wonderful place. When the guard had led me over to the shaming booth, he had been bold and upright. Purposeful. Purposefully he reached for a stack of important looking papers and began to flick through them telling me I had to “sign a paper saying I took something without paying”. Slightly less purposefully, he put them back. When he picked up the next stack of papers I would venture to suggest that he was starting to look a little vague. “You mean a confession of theft?” I asked, growing a little alarmed for the first time. “Oh no.” he said, flicking hopefully through the stack. “Just a paper to say you took something without paying”. Thank God!

The second pile went back in its place. He reached for a last, battered, dog eared pile of papers, avoiding eye contact like I was Medusa’s long-lost son. He began to page through them carefully, while I stood avoiding the gazes of the watching crowd like they were Medusa’s extended family. He reached the end. And started back at the beginning again.

Eventually, looking down at his sad little pile of paper as if his gaze was the only thing stopping it from bursting into flames, he pulled out a ragged, thrice photocopied piece of paper and shamefacedly handed it over. “Just sign this” he said. It was an acknowledgement that I had been trespassing. In a crowded supermarket. After a brief pause I ventured to say “This doesn’t say anything about my taking your pie.” “I know.” he replied “They are all the same. Please just sign it. My boss is watching.”

So there you go. My record in terms of pie-stealing remains unblemished, but I am now a known supermarket trespasser. This is not quite as happy an outcome as it seems. For months now, I have been gathering together a full camo outfit. I have a pair of camo pants. I have a khaki shirt. I have a full camo jacket with hood. I was planning to sneak into the Pick ‘n Pay one sunny day and nip around the fresh produce section like a stoat, unseen by man or beast. But now they are going to be watching me. My picture will go into a file, and hidden men in a darkened room filled with flickering monitors will track my progress from the moment I pass the magazine rack. No hiding behind the Pick ‘n Pay parsley shelf for me. Maybe I can give it a bash at Woolworths.

I’m just popping down to the shops. Do we need any milk?

I suppose I should be grateful though. At least they didn’t find the packet of two-minute noodles that had accidentally fallen into my sock as I bent down to tie my shoelace in the pasta aisle.

79 thoughts on “Forgive those who trespass against us.

  1. I borrowed the accountant’s car when I worked at the power board. I was most solicitous in obeying the rule that we must lock the cars at all times when not actually in them. I managed to lock the carkeys inside the car then spent ages trying to find the accountant so we could use his spare keys to unlock it again. He finally turned up, went to the passenger side, tried the doorhandle and the door opened immediately. It had been unlocked all the time.


    Yep, I do dumb things on a depresssingly regular basis. I plead blonde a lot of the time…

  2. […] has turned into a monster. He was first Freshly Pressed within weeks of starting (it was about an unwitting shoplifting incident which left him banned from the local supermarket for trespassing). Then, in a demonstration of how […]

  3. Caddo Veil says:

    I was so sure this was fiction, till I read the comments! Oh dear. Well, now I have the answer to my “about” question–South Africa!

  4. Ha ha haa!
    Oh I’m so glad it’s not just me!
    My usual speciality is walking into door frames and tripping over the floor.
    But the barbed wire reminded me of my close encounter with spikes. I was riding a stallion which decided to shag two mares. Mid hump, I just decided to fall off – I reckoned crash landing onto barbed wire from a dizzy height was better than being forced into a sexual threesome involving bestiality.
    I was wrong! The horse landed on top of me.
    I’ve never ridden a horse since then (or been ridden by one, thank God).

    • 23thorns says:

      Mercifully, that’s never happened to me. I have seen it happen to someone else, though. He, poor soul, was riding the mare. It was a good day. But I’ve never been back on a horse since then either.

  5. Mark Goodwin says:

    Excellent stuff!

    Thanks for dropping by my blog and the ‘Like’ not to mention the giggles later on. :-o)

  6. LOL …I like the way you write. Very funny!

  7. joyceahood says:

    Now I have to dry my tears of laughter!

  8. Teresa Cleveland Wendel says:

    At first I thought this would be religious, so I had a mind to steer clear of clicking on your post. Thank God it wasn’t. And it was funny to boot.

  9. RAB says:

    I’m weeping with laughter and getting my keyboard wet. Thank you for this tale of adventure, droll and hilarious at the same time. I think you and James Thurber would have been a great pair….

  10. Leesa D says:

    My record was scarred when I went to a trade show, entered a draw and then walked away with all the ballots and the pen. Surprisingly I didn’t even win.

  11. jaybob2 says:

    It’s a trip to communicate with someone on the other side of the earth. Thanks for chiming in. You have good stuff. Really funny! But, in my opinion, it’s too long. Save something for the next time. Be a little stingy and keep em coming back!

  12. mambolounge says:

    What a great read! I now find myself trying to figure out what a ‘stoat’ is.

  13. Very funny! I have that problem too – not as badly as you do though. Luckily I have a lifeline – my best friend who has an i-phone and can therefore answer any question at any time, straight away. Love the Lord of Chaos!

  14. And I thought I was bad! Hey what’s up with the police over there? Trotting out that apartheid era rule was beyond bizarre. Sore subject?

    • 23thorns says:

      sore and too complicated to explain here. It has to do with the ruling party’s upcoming internal election, the abuse of the poor by the rich, competition between rival trade unions, traditional healers, opportunism by fallen politicians and race relations. It’s an awful mess and all very depressing!

  15. artzent says:

    This is WAY too funny! I have got to follow you and thanks for your visit.

  16. Thanks for the laugh. I hope you got (purchase and) take home the pie after all of that!

  17. You make me proud to be South African. 🙂
    And for the record, I’M Murphy’s Son – GET IT?!!
    I had a good chuckle and I can completely relate. The kinds of mishaps that I have walked into…*sigh*

  18. rosetteismyname says:

    remember you may not like your neighborhood, but there are bad people that wrongly hold the title of police officer and have been referred to as CROOKS or crooked cops…

  19. I am almost wishing you made this up so I don’t feel so bad laughing at your misery! Great story!

  20. Fun post, and congrats on being freshly pressed.

  21. TF700 Price says:

    Thanks for sharing and congrats on the FP! 🙂

  22. amazing, i genuinely laughed out loud a number of times while reading this (at work). thanks so much for brightening my morning on account of your unfortunate circumstances 😛 xo

  23. followechoes says:

    Enjoyed reading this. Great post. Congrats on Freshly Pressed 😀

  24. This just made me laugh SO HARD! Thank you for a fabulous start to my day.

  25. TheGuyLeftBehind says:

    Gee, I can feel myself out here. Very great blog sir! Inspiring.
    Check out mine too!
    Thanks! More support you sir!

  26. Helen says:

    Terribly funny. Well written, almost anomalously so for these days of literary paucity.

  27. chantae says:

    Oh man, this was just as if I was reading into my own diary! From one space cadet to another, I salute you!

  28. kvennarad says:

    Hey, I’m an anarchist! It’s a noble calling. 🙂

    Marie Marshall

  29. luckymadon says:

    Mercury in retrograde. Yup. 🙂

  30. […] Forgive those who trespass against us.. Share this:TwitterFacebookMoreLike this:LikeBe the first to like this. Leave a comment | […]

  31. Tremendous! Although I usually refrain from consorting with trespassers, lest my sordid past as a habitual loiterer come back to haunt me. A great read.

  32. This was hilarious. It makes me happy when good writing is chosen for Freshly Pressed!!

    • 23thorns says:

      Thank you. Whatever the quality, it make me happy when my writing is chosen for Freshly pressed. I’m trying to start a cult and I need the publicity.

  33. tallis1970 says:

    I could see this as a TV comedy. I am grinning from ear to ear while visualizing every scene. Thanks for the laugh (at your expense).

  34. Anita Neuman says:

    Hilarious! I’m so glad I’ve never done anything remotely similar to any of those things. (Ahem.) Nevermind.

  35. I used to have lots of days like yours, however I now limit them to days that end in “y”.

  36. lexiesnana says:

    Sounds like a day at The Kovies.I got out of the shower this morning and as I was combing my hair realised I never rinsed the soap out of it.Parked the car in my husbands spot and he hit it with the pick up,went to my daughters and nearly fell in front of her in laws as gas passed out of me.As you can imagine my face is constantly red.

    • 23thorns says:

      Judging by a lot of the comments I am getting, there are a good few of us out there. We need to form some sort of superhero task force- we must harness our powers for good!

  37. free penny press says:

    By far the funniest thing I have read all week.. Sorry I’m laughing at your expense.. thank goodness they did not yell something like “Halt, you thief” at ear splitting decibels!!!

  38. Did you know if you set your oven on fire all you have to do is close the door and it will burn itself out? Though I still think you have to call the Fire Department, but I didn’t… Either time… I’m just glad my husband found it a bit endearing that I called him twice in two weeks asking about the fire extinguisher… I think I know what I’m getting for my birthday lol

    • 23thorns says:

      Good to know. We have been trying to set our oven on fire for years, so we can go on holiday with the insurance money. Tonight, the door stays open!

      • Easiest way to set it on fire: Use it for storage and forget the plastic rimmed electric griddle, the one your mother in law got your husband for Christmas, is still inside and then preheat the oven to 350 degrees… You might get all the way to 300 before you notice the smoke, I did. 😀

  39. diannegray says:

    I once walked out of a clothes shop with a dress attached to my backpack strap. The hanger had hooked on when I walked past the rack and I hadn’t noticed – I’m a failure as a shoplifter

  40. Samimi says:

    The guitar! Ah… that is hilarious!

  41. Julabelle says:

    Very entertaining! I usually don’t take pleasure in other’s misery but you’ve made it so enjoyable!

  42. klyse3 says:

    Oh, this was hilarious! Marvelous story-telling!

  43. C.K. Hope says:

    There’s others like myself out there? I feel … better somehow. I can’t seem to go anywhere without something happening to me that wouldn’t happen to anyone else.

  44. […] Forgive those who trespass against us.. Share this:TwitterFacebookLike this:LikeBe the first to like this. […]

  45. As an agent of chaos, I understand. My kitchen fire tally is up to three now and I’ve wrecked other people’s cars numerous times. If only I could lock my keys in my car I would know where they are, engine running or not. Last week I spent several days turning my house inside out looking for my set of missing keys, which included my house and car keys. This week a Good Samaritan managed to track me down through librarians. (Long story.) He found my keys in the middle of a street on which I’ve never driven. Life is full of interesting mysteries.

    • 23thorns says:

      Nice to meet a fellow traveller. The only other person’s car I have wrecked was a girlfriend’s father’s work car. I had never met him before…

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