Once a Thief

Kelly was such a clever lad. He was gaining a reputation as such. He was becoming known as the best thief on the Southside and so young, fourteen. His hands were quick and methods compared to boys several years older. The fact he’d never been caught added to his mystique and reputation.

It was not uncommon for others to challenge his ability. One day a group of boys challenged him to steal a carton of cigarettes from behind the counter at Perky’s Drug Store.

Kelly did so in an elaborate way. He first stole a spool of kite string. He attached the string to a display of lotion in the cosmetic department. He approached the register and yanked on the string. Miss Cathcart, who was at the register, ran to see what occurred. As she left Kelly reached over the counter, grabbed a carton of Marlboro and stuffed it in his coat. For extra measure he grabbed a carton of Lucky Strike. He quickly rolled up the string and waited for Miss Cathcart’s return.

“That’s mess back there,” she said. “What is it you wanted?”

“My change,” Kelly said.

“Your change!” she said.

“Yes,” Kelly said. “I bought this spool thread for twenty-nine cents and gave you a dollar.”

“Oh,” she said. “I must have forgot in all the commotion. I’m sorry. I’ll make you change.”

Kelly was a legend. He was respected.

Something happened one day, unexpected. Kelly was in a five and dime. He saw something he wanted very badly. It was nothing more than a cheap trinket. It was a small pencil sharpener. Attached to it was Atlas holding the world. He picked it up. It was small yet heavy for its size. It was intricate in design.

He had never stolen anything that he ever wanted badly, but this was it. He wanted it for himself. He imagined it on the window ledge of his bedroom. He cautiously looked around and stuffed it in his pocket.

Kelly innocently walked out of the store with smile as wide as a freeway. Suddenly someone gripped his arm. Kelly pulled his arm away and turned around. It was a black boy, perhaps a year younger. Kelly looked disdainfully curious at him.

“I saw you steal something,” the boy said.

“Get lost,” Kelly said.

“Take it back,” the boy said.

“You’re seeing things,” Kelly said.

“It’s in your pocket,” the boy said. “I saw you put it there.”

“Who are you anyway,” Kelly said.

“All you need to know about me is that I’m not a thief like you,” the boy said. “Now take it back!”
Kelly ran. He got to the street corner and stopped for traffic. He turned to see where the boy was. He was still standing at the exit of the store. He looked at Kelly as if he were garbage.

“I’m better than you,” the boy yelled.

Kelly ran five blocks. He came to the High Street bridge and hurled the trinket into the river.
Kelly, out of guilt, remembered that day and never stole again. He remembered the boy over the years. In fact, from a distance Kelly watched him grow to a man. It seemed that every now and their paths crossed. Kelly remembered him and that day so clearly, but it seemed like that boy from many years ago paid him no attention.

Many years later Kelly sat alone in a restaurant. He looked across the dining room. There was the black boy, a man now. He was with a younger man. The resemblance was such that it was unmistakably his son.

Kelly went to the register to pay his bill. He looked back at the man’s table. They were about to finish. 
Kelly paid his bill and handed the cashier another twenty. “The man over there with the young man, this should cover their meal.”

“Thank you, sir” the cashier said.

“Please,” Kelly said. “May I have a scrap piece of paper to write a note.”

Kelly wrote: Many years ago you did an act of kindness that taught me a lesson. Thanks. "Give this to that man," Kelly said.

Kelly got in his car and as he drove away the man and his son were leaving the restaurant. The man nodded and smiled. Kelly nodded and smiled.