The Innocent Thief
Six year old Xanthia watched the coin rolling across the hardwood classroom floor. It slowed, did a twirly-spin dance and shuddered to a halt next to her right foot. She bent forward staring at it. Her right hand stretched out. She picked it up. Examined it.
“Wow. Half a crown.”
She looked up. All the kids were standing in line at Ms Portentia’s table, ready to hand over their Monday weekly coin to be entered into their savings books.
“Finders keepers,” she thought. “Dad always says that.”
She tucked the half crown deep into her pocket, took out the half penny from her pencil case and joined the queue. She was the last to have reached Ms Portentia. Her cheeks burnt under the frown forming on Ms Portentia’s face. Her hand shook as she handed over her half penny.
She shuffled back to her desk, her eyes glued to the toes of her scuffed school shoes. She sat down at her desk and opened the lid, inhaling the familiar scent of pencil shavings and blotting paper.
The classroom faded away. Her tongue clamped in the corner of her mouth, she created an intricate colorful mosaic pattern. The clanging of the first break bell shattered her cocoon of concentration. She looked at her drawing and sighed, lifted the lid of her desk and stored it away.
She opened her school bag, looking at the limp peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Her hand dropped into her pocket, found the half crown. She rubbed it. Her mind filled with all the goodies for sale in the Tuck Shop. She swallowed her drool, almost tasting the Wilson toffees.
“You cannot stay in the classroom. Come on, out, out, out!”
She tumbled out of her desk, cracking her shin against its steel frame.
“Yes Ma’am.” She sniffled.
She wiped her eyes with her raggedy sweater sleeve and ran out of the class room. She looked across the playground at the Tuck Shop and hesitated. The half crown clutched in her hand, she squared her shoulders and walked over, joining the mass of milling kids in line. Dazed she stood rooted to the spot in front of the counter, her eyes flitting to and fro over the colourful variety of sweets in their display bottles.
“Are you going to buy something or not?”
She swallowed, raised her eyes “Can I, can I ……”
“Hey, make up your mind stupid, we also want to buy something before break is up,” a senior shouted from behind her, shoving her roughly to the side.
She looked up at Ms Hettie’s moon face, the piggy eyes glaring at her, shuddered and turned away.
The end of break bell tore through the playground. She rushed back to her Grade 1 classroom.
“You are late. Go and stand in the corner.”
Tears of frustration burnt behind her eyelids. She wiped her runny nose with her sleeve.
“Stop your sniveling at once!”
Her head dropped to her chest. Her shoulders sagged. She licked her top lip. Closed her eyes and filled her imagination with dreams of playing on Grandpa’s farm with Katrina the housemaid’s children.
The small second break’s bell broke her trance.
“Leave the classroom and see that you are not late this time or I will send you to the Principal’s office.”
Her hand in her pocket, she hovered at the bottom of the classroom steps, watching the children play.
The end of second break bell rang. She entered the classroom first and headed straight to her desk. She took out her “Sus en Daan” reading book, tracing “Sus’s” happy face with her finger. She disappeared into the book as Ms Portentia’s voice droaned on and on and on.
The end of school day bell rang, shattering her day dreams. She grabbed her school bag and tumbled out of the classroom with the other children.
Excitement played ring-around-the-rosy with her nerves. Her intestines bubbled and squeaked in her stomach. Her right hand held the coin tight in her fist as she ran all the way home, her school bag banging against her legs.
She barreled into the kitchen, ran up to her father, hugged him and planted a quick peck on his whiskery cheek. She turned towards her mother.
“Go shut that door properly right now!” her mother ordered. “And go wash your hands.”
Having done as she was told, she sat down at the kitchen table. Katrina put a plate of food in front of her. “I have to show Dad before he leaves for the service station for his afternoon shift.”
“Stop gulping down your food like a stray dog. Have you got a train to catch?” her mother sneered. “And look at me when I talk to you.”
She cleared her plate.
She grabbed the half crown from her pocket and opened her fist on the table. “I found this today.”
“Where did you steal that money?” She looked at her mother’s face. Shriveling, she wished the floor would open up and swallow her. Before she could blink, her mother grabbed the half crown from her hand. She hunched her shoulders staring at her empty plate.
A vicious slap rocked her right off the chair. She landed on the floor with a thump. She skittered backwards on her hands and feet in an attempt to avoid the hail of slaps raining down on her head. She slipped on the smooth linoleum floor, rolling herself into a fetal ball.
“I did not steal it, it came to me!” she scream sobbed. “Dad, please Dad, I found it. Tell her to stop!”
She watched as her father took her mother by the arm and led her out of the kitchen. Katrina bent down and wiped her face with a corner of her apron.
The Next Day
Xanthia hurried to keep pace with her mother as she walked her to school. Numbed, head bowed she waited outside the principal’s office as her mother, Ms Portentia and the principal met. Despair hung its cloak around her shoulder’s as she realized God did not believe her either.
“He should have, he should have, he is supposed to be able to see everything!” her mind shrieked.
Hope left her in the empty hands of despair as the principal’s door opened and Ms Portentia fixed her with a contemptuous glance.
“I will see to it that she is properly chastised Mrs Dunkley. Leave her to me.”
“Thank you. As it is, I had to take time off work to deal with this unpleasant situation. She is the devil’s child. You cannot imagine the burden she is to us.”
Dread settling dropped a brick sized concrete block in her stomach as Xanthia followed Ms Portentia to the class room. Her body turned to ice, despite the heat scorching her cheeks. Xanthia stood next to Ms Portentia in front of the classroom. Ms Portentia’s voice got lost in the static screeching of her mind.
In a trance she watched as the affluent butcher’s daughter came forward claiming she had a half crown stolen from her bag, a malicious grin on her pudding face.
To this day, Xanthia does not know how she survived that day, kids gathering around her at break, jeering and calling her ugly names. From that day on she was branded a thief in the small town where she lived. She became the target of every school yard bully. By the age of 16 she realized fighting the bullies physically just brought her more unwanted attention and she learned the art of stoicism.
With no friends, she became a voracious reader losing herself in the lives of others, dreaming of a life far away, filled with love, joy, and happiness. Not long now …..