A Brush With The Law

Man steals from shop, is stopped, I see it happen

The author

One of these afternoons, in this green, shadowy German town I live in now, I walked in on a crime. Turning the corner to enter a shop, I found three men strongly hugging in the door. I continued to the door next to it, meaning to convey my manly approval of a healthy everyday physicality, when someone shouted. I noticed that moving around the men was a small woman, slapping one of them on the arm, and occasionally on the head.

Stopping, I considered the other two people standing with me on the pavement. One was an elderly woman, the other a young man who was looking at his shoes. Feeling slightly distressed, I recognised that the burden of action had fallen on me.

“What’s going on here?” I eventually croaked. The elderly lady pointed to the man in the middle of the huddle, who was holding on to the edges of the doors to prevent himself being pulled back into the shop. The muscles in his neck were bulging outward and it looked as If, were he suddenly to be released, he might pop forward and shove his head through a wall (like this). That man, she said, had stolen something from inside, and was trying to escape.

When he heard this the man shouted at me. Looking directly into my eyes like a proud, beautiful lion in the grip of murderous ranging hands, he said that he had not stolen anything, and to let him go. Here I was a little unsure of what to do. It was possible that someone, perhaps me, would have to call the police. But my mind was full of Snowden; the dark mantle of state oppression rested on me now, and I was unwilling to become the law-abiding citizen who tipped off the Stasi, as it were.

So there I stood, presumably making some kind of noise, perhaps ‘Er,’ when two women came running towards me from inside the shop, calling, both at once, that I should ring the police. I was immediately convinced. My chivalrous yet irredeemably sexist mind concluded enough is enough, this brute has upset the womenfolk.

As the group grappled in the frame of the door, the shop assistants pleaded with me from inside, the old lady stood quietly by, and the young man behind me shuffled on the spot, I fumbled in my pocket for my phone, mistyped the code, mistyped again, pressed emergency call.

Here I was greeted with the words ‘What can I help you with?’

I found this an interesting approach, something you might hear if you rang up the fitting department at M&S. As it was though, I did not say, “You can get me the fucking police for starters, mate, pronto,” and after relaying the information required – “there has been something of a dispute” – I completed my first whistleblowing act.

The continuation of the narration of this event, which touched a number of lives, can be found here next week.

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