The five of us were prowling through Hillbrow, hustling for money and booze, when we stopped down the road from a local supermarket and discussed the notion of a little heist.
It was part of the tradition of our group that we would steal small items from stores as a test of our ninja prowess. We had already had countless successful steals and it had become a part of the evening’s entertainment, to set the mood, as it were.
It was a miserable, angry sky that night and we were all a little soaked as we walked around the corner and into the shopping centre’s foyer, laughing and goading each other along. It took a complete skidding stop to avoid us burrowing into a nest of Christians that were haunting the lonely midnight street corners, hoping to pick up converts.
They were the ones who like to clap, and they were clapping. Head down, with my swanky boys coming up on all sides, we swept through them like a battery of vampires.
– Can I offer you a prayer?
– Um, no, can I poke my finger in your eye?
I looked up and beheld a vision, a condensation of all romantic dreams, wrapped in a brown Christian jumper, tufts of ivory blond hair damp with the mist.
– Just a little prayer, it can’t hurt?
– Um, sure. A quick one.
She held my hands in hers and looked up into my eyes. My friends, discombobulated by my without precedent choice of action, started to fall all about the streets, as if they were spontaneously transforming into lycanthropes.
– I offer you my prayer of protection in the face of adversity. Her voice was simple and quiet and exquisitely courageous in its dedication.
– Aren’t you supposed to send me to hell?
We were pulled apart, two spinning tops in the rain, two clashing star systems of faith interlocked for a moment by aesthetics. I felt energised and delighted by her prayer as I entered the supermarket, pirouetting, as was my style, to take in all the CCTV camera positions.
After wondering around for a bit, I pocketed a large chocolate and something, maybe intuition, made me head for the door. To allay suspicion, as I always did, I sidled over to the store guard and initiated some friendly banter. He seemed perfectly cool and after a while I smiled and headed out the store. It was then that he grabbed me.
They took me to the office area as I protested my utter innocence. In those days a crime like this was often punished by cop jacks, six strokes to the ass by a maniacal cop flying on brandy. They patted me down.
I was wearing chino pants with deep pockets. In my right pocket I had a metal cigarette tin.
– What’s in there?
– A cigarette tin. I pulled out the slim silver tin that had been on the outside of the large slab of chocolate.
He came behind me again and decided at the last minute to push his hands into my pockets. His right thumb hooked onto the edge of the right pocket and because the pockets were so deep, his fingers stopped millimeters above the chocolate.
Now he was embarrassed and I screamed my indignation to anyone who would listen. They quickly hustled me to the entrance, where I emerged triumphant into the soggy night. Across the square my friends waved happily, giving me the thumbs up.
And then I heard a voice, soft as a barn owl slamming into a rabbit.
– Just a little prayer.
I turned and saw her looking back, shepherded by her manic new family, the only one of them pure enough to still offer an innocent prayer, a prayer powerful enough to see me once again joining my friends, her image locked in my mind.