Last Saturday was my first day volunteering in a charity shop on Camden Street. As I bustled about trying to be useful and not get in the way I was warned to be vigilant against pickpockets and shoplifters, as they've had plenty of them there recently. "What kind of scumbag nicks stuff from charity shops?" I thought to myself, secure in the knowledge that my teenage shoplifting prowess had all been a carefully orchestrated plot against The Man, and that no-one ever suffered from it.
An hour later I was working away on the till when a greying man approached me, speaking in a conspiratorially low whisper. "You see that old woman down there, the one in the black coat?" She was the only old woman in a pretty small shop, so of course I saw her. He went on to provide further needless descriptions before saying "I saw her steal something, I think it was a tea-strainer she put in her pocket." His concern was simultaneously admirable and irritating. I am loath to be frisking old ladies, even villainous tea-strainer thieves, so I passed this on to a more experienced member of staff, who consulted with the manager. They thought she'd been at that kind of thing in the shop before, so decided to wait by the door to intercept her.
Business was good at the tills so I missed the dramatic moment, but the next thing I saw of the old lady she was trembling out profuse apologies, all five foot nothing of her. I was struck by how much older she looked than my 84 year-old grandfather, despite the fact that she's probably a full decade younger. Her eyes were brimming as she kept saying, over and over, "I just wasn't thinking, I was walking around and my mind slipped and I put it in my pocket. I didn't mean to, I didn't mean to." She was brought to the till so she could hand me over the €2.90 for the tea-strainer she says she was always intending to buy. A wretched sight by this stage, her unkempt grey curls quivering along with her and a tear rolling down a line in her face as she handed over her shivering coins.The manager kept trying to console her, agreeing that it's very easy for such a thing to slip your mind. But she was in bits by now, so they took her down to the back of the store to sit down and have a cup of tea and a chat.
She shuffled out about 15 minutes later looking little better, mumbling anguished promises about going straight to the church to say her prayers.