Fifty Sheets of Green
by Martin James Hunter
Around me they converse and sip and laugh like hyenas. Coats draped over chairs like expensive tapestry. Jewellery glimmering as though I am subject to beautiful hallucinations. Glasses pressed eagerly to lips. Drunks make easier targets; already I have selected my prey.
I only take from the overly rich. In bars where the cost of a round would feed the poor for a week. If one can afford to pay over four sheets for a beer, one can afford to be robbed. No women though. They serve a different purpose.
I know how it began. The shoplifter in me born through hunger some time ago. The initiation of a new job in a bank. No food to fuel my performance. Eventually I stole a sandwich on a particularly grim day. Then another. Next thing I know it was occurring when I wasn’t hungry. CDs and DVDs accumulating in vast piles in the new flat. Viddied once then forgotten. In some cases never freed from their casing.
Only corporations, no independent stores. My only rule. If they dodged tax they became subject to thievery. From then on it was what I could fit into my pocket or bag. But I found it frustrating being restricted by mass rather than cost. It was also far too easy.
I admire the intimacy of change. The narrative behind it. Paper money broken and reduced to shrapnel. Coins gathering in corners like survivors of a tragedy. A harvest of copper and nickel.
A single coin standing alone after a particularly harsh payment. I find myself wondering what item or service claimed the banknote it was exchanged for. A note passed to a waiter in the final act of a romantic dinner. A child’s pocket money gone in an explosion of sweets. A segment of a teenager’s first wage. The death of a ten or twenty or – God forbid – fifty.
Sometimes the surfaces of bills offer a glimpse at their past. Figures scribbled across its surface. Water damage via rain or sweat. Traces of red dye suggesting an adventure.
I monitor my target for a while. Nestled amongst his herd. A lavish jacket hanging loose from his body. Pocket exposed like an abandoned fawn. Signature watch luring me forth like a homing beacon. I draw a finger lightly across the pocket as I make my first pass. The feeling is unmistakable. Wasting no time I step into him, almost connecting noses.
I recoil back apologising. Take in the trademark confusion/the inflicted state of disorientation. It is within these seconds one must act, and already I have. Knocking them with one arm, softly invading a pocket with the other. The man orientates himself. Tells me to fuck off and I oblige.
It was some time ago I felt shoplifting evolve into pickpocketing. The latter is more personal, requires a certain degree of skill, and made me feel more alive in a particularly apathetic time. Also, it feels as though I’ve actually earned my prize.
Retracting from society is easy when you completely oppose it. More so when you lack an objective. The excess of this side of the world depends on the poverty of the other – the words I keep telling myself. I am aware bitterness is a dangerous fuel to run on, yet I go on.
Nearby I hear the sound of someone fishing for change. The music produced as a result. A sweet tinkling akin to that of a piano or a brief arpeggio on guitar. Then the counting out of single coins. The unique notes as they crash together. For a moment I lose myself to it. My lids gently drawing over my eyes, allowing the realm of sound to take precedence. When it is over I again find myself standing in the bar.
Historically, coins were made from precious metals like gold and silver. Back then people would shave layers from them and use the clippings to make new coins. These days the edges of coins are milled – decorated with regular ribbed markings and engraved with words. Makes it easier to detect if the coin has had some of its weight shaved off.
The milling is where I imagine DNA accumulates. Vast amounts of workers contributing to the bacterial orgy with every transaction. Swelling until perhaps it reaches the right person. A collector decades down the line. Disinfecting and placing it carefully between its brothers and sisters in a binder.
Or perhaps the coin is returned to a bank. The sterilization process that follows. Erasing what they can of its history and personality before returning it into circulation. Averted eyes as you silently accept your change.
Illegally acquired banknotes cannot be deposited into an account without great effort. Otherwise the process arouses suspicion. Storing money in a box under the bed conjures up the image of baseball cards. Like using red carpet as a door mat. Money should always be in circulation. Only through perpetual motion does it possess value.
There is a degree of chance involved in the game. Not just in getting caught, but also in the catch. A thick wallet adorned in plastic boasting no hard cash. Or containing a single gold card. Acrylic: the currency of the future. These things disinterest me. They end up on the floor where fate dictates what happens next.
Sometimes all to find is an ancient five pound note, a few sorry-looking coins, a photo of a potential loved one. Something along those lines. These wallets end up back where they were, owners kept oblivious. The aim to remain true to my thin moral code.
My target’s wallet is a good catch. Ebony leather. Nice trim. Contents strapped down like an over-packed suitcase. Notes peering out like important pages in a binder. Someone of low socio-economic status could eat for months with this. A family in Africa, years. Still in my pocket, I open the thing and thumb through. At least two hundred pounds. The corners of my mouth respond appropriately.
Then they have me. Expressionless door stewards displaying their catch. Their grip tight on my arms as though my form were made specially for their convenience. Dealing with my type does not seem to violate routine. Eyes turn to me and the music seems to quieten. My prize is fished from my jacket and returned to its owner. His face of utter shock. I smile and shrug as I am led to their chambers. It is not often I am caught, but when I do it only brings admiration. Normally I am invisible.
Behind closed doors I am interrogated and tortured with tools and electricity until I concede. Secrets and ideals and opinions and passwords and pin numbers and sexual preferences and favourite movies spilling from my throat like water from a hose. They produce a contract stating simply that they got the better of me. Almost undetectable smiles as they watch my wrist move across the page.
After a brief discussion among themselves it is decided my fingers will be broken as a precaution. When we are finished I am cast into the alleyway as though I were a spent commodity. I look down at my maimed digits not with sadness but with acceptance. An indicator that it is time to move on.