By: Saloni Bhatnagar
Almere Stad, Netherlands.
Max was a thief, he used to break into houses and steal what he thought was excess. He stole clothes, silverware, flower vases, electronics, food supplies, bags, watches and everything that was in excess. For example, in a family of 3 if there were 5 laptops, he used to steal 2 and then sell it in the pawn shop without any guilt. This kind of stealing was his bread and butter and it made him feel like some kind of a hero, for he was relieving people of their materialistic burdens.
Max used to work as a gardener in an affluent neighborhood and that’s why he always knew which houses were empty, for grass never lies. He also had a few friends who worked as doormen, watchmen, cleaners etc. who got their cut after the steal was made and sold. Max knew which houses would stay empty and he also knew of all the security systems in place. He had a knack for these things. He thought of himself as Robin Hood of the modern times.
Max must have made some 50+ thefts but never was he caught or even was a suspect, he had an extremely charming personality and a very pleasing demeanor. He made sure that he never stole from his existing customer and kept a watch on all other homeowners in the locality. Max was a nice person, he was kind and gentle. More often he accredited his charisma to his upbringing.
His family comprised of his mother, father and his 4 siblings, 2 sisters and 2 brothers. Two of his sisters were with kids but were staying with his family, for their husbands worked blue collared jobs in the Middle East and his brothers were all hard-working men. Max was the eldest. From a very young age he had started helping his father and had seen his family working very hard to make their ends meet. His mother was a laundry woman and father was a painter. The huge family of 9 (7 adults and 2 children) made it very important that they kept working hard.
It was a strange day; Max was mowing the grass for the Hayden’s and he could see a lot of people coughing. He could feel that there was fear. Mr. Ross Hayden, came out and wished him “Good morning Max”, “A very good morning to you sir” replied Max. “Did you hear the news? They say there is a virus on lose, its infecting everyone. Yesterday, even Tom Hanks was infected by it in Australia. I am telling you Max, this is Earth’s calling, this is its way to tell us to slow down”. Max was perplexed, he didn’t know what Mr. Ross was talking about. “What are the symptoms Mr. Ross and how can it end” asked a curious Max. “Coughing, fever, lethargy, muscle pain are the symptoms and for now it doesn’t end. They say that the right approach as of now would be to stay at home” told Mr. Ross. Max was heartbroken. IF everybody stayed at home, how would he steal? For him stealing was much more than the act. Stealing was his adrenaline rush, his USP, it was his meditation. IF nobody left the house, Max and his family will be left with nothing. All these thoughts made Max angry and sad at the same time. The fear of infection was the least of his concern.
That day when Max went home, he saw his father coughing too and told him to wash his hands and cough in his elbow, as he was told by Miss Rosemary, his second customer of the day. They all sat together for dinner and said their prayers, they all had their supper, which was, as it later turned out, the last supper for them for many days.
When the virus spread, the entire world was on a lock down. There was not a single person on the streets, there were no restaurants or pubs open. There were no malls or theatres that were open. Everything was shut. People had nothing to do except be with their families. All his customers were busy hoarding stuff from the supermarkets, so that they didn’t have to come out at all. People became suspicious of anyone who coughed or sneezed. Coughing and sneezing also became weapons for many nuisance makers. People who used to wish each other and greet each other, now didn’t look at each other and walked past maintaining a 6 feet distance. Old people were left alone, young ones were left without options and kids were confined to the boundaries of their own houses. In those times, it was only the animals that thrived. One could hear the cuckoo, the nightingale, the sea gulls, the crows. It was so quiet on the streets that the silence became deafening.
Max thought about those who didn’t have a house, those who didn’t have shelter, his robin hood kicking in. He felt thankful for him and his family at least had a roof over their heads, he was filled with gratitude towards his life for leading him to where he was. He felt happy. But happiness is brief and suddenly he was solemn for he thought of his family and how they are going to survive in these times of emergency. At his home their food supplies were almost over, their huge family had exhausted all their reserves, there was no help from the government yet and entire country was in a lock down, leaving it very difficult for anyone in the family to earn. Even if they wanted, the virus had made people live in fear, it had made people even more selfish, there was not a single job for anyone in the family. He knew that they will starve and there was nothing he could do. OR was there? Max decided to make this last steal in hopes of finding something they could use, at an old woman’s house who was living alone.
It was a dark night; Max wore his black pants and black turtleneck. He wore his monkey cap which also acted as his mask, not for the virus though. A mask to conceal his identity. He stealthily walked out of his house and ran towards the old woman’s bungalow. He didn’t want anyone to even hear him, not because he would be caught and recognized as a thief but because it was not allowed in times of lockdown to roam about on the streets. So ironical!
Max reached the old woman’s bungalow, climbed her main door and disconnected all the cameras. He took out a set of keys he had and opened the back door of the house. He could see that there was one light on, on the first floor but it didn’t scare him for the woman was frail and would not be able to catch him anyway. He went inside the house.
Inside the house he saw dirty dishes, dirty clothes and there was a stench of old meat. Max was taken aback with the grubbiness of the house. His first order of business in the house was therefore, putting all the dishes in the dishwasher, all the dirty laundry in the washing machine and all the stale old food in the dustbin. His robin hood syndrome was reversed today, he did something for the affluent. He saw a few candlestands that he could steal and pawn. He also saw a few paintings which could be sold in black market.
Suddenly, Max heard a loud thud. He rushed on the first floor and saw the old woman laying on the floor. He immediately helped her. But she tried her best to tell him to not to touch her or help her. She had the virus and she wanted everyone to stay away from her, but Max couldn’t help himself from helping her. He put on his mask and assisted her to sit back in her chair, gave her a glass of water and asked her if she needed anything. The old woman started crying. She needed love and affection and care, she needed so many things but this virus had made her distant from everyone. This virus made her alone. She asked Max to sit beside her and just talk to her for a bit before she goes to sleep. Her loneliness made her trust a complete stranger. Max sat beside her and talked to her about his family and for the first time in his life told her about him being a thief. This revelation would have raised alarms and would have made the old woman very uncomfortable in normal times, but somehow that time it all seemed normal to her. She accepted him as a thief and congratulated him for being one. She thought that she is being robbed of the most important thing – Time. Time which she could have spent with her grandchildren, time which she could have used to travel the world. In comparison to that, Max’s little thefts were nothing. She told max to open her cupboard and take out a Danish cookie tin box. Inside the box were beautiful pearls that the old woman possessed, she gave them to him and asked him to use these to feed his family. In normal times, she would have never done this, but somehow the virus also brought goodness in people, for the pearls were nothing when compared to hungry stomachs. Max accepted the gift from the old woman.
While he stepped out to go to the pawn shop, he realized, the entire world is on a lock down, who will he sell the pearls to?