“What are the risks?” asked Haneemah.
Her voice was quivering.
“You risk going inside for several months. You know very well that shoplifting is a serious crime. Believe me, they won’t leave you. And then there’s the loss of your reputation because when the police proceed with the matter, it becomes public,” answered the young man.
He wasn’t more than 25. Well-built, his hair was appropriately cropped and when he said he was a policeman since some years now, no one, let alone Haneemah, would doubt it.
“The police will go ahead and sue you,” he said with poise.
Haneemah, a married woman with a child about 3 years old, was in her thirties. In spite of having a reasonable salary from a job in a travel agency, she had one day found herself caught by the camera of a supermarket trying to leave without paying at the counter.
They had found perfumes and cosmetic materials in her bag. At first, she had denied. She did not know who had slipped them in her bag. The manager wasn’t convinced a bit by her tale. Then she said that maybe she might have done it unconsciously. Still, they refused to believe her.
The manager thought it would serve her right to have her arrested for stealing and had telephoned the police station of the region. Two policemen had arrived within minutes and ordered her to follow them immediately.
She pleaded with the manager. She apologized profusely. She regretted her act. She was willing to settle the bill. Nothing pacified the manager. The policemen did as if they hadn’t heard her.
She tried weeping. She thought that tears might soften their hearts. This, too, failed. She couldn’t understand with what kind of men she was dealing.
She was led to the station to give her statement. She had admitted to stealing.
And now two weeks later, here was a gentleman claiming that he was a policeman though he had not come in his uniform.
Haneemah was in a state of panic. So far her husband knew nothing of the matter. But the moment he would, there would be nasty consequences for her. This much, she was sure.
And what if the press published her picture? Obviously it would be a shame.
What about her job? Were she to be imprisoned as this man was saying, she might be fired from her job.
She couldn’t stop herself from thinking about the mess she had made of her life.
“Isn’t there a way out?” she asked. “Maybe the manager can finally decide to withdraw the case against me. I’m willing to pay. He stands to lose nothing.”
She paused to observe the man.
“He is determined to go to the court, madam,” he said. “As you can see, the situation is complicated.”
There was alarm in his tone. Haneemah was scared.
Two months in prison! Even three! Perhaps more!
She could not understand what devil had entered her head and caused her to do something as lamentable as shoplifting.
But what the hell was this policeman doing at her place? The idea suddenly startled her.
“What’s the purpose of your visit?” she asked politely.
“Well,” he said, “I think we can come to some sort of arrangement.”
“I think I can do something. Like talking it out with the manager’s boss. I’ve contact with one of the directors. So there’s still hope for you. Besides, the file is under my responsibility.”
“I can always de-classify it.”
“That’s risky. Isn’t it?”
“Yes, but risk-taking is part of life. You know it as well as I do.”
So there was a possibility of finishing with the matter. This policeman was surely her lucky star. She thanked God.
“How will you go about it?”
“That’s an administrative thing. You won’t understand. It’s too complex. But don’t worry. I know what I’ll do.”
Somehow she felt a little relieved. Her pulse was not beating at the same pace anymore.
She was ready to do anything to avoid appearing in the Court.
It seemed the man had read her mind.
“It’ll cost you some money.”
That was evident, thought Haneemah.
The man showed her ten fingers twice.
“It’s nothing compared to going to jail and saying goodbye to your job, your honour, your family in the process.”
She pondered over it.
“Are you sure you can help me out?”
The man rose, ready to go. He seemed offended.
Haneemah was alarmed. Here was a chance to get out of a bad situation. She could not afford to waste it. She earnestly invited him to sit down. He did.
“All right, I’ll give you Rs 3,000 now, the rest afterwards.”
The man looked puzzled.
“OK, Rs 5,000.”
He looked at her straight in the eyes.
“It’s the whole of it or nothing.”
Haneemah realised she had no choice. The man had got her.
Three minutes later, the man was gone with Rs 20,000. Haneemah was satisfied with the deal. Now she could sleep soundly.
Not much later, she was summoned to appear in Court.
What had happened? Why hadn’t the scheme worked?
She asked herself many questions like these before it dawned on her that she had been fooled.
The man was no policeman.
But how had he obtained inside information about the theft? She did not know. This made her furious.
But it wasn’t without a lesson: when you are in a vulnerable position, you will always have some people who will not hesitate to exploit it to their advantage. She came to see that she had been a victim of her own gullibility. Don’t they say that you must beware of strangers?
“What are the risks?” asked Haneemah.