He looked at the cellophane wrapped cookies in his hand and smiled as if he had just been rewarded his favorite treat for a deserved accomplishment. He quietly slid them into his disheveled sweatshirt and hitched his belted pants around the waist that called out for the cookies to be delivered to them for sustenance.
He hadn’t noticed that I was witnessing his covert handling of the snacks and that I was someone who worked for the parent company of the café he was stealing from. I quickly hung up the cell phone call I was on and approached him as he began his exit from the café. “Excuse me.” I called to him. “Let’s put those back lad.” He of course hastened his pace and began his rapid trek down the block. I could have let him go. I should have. It was just three or four cookies.
We darted through the traffic like birds in a storm, dancing between the cars and pirouetting in clear misses of unsuspecting taxis. “Come on son, it’s not worth this for just some cookies!” I bellowed out to him. A store manager from the location we were in had joined this criminal ballet on New York’s roads. He took off fast and furious. His lean dark frame, clearly over twenty years my junior, sprinted hard through the pedestrians hungry to catch the chase on their Smartphone’s. I surprised myself with being able to overtake him in speed and cut him off. “OK let’s talk! No chase. Just talk.”
We walked shoulder to shoulder like hunter and prey. My eyes on his hands every motion.
“Son, you can do the right thing. Right now. Walk away clean and leave with good conscious. You don’t have to do this brother.”
“Where you get all this energy?” He asked puzzlingly.
“From you man! And from the fact you are cutting into my lunch hour so I can get you to come clean?”
“I’m hungry. Leave me alone!” His voice picking up volume to match his pace accelerating again.
“Clearly! But you don’t have to steal my man. You could have just asked and if you had, you would have found that, more than likely, we would have helped you out. But you chose this. Now, give me the cookies and let’s go get a soup and sandwich together. On me.”
“Leave me alone!” And he bolted back through the oncoming traffic.
“Really? Seriously? You want to do this?”
The manager from the store, having enough of the cat and mouse game gained on the young man and shoved him. Turning, the lad sprung at the manager and got a clean grip of his neck tie and drew him into a struggle I worked to avoid. I grabbed the man and held him in a full nelson and told him to stop. To dismiss this and let the other man go. I pleaded with him like a father does his child when you know he is doing something tragically wrong.
“This isn’t the way to be famous on Twitter and YouTube son.” As I noticed all the cell phones, iPhones, tourists cameras locked on us like a red carpet super couple. He broke out of my grip and darted again, lost his footing , caught himself but, not before the cookies expelled themselves from his pockets.
I retrieved them and we locked eyes. I handed the items to the store manager with the exception of one. I sized up the distance between my adversary and I and tossed him the chocolate chip one he had looked at so excitedly back at the store. He looked at me confused.
“You made a wrong choice kid. But I’m not going to let you go away hungry.”
As I walked away several people were still filming on their lack of privacy devises. Half serious and half snide I gave them a parting sound bite.
“Crime doesn’t pay. But neither does ignoring another humans hunger.”
I had lost my appetite. His hunger was now mine.
And so it goes…That was my Monday.