It’s amazing how quickly things can change in unwanted and unexpected ways. Here I was, merrily walking through the mall, minding my own business, enjoying an afternoon away from the pressures of work. I stopped off and on, as casual shoppers do, to admire the goods displayed in a store’s window. If an item caught my eye, in I marched, like a soldier on a reconnaissance mission.
Any large mall is a shopaholic’s paradise. Given a huge variety of stores, a dedicated shopper like myself could find any number of things to satisfy the palate. From slinky lingerie to elegant evening wear, exotic foods to handcrafted creations imported from far away lands, expensive gadgets to popular toys, something for everyone beckoned.
I’m the gazing and grazing type, and so it takes me quite a long time to travel from one end of a mall to the other, scanning one side, then back the opposite way, doing the same thing.
One Saturday, I set off early in the morning to allow ample opportunity to paw through the selections before the competition arrived. Fresh and alert, my personal radar efficiently eliminated unwanted items with barely a glance. Determined to score sale clothing suitable for work, I bypassed craft, food, and doodad stores and zeroed in on any business selling outfits in my size. And considering that I am not a thin woman, that narrowed down the options considerably.
In and out I went, sifting through displays of colorful blouses, monochromatic slacks, multicolored sweaters, and a variety of denim wear. Occasionally something called to me as loudly as my parents did when I was but a child. These items I cradled to my breast, tightly grasped so as not to inadvertently fall when I was distracted by some other equally enticing morsel.
When my arms could hold no more, I dashed into a dressing room. Giving each item due respect, I buttoned, snapped, zipped, and then inspected. Those pieces of clothing that adequately disguised my lumps and bumps went into the purchase pile. The others found themselves abandoned on the reject rack.
After a few hours of this, sensory overload set in. My hunter’s walk slipped into a meandering shuffle, and my desire to spend money morphed into a yearning for nothing more than a seat.
That’s when it happened. When my life took an unaccustomed turn. Laden with bags, I fell into the first empty bench that appeared. Numbness overtook mind and limbs. Eyes glazed over. Heart slowed. Totally relaxed, my normally hyper-protective guard took a vacation.
“May I sit here?”
“What?” When focus returned to my eyes, I discovered a kindly looking gentleman standing before me. Silver hair neatly combed, clothing clean and pressed, he smiled in a comforting way as he pointed to the remaining third of the bench.
“Sure,” I said as I moved my purchases to the floor between my legs.
“Looks like it’s been a good day,” he said as he nodded toward my bags.
“I guess,” I shrugged.
“My daughter’s trying on clothes and I got tired of being her personal assistant. I told her to meet me out here.” His smile lit up his face.
“Where do you live?”
At this point, alertness returned, reminding me to be careful. Despite the man’s polite mannerisms, something about him suddenly made me uncomfortable. Pretending that I did not hear the last question, I fiddled with my watch. “Look at the time! I’d better go. My husband is expecting me,” I lied. And blushed.
As I bent to loop my hands through the handles, the man said, “Let me help you with these.”
“No, thanks. I’ll be fine.” As I half-stood, butt in the air, head down, hands intertwined in the bags, something tugged on my purse. “Stop that!” I tried to turn, but the man grabbed hold of my hands, as if attempting to relieve me of my burden.
With a second, stronger tug, my purse flew from my grasp, over the back of the bench. I turned, screamed, leaned over, but could not grab my purse. Before I could make a move, a teenage girl, dressed in jeans and a gray hooded sweatshirt, sprinted away. “Stop that girl!” I hollered.
“Is there a problem?” The man asked as if nothing untoward had happened. At that moment he let go of my hands, stood and looked about as innocently as a young child who has just raided the cookie jar.
Sputtering with rage, I had a difficult time getting out the words. “That girl stole my purse. Call for help!”
Unfortunately, by now the girl was long gone, having turned the corner into the food court. “She’s heading toward Burger King,” I said as I hefted my purchases as easily as if they contained marshmallows and hastened after the girl.
“Wait,” the man said. “I’ll phone security.” He pulled out a cell phone and proceeded to dial, all the while holding on to my left elbow with a pincher’s grasp.
“Let me go,” I hissed as I attempted to wriggle free. “Let me go or I’ll scream.”
“Calm down. I’ve got security on the line.” He then went into a long explanation as to what occurred, including appropriate sounding pauses, yeas and nays. “I’ll tell her to stay here until you arrive. Thank you, officer.” With that he snapped shut his phone. “An officer will be here shortly. I gave them a good description of the girl. It sounds as if they caught her already and will be coming by to get you.”
“Thanks,” I warily said.
“Well, I’ve got to go. I see my daughter coming. Good luck getting your purse back,” he said with an endearing smile. As he walked away, I felt relief wash over me. The man had been a big help, or so I thought.
I stood in place, anxiously awaiting the arrival of a security guard. As minutes ticked away, with no one dressed in an officer’s uniform appearing, a sense of dread washed over me. Dismayed, every ounce of strength drained away, and so I collapsed onto the bench.
That’s when realization hit me square on the forehead. Not only was my purse gone, but as my eyes scanned my bags, I noticed that a number of them looked suspiciously empty.
I had heard about those who preyed on the elderly, but I am not that old. I had gotten scam phone calls at home and been able to fend off each and every one. But this was different. With his genteel mannerisms, the man had penetrated my defensive shield. His accomplice then moved in, ripped off my purse, and dashed away. With me in a tizzy and distracted by my purloined purse, the man had removed a few of my newly purchased possessions while pretending to call for help.
Tears poured down my face and sobs shook my shoulders. Disappointment in myself quickly replaced anger at being robbed, and so when disgust and frustration moved into my heart, I grabbed what goodies remained and headed toward the security station. Nearly blinded by my tears, I stumbled through the mall, brushing against strollers, displays, and planters.
“Can I help you? Do you need assistance?”
I blinked away the newest rush of tears to see a smiling face before me. With her neatly coiffed silver hair and kindly eyes, the woman offered a helping hand. As she gently relieved me of a few of my bags, she said, “Sit here. Let me get you a cold drink.” Following her directions, I collapsed into a wrought iron chair, grateful that someone was stepping up to help.
You would have thought that something inside of me might have registered alarm. After all, my whole world literally changed minutes before. Blithely enjoying my shopping extravaganza, I had let down my guard, only to be taken advantage of by a charming older man and his accomplice. Could it happen a second time? Surely not. And so I settled into the chair and allowed my rescuer to soothe me into compliance.