*Features adult language and themes.*
The statue always gave her the creeps. She didn’t understand why the council thought it was a good idea to make a statue of a cartoon character. It wasn’t like it was Homer Simpson. The statue was of an old woman with round glasses wearing a big overcoat and a tea cosy hat holding an umbrella across herself defensively. Like most other old people in the town Daisy felt like it looked down on her.
She often thought of the old proverb: ‘Never judge a book by its cover.’ People thought they knew a lot about her by the way she looked. The trouble was they weren’t far from the truth. Still, it was rude to make assumptions no matter how accurate.
She sat on the plinth beneath Giles’ Grandma, knees tucked up to her chest, jittering up and down making her look cold or nervous, taking sharp pulls on a rollie.
There were plenty of people wandering around town considering it was late-afternoon on New Year’s Eve. The shops started the New Year’s sales early, usually on Boxing Day. It was strange but she guessed the shops needed all the help they could get. Anything to make people spend their money.
As if they didn’t spend enough before Christmas.
Daisy needed the money too.
She threw her dog-end on the floor, stamped on it, slung her canvas bag over her shoulder then made her way up to the market square.
Most of the market traders were beginning to pack up but it didn’t stop a few last minute shoppers looking at the wares as they were put away for the year. A lot of people were wandering through the square, most with shopping bags some with bottles and crates of booze, on their way to the night’s entertainment. Daisy wanted to make her own entertainment, but she needed the funds to make it happen.
The familiar itch had started a few hours ago. It was gnawing in her chest and tingling at her finger tips.
She tried to catch the eye of a man as he passed by. “Excuse me, sir.” He walked past her without a glance. Unbelievable. I don’t even have a clipboard.
She tried again on another shopper. “Excuse me, Sir? Sorry, I wonder if you can help me?” The man stopped, looked down at her, quite literally. Like most people he was a head taller than her. “I’ve never done this before in my life…” HA! “… But my circumstances have reduced me to begging for the help of strangers. I’m supposed to be on a train to London in an hour to see the New Year in with my family, but someone stole my purse. It had my tickets and… and my money…” A few tears might help sell it. She screwed up her face, trying to look young and vulnerable. A fat tear welled in her eye, making the huge amount of mascara she wore run. “I’ve been to the Police, but they weren’t interested…”
“Sorry love, I can’t help.” The man had moved on before she could plead her case any further giving her a gentle bump with his arm. “Get a fucking job,” he muttered as he melted into the crowd.
In the blink of an eye Daisy wiped her face, set her shoulders back and threw up her middle finger to the crowd, as she’d lost sight of the man.
I guess I can’t pull off the old damsel in distress routine. I don’t look innocent enough. Maybe my lack of innocence would work better?
She shrugged the tatty hoodie down to her elbows exposing bare shoulders, her tattoos poking out from beneath her vest. Then she tugged her jeans down a few inches so the waistband hugged her just below the hips, showing a little more midriff. She pulled at the holes in her ripped jeans making them bigger so her polka dot stockings underneath were easily visible. She made a big hole on her thigh to reveal the stocking top and a bit of thigh. She raked her hands through her blonde hair a few times to muss it up as though she had just rolled out of bed.
She sized up the crowd and spotted a bloke that looked desperate enough to fall for a bit of false flirtation. “Excuse me, sweetheart, I wonder if you can help me?” She purposely dropped her bag and bent over to pick it up making sure the man got a look down her top, and the holes in her trousers stretched over her legs.
“Let me help you, love.” The guy stooped, picked up the bag before Daisy, handed it back to her and moved on before she could say anything else.
“Oi, you. Little girl. Get off my pitch!” A middle aged man with a laminated badge hanging from a lanyard around his neck and holding a stack of magazines was shuffling towards her.
“I know what you’re up to, girl. Sling your hook. Bugger off.”
“Just because you’ve got a badge letting you beg legitimately, don’t mean you can bust other people’s operations.”
“Look, just get lost or I’ll call the police.” The Big Issue seller reached into his pocket and drew out an iPhone.
“Fuck me, man. How have you got an iPhone. Thought you were homeless?” Daisy looked at the man closer. He was wearing a designer t-shirt, some jeans and a tatty coat. His shoes were old, but had once been very expensive. He had ear-bud headphones hanging around his neck; the lead running into his coat pocket.
“Just ‘cause I got a phone, don’t mean I got a home.”
“You say that a lot, don’t you? Look man. You’re wearing decent clobber, you’ve got a modern phone, you look better off than me. Who’re you kidding? Think about it. Who the hell is gonna give you money if you look like that?”
The man looked confused for a moment. “I’ve never really thought about it like that.”
“I realise the badge and stash of mags gives you a certain legitimacy, but you don’t ‘look’ homeless. You’d be better off rubbing shit over your coat, ripping holes in your trousers and drinking your own piss for money. Least then you could be one of those ‘famous’ homeless guys that have a website with a PayPal donation button.”
The Big Issue seller drifted off in his own thoughts and started to walk away. Daisy decided to take a break and sat on a bench beneath a tree that wore lights instead of leaves. She took out her tobacco tin and started the well practiced ritual of rolling a fag. Her hands had started shaking, the itch was getting worse. She wished she had something stronger than tobacco to put in the Rizla.
Fishing into her pocket she found her lighter, sparking a flame on the third try. Shielding it with her hand she sucked the light into the end of her cigarette. Sitting back on the bench she drew the smoke into her lungs, exhaling heavily and slowly, feeling the nicotine enter her system. She felt as if she was in her own little bubble while the rest of the world hurried past. She was an observer, on the outside looking in on everyone else’s lives. She didn’t feel part of it.
If begging isn’t going to work, I guess I’ll have to resort to blatant theft. If people were more generous, I wouldn’t have to resort to this. I blame society.
Her eyes scanned the slowly thinning crowd for an appropriate victim.
The market square was a good place to choose. There were a number of cash points dotted around, she turned her attention to the closest one. It had a line of five people, only three of which would be making withdrawals. She ignored the people that had company. If she was going to do this it would have to be one on one. As it was New Year’s Eve there would be plenty of people getting drinking money.
Of course, it was a lot harder to mug people for cash these days. People didn’t need to carry cash anymore. Everyone had plastic. You couldn’t even swipe those and forge a signature, you had to get their pin number too. Hell, you could pay for stuff with your phone now. It was getting ridiculous. It had gotten progressively harder to make a dishonest living. If stealing became too much like hard work, thieves might actually resort to conventional jobs to make a living.
She did briefly consider lining up behind someone, try to get a peak at their pin number, then swipe their card. But it was easier to take the money once it had been withdrawn. After all, people misplaced money all the time. There was always a little bit of doubt when you lost money, you don’t always jump straight to the assumption that you’ve been robbed. If your card goes missing, followed by a load of cash withdrawals that you didn’t make, you know you’re being ripped off.
The trick was zeroing in on the person that carried plenty of cash all the time, so if a little went missing they might second guess themselves.
She was on the lookout for people that absentmindedly tapped a pocket, or whose hands kept straying to a bag to check that it was still on their shoulder. Those were usually the people that had something worth taking.
Daisy had seen enough wildlife documentaries to know she had to pick off the weakest in the herd, or failing that scavenge what she could from a helpless carcass.
A man stepped up to the cash point and put his card in. He was well built, verging on fat, with a thick mop of curly hair. His pudgy fingers jabbed at the keypad while his other hand covered it over. He was too security conscious. He collected his money and moved off. As he turned around his jacket flapped open to show his t-shirt, it had a slogan on it that read, ‘I love Pi.’ Daisy smiled at that. It was a geek tee, he probably wouldn’t be used to confrontation, and might well hand over some money if she challenged him. If she was going to do it she’d have to make sure she wasn’t seen. She’d have to jab him in the back with something and pretend it was a knife. Because she was a petite girl, a straight forward mugging was out of the question.
Just as she was about to stub out her fag and follow him she caught sight of his face. He looked quite content, even a little dazed. There was a softness in his eyes. For all of his size and possible strength he had a definite look of a naughty puppy about him. As much as she needed some cash, she just didn’t have it in her to kick a puppy.
Mangy old dogs were a lot easier to harm than innocent puppies. The weakest of the herd, the elderly.
She took another scan of the square. Most of the market stalls were packed away leaving their metal skeletons exposed. There was an overriding stench of fish on the air as the fishmonger started putting his unsold goods in the back of a van. Bits of vegetables were strewn across the paving where they had fallen from the stalls. A street sweeper waited down the road to clean up the mess once the traders left. It was dark and the Christmas lights mixed with the sodium street lighting to illuminate the shops. The same Christmas lights that had been strung between the buildings for as long as Daisy could remember.
An old lady walked away from the cash point, she was alone and struggling with a little shopping trolley, an umbrella and a few ‘bags for life.’ By the look of it the bags would outlive her. She was short but enormously wide, her long padded coat hid the shape of her body but it looked like she had pillows strapped to her torso. She wore small half-moon glasses and a shapeless wool hat. She didn’t look particularly mean or wealthy but she did look a lot like the creepy statue. That was probably why Daisy decided to get up from the bench and follow her.
The old lady was clearly struggling, in fact Daisy had the impression that she would look ungainly without all of the things she was carrying. There was a break in the buildings where an access road ran down to the square. A building bridged the gap above that you could walk under. Beyond that the road became a steep hill which made the old lady slow down and begin to juggle with her bags.
Daisy was looking for an opening. There were a few ways she could play it. She could offer the lady some help out of the blue, or she could create a situation where the lady would need her help.
In the end the old lady created the situation herself. She dropped one of her canvas bags, spilling a dozen cans of cat food over the pavement. In trying to catch the bag she let go of her trolley which fell to the ground. This started a chain reaction with the result being that everything the woman was holding became victim of gravity.
Daisy trotted over and stooped to help the woman collect her things.
“Can I help?”
The old woman looked up sharply, her eyes wary as she stared at Daisy over the top of her glasses. She obviously didn’t like the look of what she saw. “That’s all right love, I’ll manage.”
Shit. Didn’t expect that. What’s the world coming to when the elderly won’t accept help. They all think people are trying to rob them!
“No, really I don’t mind.” Daisy started picking cans off the floor. She put the groceries back in the bags and lifted the trolley upright. Taking a furtive glance down she noticed that the old lady’s purse was sitting on top of the contents in the trolley. Daisy glanced over her shoulder making sure the lady was still busily arranging the other bags. Using her body as a shield she reached into the trolley, grabbed the purse and slipped it into her hoodie pocket.
Once everything had been collected the old lady turned to Daisy. “Thank you, dear, that was very kind of you.”
“No problem at all. How about I help you up the hill?” Daisy didn’t wait for an answer as she picked up one of the bags and started walking, dragging the trolley behind her.
The old lady was spooked, following as quickly as she could. “There’s really no need love, you’ve helped more than enough.” She grabbed at the handle of the trolley, making Daisy stop a quarter of the way up the hill.
“OK, if you’re sure you’ll be alright.”
“I’m quite sure, thank you, I’m only going to the bus stop at the top there.”
Daisy knew that she had chosen her target poorly. The woman was altogether too suspicious. She’d just have to brazen it out. She didn’t want to take the woman’s purse, only what was inside it.
The old lady took the trolley and immediately began looking through it, she became more agitated and desperate the longer she searched. “My purse is missing. It should be on top here.” She looked towards Daisy, an accusation written large across her face.
“Maybe it fell out at the bottom of the hill?” It was weak reasoning, but she took the initiative. “I’ll go back and take a look.” Daisy set off at a run back down the hill towards where the lady had spilled her groceries.
“You come back here!” The woman shouted after her. She could hear her following her down the hill, the sound of the bags scraping against her coat, the rumble of the trolley.
Daisy fished into her pocket, opened the purse and took out a small wad of notes. She stuffed the money down the front of her jeans as she arrived back at the spot of the spillage. She feigned looking around for a few seconds, bent down to the floor behind a nearby post-box then stood up, clearly holding the purse.
The old woman, out of breath, her face red and angry, grabbed Daisy’s shoulder as soon as she stood back up. “Give me my purse!”
Daisy feigned a shocked and confused expression. “OK, here it is. I found it down there.”
The old lady stopped short. “Oh.” She held out her hand, its skin stretched and transparent, Daisy handed it over, gently. “Thank you, dear. I thought you were…”
Daisy smiled at her, making her eyes as big as she could. “You thought I’d stolen your purse?” She laughed. “No, no. You’ve got me all wrong there. But good on you for being vigilant. There’s plenty in this town that would try it.”
The old lady had gotten all flustered and embarrassed, she was clearly uncomfortable with the situation. She made to open her purse. “I’m so sorry for thinking the worst of you. I want to give you a little something for helping me out.”
“No!” Daisy couldn’t control the volume of her voice, it came out unnaturally loud. She placed her hand on the old lady’s, stopping her from opening the purse. “Really, it’s no trouble at all. I’ll trust to Karma.” Damn right you will.
The old lady relented, gave her a long, hard look and put the purse back into the trolley. “Thank you again, love. Much appreciated.” Her voice had hardened a little. She turned and made her way slowly up the hill again.
“No problem, you take care,” Daisy called after her. Then turned and sprinted in the opposite direction.
She, fucking knew! She knew what I’d done. She could tell there was no money in that purse. Why the hell didn’t she call me on it?
I gave her the purse back, all she’s lost is a few quid. There’s plenty of people about that would have done worse.
She ran up the high street, refusing to stop, weaving around the shoppers. She ignored the funny looks she got as she trotted past them, her hoodie streaming behind her. She slowed to a walk when she got to the end of the street and went past the last row of shops before ducking into a subway that ran beneath a roundabout.
The subway was dark lit by flickering yellow lights. The tiling used to be bright, the remains of a mural had long since been graffitied over. She recognised a few of the tags. A homeless man with a dog sat halfway down the tunnel, murmuring to himself and the people that passed by.
She reached down the front of her trousers to find the wad of notes. Four £10 notes, and two other slips of paper. She turned the first one over. It was a coupon for cat food. She did have that look about her. Cat Lady. Probably has hundreds of the bloody things; thinks of them as her children.
The other piece of paper was a voucher too. It read: ‘This voucher entitles you to a free copy of Self Magazine. Kick start your New Year with Kurt Sampson’s new column, How to be Happy.’ Never heard of him.
She put the money and magazine coupon in her pocket.
The adrenaline had started to fade, and the itch had come back with a vengeance.
“Spare any change?” The homeless man said as she walked past him.
“Get a fucking job.” Daisy replied as she dropped the cat food voucher onto his blanket and walked on.
The homeless man picked up the slip of paper. “Bitch,” he muttered.
She climbed the steps emerging on the other side of the roundabout.
She wasn’t far away now, she could feed the itch. £40 would be more than enough to make sure she had a Happy New Year.
Many thanks for reading. If you have any feedback or thoughts, feel free to comment below.