Thursday, 11 January 2018
Stealing light-bulbs, by Deborah Jenkins
I walked into Sainsbury's the other day, wandered into the Home section and stole a light-bulb. I unzipped my bag and edged it carefully in, so as not to break it. Then I walked out. At the door a stocky security guard with acne and dodgy eyes, put on his deepest voice.
"Excuse me Madam," He gave an inquiring nod to someone behind me, then cleared his throat, "Do you have anything in your bag?"
I froze. With one half of my brain I was thinking what a strange question it was, and that I could answer with any number of things -
That is none of your business
No, unless you mean the light bulb I just shoplifted
Yes, of course I have - my car-keys, my purse, my glasses. Shall I go on?
What was even stranger is that I felt an obscure sense of panic and guilt, even though I had no reason to. The above is a description of what they thought had happened. But they were wrong. Or were they? My mind raked back quickly over the past few moments. I had been looking at light bulbs, lifting them off the shelf and comparing them to the spent one removed from our kitchen pendant. shaking my head and putting them back again. They were all the wrong shape, it was so annoying. After lifting and comparing a number of bulbs, I finally decided they didn't have one, at which point I unzipped my bag, put the old one back in and walked out.
So I calmly unzipped my bag and pulled it out.
Yes, my light-bulb to see if...
The security guard interrupted, disappointed.
Oh, it's yours! Okay. At which point he walked off.
And I was left, heart thrumming, embarrassed and annoyed. He didn't even apologise!
As I drove home, smoothing my hair in the driving mirror, I remembered a man appearing next to me in the light-bulb aisle. As I'd zipped up my bag and turned to go, he'd picked a bulb off the shelf and spoken into his mobile. Something like, "Mum, are you sure it's the light bulb not the flex?" and looked straight at me. I remember thinking what lovely blue eyes. Perhaps the message was for Security. Code for "Older woman heading out with light-bulb. Messy hair" I felt a rush of annoyance, that I'd admired his eyes. I wished I'd thought them devious.
I carried on musing as I drove home, narrowly missing a bollard. Why could I not stop thinking about this ? The man was only doing his job. He had made a mistake. I was innocent. Move on, Deborah. Move on...
I know, I thought, I'll put it in my book. Maybe the woman puts the new light bulb in her bag by accident, and puts the old one back on the shelf. Maybe she is deep in thought, about her marriage or her dog or her gall bladder. She's doing that thing where her body moves without her mind being engaged at all until she finds herself standing, dazed, at the door next to the security guard.
Life has such rich pickings: -
A frustrated woman walks out of her job, and into a new life
An old lady counts out coins with a trembling hand
A vicar's wife dreams of buying their holiday home
A teenager runs away and squats in an empty house
A business woman loses her London company and moves to the country
A Romanian chef makes a new start running a cattery
I have used all these in my writing. Some of them happened to me, some of them to others but they all touched me in some way and I could not stop thinking about them. Until I wrote them down in a diary or a story or an article. How powerful is the written word, able to take both the diamonds and the dust from this crazy world and put them to rest in a song. It might make us sad or it might make us happy, but somehow it will soothe away the endless scrutiny and give us peace. If we are watchers and listeners, we will prevail as long as we keep collecting and writing - snapshots of other lives through which we gradually begin to see a bigger story. Like stolen light-bulbs...
Click on the link to see the novella on amazon
Deborah Jenkins is a primary school teacher and freelance writer who has written articles, text books, devotional notes and short stories. She also writes regularly for the TES. She has completed a novella, The Evenness of Things, available as an Amazon e-book and is currently working on a full length novel. Deborah loves hats, trees and small children. After years overseas with her family, who are now grown up, she lives in south-west London with her husband, a Baptist minister, and a cat called Oliver.