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Chapter 1: The Beginning
Martina visited a bad section of the city, where she noticed a lot of family-owned stores, many of them owned by whites and by Asian-Americans. She also noticed a lot of hostility and tension between the workers in the stores and their customers, many of whom were black. In some stores, the Asian-Americans would even follow any blacks who entered the store. That way, the Asian-Americans could make sure that the blacks did not shoplift anything.
She entered a store to make a small purchase. In this store, the elderly storekeeper was shorthanded and so stayed by the cash register and did not follow around the three black teenagers who entered the store behind Martina. However, Martina noticed that his eyes followed the three black teenagers when they were within his line of sight, as they often were. The storekeeper also kept his eyes on the mirrors that extended his line of sight.
Martina quickly learned that the three black teenagers knew where the mirrors were located. They stole stuff when they knew that the elderly storekeeper could not see them. When they had stolen enough, they went to the cash register area and one teenager paid for some inexpensive items. Martina estimated that the three black teenagers had stolen items that were worth four or five times the amount that the one black teenager had actually paid.
Martina picked up a few small items, went to the cash register area, and opened her large purse to get some money — and to allow the elderly storekeeper a chance to glance inside her purse and see that she was not stealing anything.
The elderly storekeeper also looked over Martina’s body with a quick glance — not in a lecherous way, but simply to see if her clothing had any telltale bumps that indicated the presence of shoplifted items. The only bumps she had were all natural — the gifts of God.
“Did you see those three teenagers?” he asked her. “I know that they stole from me just now, but I can’t do anything about it because I did not see them steal anything. They’re stealing me poor. Soon I am going to have to close this store because of a lack of profit. That actually will hurt this neighborhood because less competition means higher prices. Those teenagers don’t realize that by stealing from me they are hurting themselves and their families.”
“That’s a shame,” Martina said. “Someone ought to do something.”
That night, Martina had an idea that she put into effect the following day. Each day, she would go to a store, buy the kinds of items that the teenagers were stealing, put them in her purse, and then go to the store of the elderly storekeeper. There she would pick up a few items, but she would also wait until she was in an area that the elderly storekeeper could not see, and she would unload her purse, placing on the shelves the items that she had previously purchased at another store. Then she would pay for the items she had picked up, always opening her purse wide so that the elderly storekeeper could see that she was not stealing anything. Often she saw the black teenagers in the store. Often they would steal things that she would quickly replace with the items that she had smuggled into the store.
The first time Martina did this, she thought, Shopstuffing. It’s a nice change from shoplifting.
When the elderly storekeeper took inventory at the end of the month, he was pleasantly surprised. He had losses from shoplifting, but the losses were not close to being as significant as they had been in previous months. He also wondered if he was wrong about the three black teenagers. Maybe they weren’t shoplifters, after all.
The day after the elderly storekeeper took inventory, the three black teenagers entered the store, and the elderly storekeeper greeted them and said a few pleasant words to them. They did their normal shoplifting — and later Martina did her normal shopstuffing. By this time, Martina and the elderly shopkeeper were old friends, and although Martina always opened her big purse wide, the shopkeeper felt no need to glance into it. Instead, they simply talked for a few minutes as and after she had paid for her purchases.
And each day the elderly storekeeper and the three black teenagers talked, and soon the three black teenagers were shoplifting less and a little later the three teenagers were not shoplifting at all — at that particular store. And a little later than that they were telling their friends not to shoplift at that particular store.
At the end of the month, the elderly shopkeeper took inventory, and this time he was greatly surprised because the inventory showed that he had more items than he should have had. Normally, when he bought 100 chocolate bars and sold 80 items, he would have 10 chocolate bars left — 10 having been stolen by shoplifters. But this time, when he bought 100 chocolate bars and sold 80 chocolate bars, he had 25 chocolate bars left.
In the modern world, miracles don’t happen, unless you count the miracle of existence. A rational reason must exist for the excessive number of items on his store shelves. So the next time the three black teenagers entered ]the store, he asked them if they been bringing items into the store and putting them on his shelves.
They were surprised by the question, and one of them, whose name was Bill, asked, “Why would we do that?”
The elderly shopkeeper, whose name was Max, replied, “You’re going to think this is funny, but I used to think that you three guys were shoplifting.”
“No!” the three black teenagers said.
“Yes, I did,” Max said. “And I thought that maybe you were feeling guilty about shoplifting so you were putting items on the shelves to replace the items that you used to steal.”
“Nope. Wasn’t us,” Bill said. And his two friends agreed that they would never do such a thing as shoplift or return items that they had stole.
So they said, but Max didn’t believe them. He still believed that the three black teenagers had been smuggling items into his store and putting them on the shelves when they were out of his line of sight.
Martina quit shopstuffing soon afterward. The elderly shopkeeper never had a surplus in his inventory again, but his losses from shoplifting, although irritating, were livable. And whenever he looked at the three black teenagers, he saw three honest black teenagers although previously they had always looked like shoplifters to him. And whenever the three black teenagers looked at Max, they saw a nice elderly gentleman — someone who should not suffer from shoplifters.