The streetlight reflected off the blade of the knife and the hair gel glaze of his platinum-blond mohican. I shifted my weight from one foot to the other and a red onion wobbled off the top of the pile of shopping in my arms, dropped to the ground and rolled fatly until it came to rest against the mugger’s boot. “So,” I said. “What now?” He swung his foot back and then kicked the onion hard against the wall. The message on the screen of the cashpoint was still there, the elephant in the room. I averted my gaze, knowing that if I looked directly at it I might smile. I did not think that my smiling would be advantageous. It would not have a positive effect on the mugger’s mood. It was already an ugly thing, violent and bare-toothed. It told me that I wasn’t out of this yet – that he might still decide to stab me, if not for money then for fun.
As I waited for him to speak I thought about how this was all my fault – my fault for being too stubborn to buy a plastic bag at the shop, my fault for being too cocky, too sure of myself and taking a shortcut instead of walking the long, safe way home. If I hadn’t been holding my debit card between my teeth it probably would have made things more difficult for him too. As it was, grabbing it from my mouth and then marching me to a cashpoint had been so easy I wished I had thought of it.
He turned to me now. “So, what have you got there?” He was looking at the shopping. “Um… ginger beer, potatoes, brioche…” I began to list as he reached over and started to pick through the groceries, his rough hands all over my shopping. “Why are you carrying this stuff?” He was looking straight into my eyes now. “Why didn’t you buy a plastic bag? Wouldn’t that have been easier?” I gulped. Didn’t say anything. Looked down again. “Red pepper, um, chewing gum…” I looked at the floor, “…red onion.” “What about that?” he asked. “That? Um, coal tar soap,” I answered. “Coal tar soap?” “Yes,” I confirmed.
“Ok,” he said as he grabbed the coal tar soap. “I’ll have that, and the ginger beer. And the brioche. Don’t call the cops, don’t follow me,” he instructed gruffly. “Bloody waste of time,” I heard him mutter as he walked away, blade and mohican and all. I just stood there in the street, what was left of my shopping in my arms. No ginger beer to drink when I got in, no soap to wash with. I waited until I was sure that he had gone and then I approached the cash machine.
I leaned in, so that the screen was just inches from my face, the message still displaying on the screen. “He’s gone now,” I whispered. “Can I have my card back?”