theft, sincerity and pink hair: a day-late christmas carol

Somebody stole my phone today. It’s as simple and as complicated as that.

The details don’t matter. I joined the masses trawling the ailses for Boxing Day savings, I made sure my handbag was zipped, I avoided flashing around the envelope with my Christmas cash inside, and then I was texting my mother, and then it was gone.

I think I put it down on the counter when I got served, but only in front of me, just below my hands, which held my wallet. Somewhere between my friend, who was right next to me the whole time, remembering to give me a voucher I was yet to use, and then me confusing the poor lady serving me because I presented it too late and changing my mind to avoid complicating things further, someone who is not me or my friend picked it up and walked away with it. And that was that.

I think. The truth is, I don’t know.

I am not a careless person. I keep my phone in my back pocket (because women don’t get to wear jeans with front pockets big enough to fit anything more than lint and fury, AMIRIGHT LADIES) at all times. I’m in the habit of sliding it straight back into that pocket the moment I’m done with it, so I don’t lose it, misplace it or, you know, get it stolen. Perhaps I did it then, before I took my wallet out of my bag, and fell prey to a skilful as hell pickpocket. It was, after all, a JB Hi-Fi on Boxing Day. Everybody there was a sweaty, budget-breaking sardine, and every time you moved in any given direction, you walked into someone or something and found yourself apologising to them or it.

I realised all of three seconds after being handed my receipt that something was amok. I didn’t recall putting it in my handbag as opposed to my pocket, but then I rarely do, such is the nature of a deeply-ingrained habit. My handbag is deep and pocket-y and finding anything inside quickly is impossible, so I shouldn’t have been concerned at that moment, but there it was: the voice of cynicism, rearing its head in the darkest corners of my brain, like a red flag billowing in an unlucky breeze. I’d been had, and I knew it. I just had to wait for the rest of me to catch up.

I bolted back to the counter, knowing I would find it next to the Eftpos machine, knowing if it wasn’t there, the girl serving me would’ve seen it and put it aside, knowing if she hadn’t, the kindly fellow shopper who came after me would have handed it to the security guards at the front of the shop, who would take it to the centre’s concierge desk, who would do an announcement over the PA, and it would be like in a Nora Ephron movie except I’d be running towards the iPhone 6 I’ve only had for two months and not Tom Hanks.

None of that happened, of course. The realisation that somebody had done something so undeniably shitty as this the day after Christmas made me cry, just for a bit, when I rang my mother, who was fresh off the plane on a much-needed holiday and suddenly faced with spending part of it liaising with our insurers. The Christmas correlation is a whole other blog post (I subscribe to the “I don’t know why we only put aside one day of the 365 in a year to give thanks, remind our family we love them and get all misty-eyed at our shared humanity, but one day is way better than none, and also stop buying so many damn presents” school of thought on that), but I think we can all agree: you don’t fuck with the festive season. Twelve hours ago, my cousin had announced to my entire family she’s pregnant with her first kid, and nobody stopped smiling until they went to sleep. Now, I’m in a parking lot with the smokers and skateboarders, tearfully telling my mother I want whoever did this to die and almost half meaning it.

Be a shitty human in your own time. At Christmas you’re on Baby Jesus’ time.  

I’m undoubtedly and without shame one of Those People who consider a piece of technology to be their fifth limb. I use it always and for everything. Texting, tweeting, emailing, reading, browsing. Checking the time. I say “without shame” because my kind get chided for being “glued to our phones”, I don’t think, within the boundaries of politeness, that there’s anything shameful in actively keeping in touch with both loved ones and current events. My phone is the medium through which I do both, because I’m not made of time and also I actually like technology. So, it goes without saying I felt headless when I realised not only was it Gone, it wasn’t Left-It-In-My-Car-Again Gone, Fallen-Between-The-Couch-Cushions Gone or Folded-Between-The-Pages-Of-The-Last-Book-I-Was-Reading Gone. It was Not-Coming-Back Gone. For reasons completely outside my control, for motivations totally beyond my comprehension.

And comprehension is a big part of what threw me in all this. Beyond being just plain rattled, I was shocked. Astounded. Downright befuddled and only capable of talking in questions consisting of just one word: “What? How? Why?”, like some primary school teacher deconstructing Diary Of A Wombat with her class. The feeling wasn’t unfamiliar. A few years ago, somebody reversed into the side of my car while I was at a show, and when I came out I had to crawl over the gearstick because the driver’s side door wouldn’t open. They hadn’t left a note, but I worked for the local newspaper at the time and needed no excuse to do a Lois Lane, writing an inside cover piece on the whole debacle. The day after we printed, a woman rang my editor to say she’d seen it happen on the night and written down the guy’s license plate, simultaneously ensuring I’d get his money for the extensive repairs and restoring my shaky faith in humanity. In spite of my inability to do a full Lois Lane this time around, it turned out there’s a Nice Lady Reading The Paper Who Did The Right Thing in this story, too.

She has pink hair.

She’s about my age. She wears outrageously cute floral dresses and a smile that strikes me as vaguely cheeky, as if grinning to herself almost constantly at something funny in her head. She’s skinny and she has a lanyard on with a name tag I can’t read. I ask her if she’s already serving someone because she’s walked towards me with a lot of purpose for somebody doing nothing, and she says she isn’t, with an expectant lilt about her, which makes me realise I might look as lost as I feel. I ask her for the cheapest, nastiest phone she has on offer, and she considers this a fun challenge immediately.

She takes one from the cupboard she’s unlocked, thinks it over a moment and decides she can “do better than that”, and by “better” she means “worse” and we both know it so I chuckle and just like that she has made me do what I have so far failed to: laugh. In the face of the person who took something that didn’t belong to them. At the idea of somebody who barely remembers what VHS means using a phone invented before Bluetooth. For not realising it could have been much worse, and it wasn’t, and it will at least make a good story one day. With the knowledge whoever did it is already far worse off than me for having done it, because some people are their own punishment, or maybe they simply needed it more than I do, in which case, I really hope it suits their purposes.

When the cheapest, nastiest phone has emerged from its hiding place, the girl with pink hair tells me she’s going to discount it to the point where I can almost pay with the coins I’ve accumulated in the cup holders of my car. She also says she can restore the phone number I suspended sometime between calling my mother again and filing a police report to the new SIM card, and I sincerely tell her she has made my day. At some point, she hands me an invoice with a flourish, and tells me, “We’ll split and meet back here”, like she’s Nancy Drew and I’m whoever Nancy Drew regularly had adventures with. I sincerely thank her, and sincerely smile, because sometimes I worry there’s not enough sincerity in the world and if there was maybe people wouldn’t steal phones off retail countertops while the owner’s handing over the voucher their Nan tucked into a Christmas card. When all is said and done, I ask her what her name is with my hand extended to shake hers in thanks, because I’ve read her name tag by now and I’m not sure how to pronounce the three letters written on it.

The thing is, there’s only one reason a writer will ask someone they’ll never see again for their name: they want to name a character after you. You’ve earned it. This is trade-secret stuff and I might get kicked out of the club for saying so, but you’ve inspired them, as weird as it sounds, for reasons good or bad. Maybe that character will die a thousand deaths and maybe they’ll meet a kind face in a bookstore on a rainy afternoon. Her name is pronounced unlike how I would’ve predicted and I file it away, and her handshake is strong and friendly and pointed. Handshakes of that kind might be rarer and more important than sincerity.

I left wondering if I might not replace my iPhone at all. The thought lingers. Now I have a Nokia in my life, and we all know how bloody brilliant they are. It doesn’t have email or a camera and it needed me to change settings before it could automatically update the time, but it has actual buttons, and it hasn’t been charged since I took it out of the box and couldn’t care less. I’d compare it to the phone I got when I was ten, but it doesn’t have Snake. You can’t have everything.

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