I was at National Book Store (NBS) when three obnoxious and annoyingly loud children were running around and yelling while their mother was queuing at the cashier. I was this close to feeling annoyed that the mother didn’t do anything about it. Come their turn, the mother asked for their envelopes. In their hands, they each had an attaché-case-type-plastic-envelope that were asked to be surrendered at the cashier. It was such a cute moment, and it occurred to me that maybe I have forgotten what it’s like to be a child.
Obviously, they were shopping for school supplies, the three siblings each had the plastic envelope, a notebook, a pencil, a ruler, and an eraser.
An image instantly flashed in my head. NBS Mango Avenue, 1992. A little girl in her school uniform took a Doraemon eraser and slowly slipped it inside the pocket of her skirt. I watched her do this and she later reunited with her mom and sisters and then went out of the store with the stolen merchandise.
That girl was me. At 9 years old.
As a child, I was a thief. But as a thief at home stealing coins, I always got reprimanded by my father in what modern society may call child abuse today. I always got punished, except for that time at NBS. But surely, guilt does a better job at that. To this day, I still live with that guilt. Perhaps, because I was never caught. I still frequent NBS. To me, it is not just a book store where I get my school supplies then, office supplies now, it is a big part of my childhood and my life in general, having lived here all my life. I’m sure I speak for many.
Looking back, the only reasons why I stole that eraser was because it was cute, and expensive. Perhaps I should have tried asking my mom if she would buy it for me. But even if we could have afforded it, it was simply unnecessary because the plain white eraser does the exact same thing at half the price, and that’s how I knew even as a child that I wasn’t getting it. I’ve used it with great care, and with great guilt. I hid it from my sisters because if they saw, they would have known how I got it.
That wasn’t the only stealing experience I had. I tried to steal coins from my parents because I got hungry in school. I remember having enough money just for pizza or a pack of juice, and never both at the same time. In 3rd grade, during recess I remember I saw what seemed like a bundle of folded 20 peso bills at the stairway and I remember picking it up with such adrenaline rush, deciding if I would turn it in, or spend it on pizza and juice at the same time, finally! Later, I had a full stomach, and a guilty conscience.
The two times I stole from my parents I remember having had to offer my open palms and having them slapped hard by a ruler, it was painful. I also remember as a consequence, I was once made to kneel on rock salt for hours. My dad had probably forgotten that his daughter was still upstairs kneeling on salt facing the window because he was busy. And while he was busy working, I was also receiving a lesson on honesty and integrity. I was terrified to get up even for one second despite the pain I was in.
Eventually I got tired of the consequences, and much later on things got better at home and that part of my childhood is now forgotten by everyone but me. I do feel ashamed that I have, at some point, resorted to stealing. This is why I understand when people are driven to do that due to poverty. It doesn’t mean I tolerate it now, but I can understand and I now have a better judgment on whether or not someone deserves a second chance. I have my dad to thank for me not turning into a full blown bank robber or wallet snatcher, if not out of need, out of habit. For the severe measures he did, he taught me and my sisters that stealing is bad no matter what angle you look at it from. It didn’t teach us that it’s okay to hit people, it is called discipline and I am grateful for it.