The Thief.

by Philip Gardner


Who would miss a pair of scissors? No-one would know they'd gone. Ms Nicholls never counts them. No-one's watching. I'll put them in my pencil case. Even if I'm caught, I can say someone else put them there. I can say I don't know anything about them. I won't tell anyone except Mark. The school's got plenty of money - they don't need these scissors. And having thus persuaded himself that nothing could go wrong, Adam Mason became a thief.

Unfortunately, he didn't get more than a few metres out the door before he was caught. In what he thought was a furtive whisper, he had told Mark that he had taken the scissors, but his words were overheard by several others. As the class left the room, one of these listeners said to Ms Nicholls: "Miss, Adam took a pair of scissors. He's got them in his pencil case." Ms Nicholls walked quickly to the door and called Adam.

"Adam, come here. Did you return your scissors?"

"Yes, Miss."

"Do you have a pair of scissors in your pencil case?"

"No, Miss. I haven't got any scissors in my pencil case. You can check if you want to," he said, attempting to bluff his way out of his difficulty. He tried to stay calm, despite a pounding heart. Ms Nicholls could see his widened eyes, hear the edge in his voice, recognise the fixed smile that pretended innocence. She knew he'd done it. She knew she'd find them, and she did. She held them up in front of him and gently opened and shut them.

"These are school scissors, Adam."

"They're not the one's I had, Miss. I put mine back on your table. I didn't take those scissors. Someone's trying to get me into trouble. I wouldn't take anything, Miss. Maybe Mark put them there for a joke. They must have been on the desk with my pencils. He probably thought they were mine. Did you put them there?" he said, turning to Mark.

"I don't know anything about them," said Mark, quickly destroying Adam's alibi. Mark could see trouble coming and didn't want to be caught up in it. He shrugged his shoulders and held his hands, palm upwards, in the air. He shook his head in a further denial of involvement.

"Wait here, Mark," said Ms Nicholls. "Adam, report to my office now. I'll meet you there in a few minutes."

"But I didn't take those scissors, Miss. Someone must have put them there. I put mine back on your table with all the others. I've got my own scissors at home. I don't need any scissors."

"Go to my office, Adam."

Adam opened his mouth to say something else, but shut it again as he realised the futility of further comment. He turned and walked dejectedly to Ms Nicholls' office, wondering what she would do. His thoughts were crowded with excuses, with explanations, with half-truths and outright lies. She couldn't prove I took them deliberately, he thought. Kids are always trying to get me into trouble. They love to laugh at me. They tell me to do things, and when I do them, they tell the teacher what I've done and I get into trouble. Well, she's not going to get me this time. She can't prove I did it. Someone could've put those scissors in my pencil case. I could've picked them up by accident. She can't say I wanted to steal them. She can't call me a thief.


"Sit down, Adam," said Ms Nicholls tonelessly.

Adam sat on the ochre-coloured vinyl couch at the end of Ms Nicholl's office. She shared it with two others teachers, and it was crowded with three desks covered with papers, books, coffee cups, pens and pencils, boxes of papers and some odd paraphernalia that must have collected there over the years. On the bench which ran along one side of the room was a box of unused filing cards; a cassette tape with no cover; a small pile of dusty books; some old copies of the school magazine; a couple of class photos. On the wall was a noticeboard covered with paper of various colours and sizes: a calendar, a daily bulletin, a timetable, a few photos of young children and of various cats and dogs - presumably the families and pets of the teachers whose office this was - some posters, a booklet held by a piece of string threaded through a hole in the top left hand corner. The room looked busy, it looked cluttered; but to Adam it looked dangerous. This was teachers' territory, and he must be careful of the ambush that lay ahead. He sat down and faced Ms Nicholls with an innocently worried look.

"I'm very disappointed in you, Adam," Ms Nicholls began. "I trusted you. Why did you take those scissors?"

"But I didn't take them, Miss. I don't know how they got into my pencil case. Someone must have put them there, or maybe they were with my pencils and I just picked them up. I"

"I can't believe that, Adam. You knew they were there - you put them there. I'm not sure why - perhaps it was just because the opportunity was there and you acted without thinking - but you stole those scissors. I've had to change the way I think about you. When I deal with you in future, I'll have to think about the possibility that you might steal. When you borrow something, when you're given equipment to use, when I'm looking for someone responsible to do a job, I'll remember that you've stolen things, and can't be trusted. And all because of a pair of scissors. A few dollars. You've been very foolish."

Adam sat silently before her. His school uniform stretched over him. The too-small jumper lifted to show his shirt at the waist. His arms stuck awkwardly from his sleeves. His tousled blond hair stuck straight into the air. His eyes popped slightly; his mouth was a little open. He breathed heavily, and occasionally licked his lips and swallowed. He knew the consequences of Ms Nicholl's words. He was half listening to her, half thinking about whether she'd contact his parents, and if so what she'd say to them, and what they in turn would do. Would they believe Ms Nicholls if he denied the crime? His parents would believe him. They wouldn't punish him. They'd believe it was the other kids who were always after him. He became so persuaded that his parents would believe his story, that he began to believe it himself. Because the story he'd told could be true, it gradually became true for him.

"I spoke to Mark before I came here, Adam," said Ms Nicholls, interrupting his thoughts. He said that you told him you'd taken the scissors. Other people heard you."

"No, Miss, I told him that anyone could take them. He must've thought I said something else, but I didn't take them. I'm not a thief."

"I don't believe you, Adam."


Adam's mother sat in Ms Nicholl's office, with Adam next to her. Mrs Mason was a small woman, a shabby woman. Her light brown hair hung to her shoulders. She wore a floral blouse and a plain brown skirt. She clutched a small black purse in her lap. She felt awkward in this environment, but she had her pride and wasn't going to let these teachers get away with anything. This teacher was accusing Adam of stealing. Adam had told her he didn't do it - why didn't the teacher believe him? This was the latest in a series of troubles that had worn her down.

Adam sat with feet apart, hands clasped, face staring fixedly at Ms Nicholl's desk. The scissors he had taken were sitting there, next to Ms Nicholl's gold fountain pen and her book of marks - subtle symbols of her authority.

"Mrs Mason, I've asked you to come here so that we can talk to Adam about what he's done. Several people have said he took those scissors during art," she said, pointing to the desk with the scissors on it. "I hope that we can both explain to him how serious this is"

"He says he didn't do it," said Mrs Mason, the words rushing out of her mouth. "You didn't do it, did you, Adam?"

"No, Mum. I just said it for a joke and someone put them in my pencil case. They're always doing that to me. Then I get the blame."

"We've always taught him not to steal," said his mother. "He knows it's wrong. He would have told me if he'd done it. He tells me everything that goes on at school. I've told him not to listen to those other kids when they try to get him into trouble, but sometimes he does things. We didn't let him ride his bike for a week when he knocked over the fire extinguisher that time before. He shouldn't have done that. But he doesn't steal things.

"I think he did, this time," commented Ms Nicholls, "and if it happens again he could be suspended from school."

"Suspended? He says he wants to leave this school anyway. We think it will be good if he made a fresh start. I've already been to another school, and they said he could start there. We told them that he'd had trouble with the other kids, and they said they'd watch him to see that he settled in all right. He's taken his books from his locker this morning and we're going today."

"I think you should think about this, Mrs Mason. Adam can't keep running away from problems," somewhat taken aback by this unexpected development.

"We want him to go to another school. He hasn't been happy here. I just came here to tell you that he's leaving," said Mrs Mason decisively, and stood up to indicate that she was taking no further part in the discussion. "Thank you, but I have to be off now. I'm late for work."

"I'm sorry that you're taking Adam away from this school, but I can see that you have made up your mind. Goodbye Mrs Mason. I hope you'll come back and talk to us if things don't work out at the new school." She looked at Adam, said goodbye to him, then turned to open the door for Mrs Mason, who was striding purposefully towards it.

Adam stood up to follow them to the door. As he stepped past Ms Nicholl's desk, he reached out with a snake-like movement of his left hand, silently picked up her gold fountain pen and slipped it secretly into his pocket. He continued his walk towards the door without missing a step. He and his mother hurried towards the school gate. He stole a glance over his shoulder, partly to see if Ms Nicholls was following, partly to look at the school for the last time. Through his mind flashed the humiliations, the dangers, the accusations of his years at the school. He focussed his fears and hatreds on Ms Nicholls, who had caught him stealing.

He felt the soft warmth of her fountain pen in his pocket. He thought that he had better throw it away as soon as he got a chance - there would be trouble if his mum found that pen. He'd never use it, he didn't want it, he couldn't keep it, but he was glad he had taken it - that would teach her to call him a thief!

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