Tuesday, 5 August 2008

The fountain

The fat girl is standing by the fountain in the shopping mall; twelve years old, wearing a faded baggy shirt with 'Eye Candy' printed across her not-quite yet visible chest. This is a girl with parents who do not 'do' irony. They probably bought it in a charity shop. The girl is collecting pennies from the fountain. Deeply concentrating, leaning as far as she can towards the water without actually tumbling, she scoops up coins into her large hands. She is alone in the world with her concentration and the coins.

I watch her for ten minutes or so, as she moves around the fountain, collecting, holding on to and hoarding the treasure. People stop and watch, amused by her simple-minded actions. No one tells her to stop, so she continues. How many coins can a child hold without dropping them? How can she lean over and pick up more, without dropping her cache? She is a skillful forager; hers is an ancient primate skill from before the dawn of language.

Then an old woman arrives and notices the criminal and the theft. 'Stop', she shouts. 'Put them back right away. They are not your property'. The girl stops dead and looks bewildered. She starts to cry and suck a piglet doll she had hidden inside her jeans.

The woman has only just begun. An example has to be made. She drags the girl round the fountain telling the bored and disengaged shoppers all about 'property' and 'theft'. No one shows any sympathy for the girl or the woman. Tell a coffee-stall waiter, who looks as if he wants to flee away. To the Mall information manager, with a bluetooth earpiece and a microphone. Reporting the 'theft of charity pennies'. Now something MUST be done about this. The information manager looks scared because she has to make a decision. The decision is to report this INCIDENT to her superiors. She goes behind a potted tree to hide from the girl and she tells tales to teacher. I await the arrival of the armed response unit.

The girl's grandparents arrive on the scene and there is a queue of outraged women anxious to report the criminal tendencies of the young hooligan. Granny looks shocked; Granddad looks as if he wants to go backwards. The girl is marched away, crying with the burning tears of shame.

The ripples of the pool calm, and the predators return to their hunting grounds. England in 2008 is not a forgiving place for children.

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