Samuel stepped through the automatic doors, the cool refreshing air from the AC vents suspended above him hit him like a splash of ice cold water. It was summer outside, the heat dry and scorching – he welcomed the coolness of the fully air-conditioned department store. It was connected to the main mall, it led to endless stores and kiosks that provided something for everybody who paid it a visit that day.
He made his way through the wide aisle that led to the open establishments full of bustling shoppers. He went there looking for a baseball cap for his son, he planned on surprising him with it when he got home – a well-deserved reward for good grades on his report card.
A tall thin man, his head full of skull tattoos scattered throughout with flames in between each of them, pushed his way through customers with an urgency to make it to the exit doors. In his left hand, he held a cell phone to his ear, he spoke into it but his words were inaudible. He sweated profusely, wiping his forehead with his forearm and was constantly looking over his shoulder.
Samuel immediately had a bad feeling about him.
He stormed by him, briefly making eye contact. His eyes were wide, his lips cracked with a white coating over them. Samuel looked away quickly and kept walking straight. He looked back and watched him continue towards the exit doors.
He held several bags in his right hand – flower pattern blouses and delicate colored fabrics stuck out from the tops of them. A woman’s purse with a set of keys looped around the handle jangled as he walked. He disappeared from Samuel’s view, turning into an aisle that was a straight shot for the automatic doors leading to the outside – it was the last he ever saw of him.
Afterward, he looked around for any signs of trouble that could be connected to the man’s suspicious departure, but finding none, he came to the conclusion that things are not always what they appear to be. Perhaps he had judged the man based on his markings and the body language he exhibited. Everything appeared normal, people were busy and going about their business. No one was in distress, no authorities showed up looking for a tattooed man. After a while, he accepted it for what it was and pressed on.
With the baseball cap boxed and bagged, Samuel stood in the blazing heat once more, overlooking the sea of vehicles in the parking lot. Up ahead two patrol cars partially blocked his path, their siren lights silently flickering blue and red. A slow stream of moving cars attempted to get through, creating a small traffic jam. An officer spoke to a woman who sobbed hysterically, her black makeup smeared down her face and sat on a curb puffing on a cigarette. Another officer spoke to a second woman that appeared to describe someone to him, she placed her hands on top of her head and made circular motions. A crowd began to gather around them, Samuel getting close enough to hear their murmurings.
One man told another about a tall bald man with tattoos all over his head. He said he attacked the woman sitting on the curb and then ran off with her belongings. He struck her on the side of the face, knocking her down – an apparent robbery that took place in the food court in plain sight. The woman was a mere victim in the wrong place at the wrong time.
His gut feeling had told him something was wrong, that the man he had seen earlier rushing past him, carrying bags of women’s articles and clanking keys, was more than an assumption. It needed no explanation, it was an instinct that was wired in all human beings, a defense mechanism to identify potential danger. A gut feeling he dismissed altogether because those around him did not sense that danger and were too preoccupied with other things.
There was nothing Samuel could have done to prevent it from happening, (after all, it had already taken place) he was nowhere near the incident and merely happened to come across the evading thief momentarily. But it troubled him somehow, made him feel a great deal of guilt and irresponsibility. He kept playing his encounter with the tattooed man in his head over and over again.
He wondered if he would have said something to someone, anyone, could things have turned out differently? Maybe the tattooed man would be in a pair of steel handcuffs in the back of a cruiser, on his way to jail, instead of getting away with what he did. Perhaps justice would have been served and the woman rectified in this horrible occurrence.
However, it did not turn out that way. The fact was that he hadn’t said anything to anyone and the tattooed man did indeed escape from justice. He drove all the way home that day – silent. The events of that day affected him deeply, and over the course of months, he still could not find a way to move on from it completely.
He never did find out what had happened to the woman, or if they ever caught the tattooed man. Part of him did not care to know. He wanted nothing more than to get through a day without thinking about it. He told himself from time to time that he was caught, that he was brought to justice and the woman rectified. He hoped that was the case and that the tattooed man was not running the streets looking for his next victim.