Winter in Philadelphia had set in with much intensity, probably this year. There had been a volley of cold wind blowing right from the afternoon day before. However, that did not seem to deter shopping lovers from thronging their favorite store, during the choicest discount for Christmas.
The winter was a bit harsh on me, having moved from Atlanta only a couple of days ago on my job transfer. The cold had never been this bitter in Atlanta.
I, my mother and my wife Nancy had moved into our new apartment, an accommodation that the company had provided me with.
Atlanta has been my mother’s home since she was married. My mother being the senior-most member in the family had many relatives visiting her often. Uncles, aunts, cousins, we had plenty of them in Atlanta.
My mother had earned a special reverence in the family and many looked upon her for even the slightest advice.
She had bought me up single handed, after dad suddenly passed away succumbing to lung cancer when I was thirteen. They were difficult days though. However mom, who worked as a teacher in the high school, did her best to give me all that a boy needed to face the world. Proper attention, good nourishment and very good education. I need to ask for nothing more.
We did feel a void when the transfer order came. It implied that we were going to be deracinated soon, but the remuneration and perks were too tempting to let go the offer.
Nancy was excited since we were moving to a new place, but I was aware it would be a bit heartrending for mom.
“Why can’t we leave your mom behind in Atlanta, if that is what’s going to keep her happy.” Nancy made a sincere appeal, tactfully camouflaging her intention of moving alone with spouse, as advised by some of her smart friends who never got along with their in-laws.
“I don’t want to leave her alone.” I firmly asserted. Nancy’s friends had probably tutored her to face any kind of situation arising out of this suggestion. She spoke highly of senior citizens home , but I cut her short with a stern look.
I am sure mom had overheard our conversation. She too came up with a similar suggestion. However neither her countenance nor her words betrayed her feelings, when I outright rejected her proposal and almost warned her to close the subject. She remained strong as ever, the tranquility in her face never waning.
We came to Philadelphia at a time when the winter was not in a mood to play the perfect host. It was chill to the core, snowing heavy.
We had yet to brace ourselves for the winter. All the winter wear we had did not seem sufficient enough to combat the biting cold of Philadelphia. We decided we should go shopping for those exclusive wear, during the weekend. Right now some other items needed to set the kitchen and the house had taken priority.
Getting myself covered with the best winter clothes, I had, I ventured out. Soon I got into the huge store that had everything under the roof on display. It was swarming with passionate people. The prospective buyers were keen on getting the best discounted items.
It had generally been Nancy’s department to go around the Malls picking up whatever she needed. I was required only to pay the bill. I liked it that way. Wading your way through those lanes flanked by shelves stuffed with things; was something I usually shunned. Today I was left with no other alternative. Nancy and my mother were busy arranging the new house; hence I was here at the shopping store gaping at the surging crowd.
I picked up a rather huge trolley. There were as many as forty three items on the list my wife had given me. Apart from that I needed to purchase some items for myself and also pedigree and some other stuff for my pet dog Champ.
Chalking out a mental map of my tour in the mall, I got busy picking things one after the other. After having loaded my cart with almost twenty items, I stood halfway through the section ticking my list, when I felt someone patting on my shoulder.
It was intriguing. I had just moved to this place forty eight hours before and I knew nobody here. I had yet to make friends and here someone was tapping on my shoulders with serious verve.
The warmth of that touch however seemed completely devoid of comradeship. It felt rather rude and unrefined.
I looked across my shoulder to be confronted by a tall, hefty man, whose countenance made it evident that he had approached me with no intention of building a new acquaintance. The identity card hanging around his neck stood testimony to the fact that he was an employee in the mall.
“You need some help I suppose,” he said firmly holding my trolley. His tone sounded coarser than his countenance and his gestures were far from exhibiting sincere help.
“I am fine,” I exclaimed; but he had already taken custody of my trolley.
This predilection towards me was rather vexing. I was not the only one in the mall having a trolley filled with stuff, there were others too and I was in no way physically challenged not to be able to roll a trolley on my own. Then why was this ‘favoritism’ shown towards me?
I looked straight into his eyes, gearing myself for a confrontation; when I realized that his gaze was fixed elsewhere. Following it, I was astonished to see that he was intensely looking at the security screen and it was only me and of course him on the screen.
Inquisitiveness of a few people around became palpable. They were staring into the screen and then into my face.
Though the crowd here was totally unfamiliar to me, still it was so very humiliating to be in the eye of a storm. Hence I made up my mind to play safe and submit to the whims and fancies of the guy. I meekly allowed him to roll my trolley and walked with stifled steps along with him. Broaching a conversation seemed precarious at that moment.
A few more items had to be picked up from the grocery section and then I gestured to him to move to the section for pets.
“Whatever your highness says,” he bowed in mock respect while another contemporary joined him in a riot of laughter at the expense of my mounting blood pressure.
The second guy seemed more boisterous than the first.
I picked up my dog’s favorite pedigree and chuckled. Nudging his coworker, he said, “Look what an expensive item his highness has picked up. Anyway he doesn’t have to pay the bill.” Once again there was a laughing session as both shrugged their shoulders.
So very deplorable, I thought. I was being labeled as a person who whisks away things without paying the bill.
Some inkling advised me to keep to myself.
Quietly I turned at the isle that opened into a long passage.
There were as many as thirteen security screens fitted and each one of them had me and only me on them, with the two guys in tow. It looked like thirteen clones of mine were staring at me.
“What is happening here?” I demanded to know, raising my decibel level. There was no point being submissive now. Things were getting out of hand. I couldn’t possibly make a clown of myself by allowing myself to be followed by all the security cameras. What the hell had I done to be monitored thus?
“Why are all the security cameras focused on me? I just don’t get this,” I waved my hands in the air.
“Do not worry; you will get a clear elucidation for all this.” A tough looking man accompanied by two more sturdy men, arrived on the scene. The tough looking man motioned the other two to take me away towards the exit.
“Where are you heading to and what is all this about?” I screamed. “I am new to this place and have done nothing wrong to be treated like this. Is shopping in a mall a crime in Philadelphia?” I asked, perplexed and looking around.
Then as if things were happening in a trance. I was shoved into a van and in a few minutes I found myself seated in front of a cop in a room that smelt of interrogation mania. The officer’s frigidity made my stomach cuddle.
This was some clear case of mistaken identity. If detectives have been summoned to solve the issue then the matter must be very serious. I realized that I was in a mess.
The cops were busy analyzing the kind of thefts I had done in the last few months. The detectives who dragged me from the mall also seemed to be giving some valuable inputs.
A part of me had gone numb and my central nervous system had stopped working. The brain had suddenly refused to take orders. I fumbled for words to convince them that I held a decent job and was here on a transfer only since forty eight hours. That I have never robbed anyone even off their sleep; forget about laying my hands on someone else’s belongings.
By the time my composure was regained and I brought myself to speak up in my defense, the chief detective had switched on a monitor. “Here,” he said, pointing to it. “Now do not deny that it is you on the screen.”
Obeying him like a meek calf, I watched the monitor without as much as a blink of the eye.
My bones froze as I caught a glimpse of a man who bore a striking resemblance to me, except that he was a bit plump and on the darker side, and unkempt hair. The man was moving around in a shopping complex, rolling an overflowing trolley.
“Sir, this is not me. I hold a respectable job and am here on a transfer from Atlanta.”
“Oh, that is a very nice story,” the tall cop’s voice reeked of sarcasm. “Ok then show us your company identity card.” He banged his fist on the table.
“Sir, I came for shopping now and I don’t have it on me.” I said defensively.
“You don’t have it on you or you don’t have it at all?” The cop laughed and the others joined him. Their laughter reverberated in the room. It had the tinge of success. They were celebrating their victory of having nabbed the culprit.
“Sir, also you please see that man has brown hair, while mine are black and also receding.” I tried explaining, in between the riot of laughter.
“Oh, Come on, stop all this bullshit tales. Do we look like a bunch of fools and haven’t heard of hair dyeing and manipulating the hairdo? Now stop ranting and tell us how you always managed to elude the billing counter. What is your modus operandi, and who are your accomplices?” The cop hurled a plethora of questions at me.
Placing a file on the table, he said, “These are all your theft history. Apart from busy malls, there are five gold shop robberies, too, in which you are involved. You have been on this spree for quite some time, giving us sleepless nights. We had circulated your picture in all the big malls and shops. Finally, we got you today.” He rubbed his hands in glee.
Realizing that I would only be inviting more trouble by speaking anything in self-defense, I chose to keep mum.
An eerie silence reigned in the room for a while, as the cops kept their eyes fixed on me while I cringed.
The buzzing of my phone suddenly broke the silence. I couldn’t have thanked my stars enough. It was my mother’s call. I am sure she must have worried herself to death as I was getting delayed.
“Can I answer? It is my mother.” I pleaded with the officer in a cracking voice.
“Don’t allow him to speak to anyone. This may not be his mother, but some accomplice,” thundered the detective, but, fortunately, the top cop waved his hand, gesturing to me to go ahead.
“Ma, I am in the police station,” I exclaimed. In a nutshell I explained things to her and asked her to inform Nancy too. “I know no one here, no lawyer to help me out.” I was afraid I would break down when my mom told in an extremely convincing tone. “I will be there in a few minutes and get things right.”
She sounded so very confident that I began wondering if she had anytime dabbled with legal matters, but as far as I knew she had always been a high school teacher.
Saying my prayers fervently, I patiently waited for my mother. She soon arrived with Nancy in tow. While Nancy began ranting and raving over my situation, mom remained cool. I noticed that she was diligently carrying a file.
“Sir, Can I have a look at the video clippings my son was talking about?” She asked gracefully.
The cops could not deny her request; she being a senior citizen her appeal could not be ignored. Moreover everyone was in a festive mood and were only too eager to go home to celebrate Christmas with their near and dear ones.
The tape was made to run again. I could see Nancy’s jaws drop in utter astonishment as she was viewing the clip, but mom looked calm and was keenly watching it. I began feeling uneasy as she made them run quite a few tapes.
“PAUSE,” she screamed; all of a sudden, forgetting basic ethics of prefixing it with a ‘please.’ Hearing her scream thus, the cops almost fell off their chair. The officer handling the tape obeyed her sincerely and then she requested him to get the screen closer. The man on the screen was wearing a sleeveless vest, mom asked the cop to focus on his left upper arm closely.
The screen now flashed on his left upper arm with the Red Scar. This made me and Nancy totally baffled. We exchanged confused glances. We knew of a similar Red scar.
My mom gestured to me to roll the right hand sleeves of my shirt. Half comprehending the situation, I slowly started rolling my right hand sleeves upwards as the officers gaped in awe. As I pushed the last of the turn on my sleeve to reveal my upper arm, the cops were dumbstruck. There was an exactly identical red scar there too.
“He,” my mom began pointing at the screen, “Was born as a conjoined twin with Henry,” she continued patting my back. “They were joined at the upper arms and torso. The doctors operated upon them and they were separated soon after birth. Utter poverty at home forced their parents to give away one of their children for adoption. In the same hospital, around that time, I was diagnosed with a faulty fallopian tube and chances of my having a biological kid was ruled out.”
My mother opened the file she had brought. It had evidence saying I was one of the two conjoined twins, given away in adoption.
“My husband and I wished to adopt both the boys, but the parents wanted to raise one of them. They asked us to select one.” She heaved a sigh.
“Though it was a heart-shattering moment for the parents, there was no choice. They just could not afford to nurture two kids.” My mother wiped her moist eyes.
“Both the boys have similar scars in their torso and legs too.” She affirmed.
An officer took me inside to verify and confirm my mother’s statement.
“We never made efforts to trace that family later. Now I realize Henry’s twin brother has become a con man. Adversities might have pushed him towards bilking.” My mother concluded with a sincere feeling of sympathy.
I could feel the hot tears rolling down my cheeks as I fondly gazed at the woman who had never made me feel even once that she was not my biological mother. My heart reached out to my deceased father, who had been so very kind to me.
Throwing a last glance at the man on the frozen screen, I walked out with my mother.
A terrible chill ran down my spine, but this time it was not because of the winter but because of the sudden feeling that if my foster parents had selected him instead of me as their adopted son!!!
My mother had once again given me a chance to live a respectful life. I looked at Nancy, she stood with her head hung low.
What if I had given into her whims and left mom behind in Atlanta?
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