Manju was an ordinary small-time robber. He didn’t stop for a moment to think if he could be doing something wrong by robbing.
Whenever he began to feel something closely resembling guilt, he told himself that he always robbed from people who could afford to lose some money. A tiny theft would not set them back by much. He wasn’t robbing from the poor.
With this line of argument, he always managed to quiet his mind. In fact, he was proud of his craft. He always spent time studying his target to make sure he was not depriving some poor soul.
Today was no different. Manju got up in the morning, made himself a cup of hot coffee, gobbled the idlis that the kind neighbor had supplied, and rushed out of the house by 9 am. He may be a thief, but he had a routine. His neighbors thought he was gainfully employed.
Manju had picked out the area that he would be working in today. He had to keep changing locations and tactics to stay ahead of the game.
Today he had zeroed in on a bus stop about 5 kilometers away from his home. Not too near, not too far.
Almost as soon as he reached the bus stop, he caught sight of the man who would be his target for the day.
A man of medium build, in his late forties, wearing dull gray clothes, and most importantly, carrying a suitcase that looked loaded.
From his clothes and looks, Manju guessed that he must belong to the upper-middle class. Even the suitcase indicated a comfortable lifestyle. Not opulent, but definitely not poor.
Manju decided that today he would not go for the usual wallet robbery. He’d take the suitcase instead. The suitcase itself might bring in some cash. If the man was on a business trip, the suitcase might contain a couple of pairs of clothes, a pair of leather shoes, a laptop, and maybe if he was lucky, some other gadgets. Yup, the suitcase looked tempting.
Manju wasn’t sure yet exactly how and when he would pilfer the suitcase, but he had a gut feeling he could pull it off.
He checked where the buses in that bus stop were heading. He made a mental note about what he might state as his likely destination. Then he walked confidently and sat next to the target looking like he was waiting for the same bus.
After a couple of minutes, Manju initiated a conversation with the target. The man looked like he was engulfed in some gloom. But he was polite and responded gently to Manju.
Manju’s gut began to bother him. For the first time in his prolific career, he wondered if he had picked the wrong target. Not that he doubted his ability to pinch the suitcase. He just didn’t feel right about it.
After a couple of minutes of polite conversation, the man asked Manju to take care of his suitcase for a minute while he went to the toilet. Manju assured him that the suitcase was in safe hands.
Manju was torn. What is it with humans? How can they trust someone so easily? Why did the man think that Manju was a good guy and would not make off with the suitcase?
But he pushed all these thoughts aside. There was no time to be lost. As soon as the man was out of sight, Manju got up nonchalantly, picked up the suitcase, and walked out of the bus stop at an unhurried pace. He didn’t want anyone to be the least suspicious. He was just a man carrying a suitcase.
As soon as he was out of sight of the bus stop, Manju stepped up his pace. He turned into random streets and charted a zigzag course just in case anyone was following him. Once he was sure he was out of danger of being caught, he flagged down an autorickshaw and headed straight home.
Once home, he could not wait to open the suitcase and check his profit for the day. He wondered if the suitcase was locked. He’d have to spend time picking the lock. He was getting impatient.
To his surprise, it wasn’t locked. Why would a man traveling with a loaded suitcase not bother to lock it? Again, his gut began to claw at him.
He opened the suitcase.
The first thing that hit him was that the suitcase did not contain anything that remotely resembled male clothing.
The clothes seemed to belong to a teenage girl. Printed tees, jeans, hoodies, and some lingerie. A beautiful box filled with makeup articles that he knew nothing about. Brushes, creams, and things he was unaware of. A couple of pairs of shoes that looked pretty new.
And lying somewhere among all these was a letter. Written on a thick A4 sized sheet. In beautiful script-like handwriting.
Manju felt his hand shaking while he opened the letter. His gut was literally screaming by now.
The letter was addressed to Dear Mom and Dad.
He could not control his impatience. He skimmed through the letter.
His eyes processed some words here and there:
Am done with life.
Forgive me for doing this to you.
I hope you will forgive me.
I have lost the will to live.
I love you both, I couldn’t ask for better parents
Manju could not bear to read more. He understood that he was reading the suicide note left by the daughter of the man whom he had just robbed.
He sat shell-shocked for a moment. And then the enormity of what he had done hit him.
He had taken away the last communication from the dead daughter of a bereaved father.
The man’s world had collapsed, and now Manju had stripped him of his daughter’s last words to him and his wife. Manju was holding the girl’s last few possessions, and he was sure the bereaved parents would have wanted dearly to have it. That’s all they had of a daughter that they had lovingly brought into this earth.
Manju quickly stuffed everything back into the suitcase and dashed out of his home. He ran into the street, grabbed an autorickshaw, and rushed back to the bus stop.
But the man was nowhere in sight. Manju sat on the same bench and waited the whole day in the hope that the man would return.
He went to the bus stop every day for the next week and waited. Maybe the man would reappear…
There was nothing else in the suitcase that gave him any clue about where the man was from. Manju was willing to move heaven and earth to make sure the suitcase and the letter reached the man. But there was no information.
The suitcase changed Manju’s life. He saw the error of his ways. He had no right to steal from anyone, rich or poor.
Who was he to judge how someone would be affected because of his small robbery? Who was he to judge merely from clothes whether a man was rich or poor?
This time he had robbed from the poorest of all men, someone who had lost a child. It was too heavy to handle. Manju realized that this was one loot that would weigh on his heart for the rest of his life.
He hung on to the suitcase in the hope that someday he would find the man. It was a huge burden to carry.