By Sahar Moussa

Have you ever gone with your children to a supermarket and they grabbed a bar of chocolate, chips, candy, or juice and you forgot to pay for it? Or maybe you grabbed a cold bottle of water, drank it as your browsing the aisles and left it empty in the bottom of your basket, forgot to pay for it and took your groceries and went home?

It’s likely something similar may have happened to you or someone you know. Sometimes people get distracted – kids hungry and crying, mobile phone ringing, keys left on the counter, an item forgotten or maybe just a busy day with a lot of ‘to dos’ on the list. Whatever the case, each of these incidents can also be viewed as stealing or shoplifting. Not intentional. Not deliberate. But still a crime, still a problem for the store and for the one who is caught doing it.

Here’s what happened:
I recently visited a well-known supermarket chain in Kuwait to buy groceries. Being a regular customer as it is near my house, I left my son to nap with his dad, though he’d been sick recently. I gave myself one hour to finish shopping and rush home before my son wakes up.

I moved quickly through the shop, grabbing diapers, bread, rice and other necessities and after 40 minutes, made my way to the checkout. As I was standing in line, my husband called to remind me to bring him two lighters. I grabbed two from a nearby stand, placing them in my left hand along with my wallet and keys.

After paying for my groceries, I bagged them myself since I don’t like the chaotic way the porters pack everything willy-nilly. Then I headed out to the parking lot, the porter pushing the trolley. As he was loading the groceries into my car, another porter from the grocery store ran out to my car and called to me. He pointed to the two lighters in my hand and asked if I’d paid for them.

I was shocked and realized I had not. I apologized and immediately pulled out a KD 5 and handed it to the man to pay for the lighters. The man took the money, told me to wait, he would go pay and bring my change. After a few minutes, a man in white dishdasha came out of the store and asked me to come back inside. I was confused and did not expect all this fuss over two lighters worth .250 fils – especially given my groceries had cost KD 32.

I tried to explain to the man that it was a misunderstanding but he insisted I follow him back inside the supermarket to finalize some procedures. Procedures? What procedures?! I did not believe what I was hearing, it is just two small lighters for goodness’ sake. But since I did try to pay for the lighters, I thought I better go and clear this up.

Inside his office, another man was watching the security camera. He did not speak to me but the man in dishdasha, a security manager, started to accuse me of theft and stealing. Again I explained the situation. I was not trying to steal anything and had just spent KD 32 in the store buying groceries. I had grabbed the lighters and kept them in my hand along with my wallet but definitely I did not try to hide them by slipping in a pocket or even in the grocery bags. As soon as the man came out to remind me, I paid for them and they still have my KD 5 and I didn’t receive my change.

The man was rude and intimidating and even threatened to call the police. But I refused to be intimidated and told him he has no right to insult me. Honestly, I began to feel as if I were in a nightmare. I could not believe this was happening over two lighters. I grew angry and started to shout, and told the man he should definitely call the police because I wanted to file a charge against him insulting me.

I tried to explain that if I had been trying to steal the lighters, I would have tried to hide them in my pocket or the grocery bags and not kept them in my hand, in addition to offering to pay for them directly. After 20 minutes of investigation and him talking to his supervisor, the situation was finally resolved. I paid for the lighters and went home, shocked and still angry.

Now there are two arguments here. The first is that legally speaking, the security guy was right because as soon as you step outside any store with items you haven’t paid for, you are technically stealing. The second argument is that this was clearly an innocent mistake and could have been resolved immediately when I offered to pay.

Both lighters together cost .250 fils, a minor amount to make such a major fuss over. I have never shoplifted nor would I ever. I’m just a harried mom, pushed for time who got distracted for a moment and made a very minor mistake. The experience, however, has left its mark. I will forever after be aware of what I pick up in a grocery store and what I pay for and what I carry out the door with me.

sahar@kuwaittimes.net