As a teenager, I worked in a discount shop – the type that locals still called a “pound shop”, despite the fact that we had had the euro for more than a decade. I was usually on my own there, meaning my CV has buzzwords like “position of responsibility”, “trusted role” and “keyholder”.
It was a Tuesday afternoon, or maybe a Wednesday, people were waiting outside the shop for the 2 o’clock bus and I was alone in the shop. A man came in to rob me.
I remember he came in very quickly, which was the first sign that something wasn’t right because it was rare for anyone to be in such a rush to buy reasonably priced fabric softener or 4-for-€2 chocolate bars.
“Give me all your money!”
“Are you fucking serious?”
I didn’t say that out loud, but I presumed he was joking. I was trying to work out which of our regular teenagers was behind the drawn black hoodie. This was a strange and elaborate prank.
“Give me all your money!” he repeated. That’s when I saw the knife.
I was definitely afraid, but there was a small strong Caoimhe in the back of my mind who was just deeply unimpressed with his lack of creativity. The kid – because he was definitely a kid, the pimple-faced fucker – looked like a mugger, as in, whatever you have in your head is probably right. He wore all black, with the drawstring of his hoodie tied in a knot across his face.
The knife in his hand was a kitchen knife. It was the sort of knife you would use for steak if you couldn’t afford proper steak knives, or proper steak – wooden handle, sharp-ish, probably nicked from his granny’s kitchen.
“Give me all your money” was so cliched it was comical, or would have been if the situation hadn’t been serious. Why not “this is a stick-up!”? Why not go the whole hog and dress like the hamburglar, or a cartoon highwayman? So unoriginal.
When you’re trained in a retail position, managers always say if somebody threatens you, give them the money – it’s insured, you’re not. So, I knew I had to open the till and just let him take it, he would leave, pay his dealer and we’d all live to see another day.
As he was shovelling handfuls of cash into his pocket, I changed my mind. I want to say I came over all brave and righteous, but I just became stupidly, recklessly indignant.
That’s not fair, I thought. He’s making about 300 quid from sticking a knife in my face and I make minimum wage. So I decided he’d had quite enough and stuck out my hand to stop him. That’s when he slashed at my bare hands with the knife that I doubt he had expected to use.
“Stop being brave!” he shouted
The pain shocked me back into reality and I withdrew my hand.
“Stop being brave and you won’t get hurt!”
There was blood dripping on the counter. My blood. I wanted to wipe it up, part of my job was to keep the place clean.
“Where’s the rest?” he shouted at me. There were no fifties in the till because I had removed them earlier and put them in a box under the counter. I wasn’t going to tell him that. It wasn’t my money, but I felt he had enough.
Sometimes fifties go under the change drawer, so he tore it out of the till and threw it on the ground. Coins rolled everywhere. Great, I thought, I’ll have to clean that up. Along with the blood.
“Where are the fifties?” he demanded again.
“You’ve got everything!” I lied. He had gotten everything he was getting, at least.
I hadn’t realised, but there was another person in the shop. A woman, older than me, had been in the back looking at cards. At least, she had started out looking at cards. Eventually, though, she was probably just watching me get robbed.
“Leave her alone!” she had her hand on his shoulder. The knife weilding-villain with no fifties who had just stabbed me hardly registered her hand, he was still looking for more money. She shook him.
“In Jesus’ name, leave her alone.”
Even in my terrified, bleeding state, I thought “Cringe”.
Whether it was because he realised he was outnumbered, that he wasn’t getting any more money, that he was late for his train or because he was genuinely moved by the name of Christ Our Lord, he ran then.
The next part is blurry. Someone must have called the gardai, though I have no idea how long it took them to get there. I wiped up my blood, to have something to do other than think about what had just happened, but I left the coins. They would take forever to pick up.
Going through something like this, a mugging, an attack, a good old-fashioned stick-em-up, makes you feel vulnerable like you never have before. You feel like a target, as if it’s going to happen all the time. So, five minutes after the mugger left and another man came in, furious faced, brandishing a heavy wooden hurl I thought… not again!
It turned out he had seen what was happening and had run to his car to get a weapon. I can’t remember who arrived first, the gardai or my boss, there was a lot going on at that stage. I was still bleeding on the counter, the coins were all over the floor, the man with the hurl was standing threateningly at the door and the kids, our best customers, had just finished school so they were all trying to come in to buy Coke and Toxic Waste (sour candy served in brightly-coloured bins). Of course, when they saw the garda car they were even more determined to come in.
The woman who had helped me was still there. I guess, in her mind, Jesus saved me but since I don’t believe in Him I was grateful to her. She gave me a hug before I went home and then looked me right in the eyes.
“Your lord was looking down on you today.”
She was so kind I resisted the urge to roll my eyes. Or ask if He enjoyed the show. Or say “J.K. Rowling is looking down on me?” because I was super into Harry Potter then. And now. Still, she must have mistaken my disdain for… a religious breakthrough or something, because then she went on “If you weren’t a believer before, you are now!”
She was confident, I’ll give her that. I managed a weak, non committal smile and left before she could baptise me. It’s the only time I’ve ridden in a garda car. I didn’t have a religious breakthrough. I didn’t accept Jesus Christ as my Lord and Saviour. I took the next day off work.
Still, although the incident failed to incite a religious fervour in me, it did make me believe in people a little bit more. I suspect the mugger would have left whether the Jesus Lady had been there or not, so I wouldn’t say she “saved” me, but she tried and that’s pretty impressive.
Jesus wasn’t there, nor was J.K. Rowling, but a stranger was and I believe in the kindness of strangers. I never saw her again.