There are twelve steps to stealing. Of the twelve, you know eleven. Judas made sure of that. His eyes made sure of that. It was not him who had made you learn the eleven. It was not his gait, neither was it the way he’d touch his head in exasperation. It was not the huskiness of his voice or the brownness of his skin. It was his eyes – his ever-steady eyes. It was the way he tried to conceal them from you with a face cap and shades when he trained you. You remembered asking him about his obsession for caps and shades and he had passively replied that they were simply to protect his eyes from the sun. Believable, really, because the sun was really scorching in those days.
First step to stealing. Gain the victim’s trust. He made you say this over and over again throughout the years, that it slipped like butter out of your mouth. And out of your body. And so, it did, on the day you offered to carry Mrs Tunde’s bag. Mrs Tunde was your Home Economics teacher in secondary school. She had already grown fond of you. “You are very well-brought-up,” she had said on many occasions. So, carrying her bag was not a big deal as terms rolled by. You had gained her trust, and you were pleased.
Second step to stealing. Be unsuspecting. Stealth, he’d later call it. Never be detectable. And so, you were stealthy the day you went to Mrs Tunde’s bag and stole five thousand naira. Everyone was having their lunch break, and no one noticed you had excused yourself from the field. No one was in the staffroom, you had made sure of that. No one would suspect a thing, you thought to yourself.
Thirdly, Be a good liar. To steal, you need to lie, constantly. Because in order to not get caught, you have to lie yourself out of situations, Judas had said. He trained you using real life experiences, of course. For it would be a total disaster if such a thing was to be taught by word of mouth. Like the day he asked you to throw a stone on a woman’s dog and lie that it was some other kid in the park. She believed you and even gave you some money for being kind enough to help her back up after she had fallen, trying to catch her dog. For this, Judas fist-bumped you and said you were a better liar than he had thought.
The fourth. Always smile. Always.
“Life is full of many problems,” he’d always say, “but a smile goes a long way in calming our minds”.
“How can we smile when we are one of life’s problems?”, you always countered. “Wouldn’t life be easier if we didn’t steal from people?”
To this, he’d say without looking at you, “If we don’t steal from people, others will steal from them anyways. We might as well be the ones to do it. Besides, why are you so bothered about the happiness of other people? It’s not like they’re bothered about yours”.
“Yes but–”, you’d try to continue.
“This is the end of this discussion, David,” he’d cut you short. He hardly called your name, so whenever he did, you knew he was serious.
Number five. Never get caught. You were happy when two days had passed and the thief who raided Mrs Tunde’s bag was not yet caught. The school was in confusion and every student’s bag was searched but all to no avail. On the assembly ground, the principal instructed students and teachers never to leave money in their bags unattended. After this, students blocked their ears from the raucousness of a cursing and spitting Mrs Tunde. Weeks passed and soon, the theft was forgotten. This didn’t stop you from carrying Mrs Tunde’s bag who constantly praised you. You were not caught.
And you were not cut. Afterall, the principal and other teachers had promised to make small incisions and put atarodo on the skin of the thief to teach a lesson and send a message to other students who would dare try such in future.
The other steps covered what one was to do if caught in flagrante delicto.
Six. If you get caught, don’t stutter.
Seven. If you get caught, don’t break a sweat.
Eight. If you get caught, don’t breathe ridiculously fast.
Nine. If you get caught, maintain eye contact with your catcher.
You never had any reason to use any of these steps, since you were getting more skillful with experience.
Steps ten and eleven shocked and still shock you.
Ten and Eleven. Give some of what you have stolen away. This was worthy of two steps, because it could not be overemphasized, Judas had explained.
“One mustn’t be selfish,” he said, already answering the questions in your eyes.
How could this man, this monster of a man, talk like he was some good Father Christmas, when he had ripped people of their possessions? You couldn’t reconcile the two attributes. Thief and philanthropist.
“The more you give, the more you have,” he added.
It was later you understood this. The more you give, the more the world has and the more the world has, the more you can steal and the more you can steal, the more you have. That was the golden cycle. Unspoken, but true.
So, you gave away many of the things you stole.
One Christmas evening, you got caught. You remember it was Christmas because of the lights that decorated the street that night. In the disorderliness of the night, people throwing “bangers” and laughing and drinking and dancing, you found they were distracted. So, you stole and stole and stole. Phones. Watches. Purses. Everything you could lay your hands on. It would have gone on but for the little mistake you made. You had forgotten to switch the phones off. Then one rang.
“Ole! Ole!,” the man’s voice shouted and suddenly, eyes were on you.
You would have followed the sixth rule of stealing to the ninth, but there was no time for that. Hands groped you, and all the items on you were recovered. And so, the tire was brought. And so, the kerosene was used to bathe you. You were not bothered by all of this. Your eyes were scouting the crowd, and suddenly, it landed on what you were looking for.
In a corner, stood Judas in a face cap and his hands in his pocket. He had on his shades, but you could tell you were the object of his gaze.
Like Judas in the Bible, you had been betrayed and left to die by this man who taught you eleven out of twelve things. Now that you think of it, Judas in the Bible was one of twelve disciples. Life does have its funny coincidences.
You cried. Not because of the betrayal or the hands of strangers severely blowing you. It was because while other kids learnt the Twelve Days of Christmas song, there you were over the years, being taught the twelve ways to steal by Judas, your father. It was because he wore shades and caps to protect his eyes from his son, not the sun. He tried to hide all the shame in his eyes because he failed to raise you like any sensible father would his son. In an attempt to raise you alone, he taught you the only way he knew how—theft. He failed, and he knew it, as he watched your eyes fill with tears and your body burn to ashes while Silent Night, Holy Night blasted from a church speaker on that Christmas night.
Step 12. Never fail.
You had found this written on a jotter some years back, but Judas never found out.