#1 English story. Best short story... The Thief’s Story.

The Thief’s Story. 

I was still a thief when I met Anil. And though 
only 15, I was an experienced and fairly successful 
Anil was watching a wrestling match when I 
approached him. He was about 25 — a tall, lean 
fellow — and he looked easy-going, kind and simple 
enough for my purpose. I hadn’t had much luck of 
late and thought I might be able to get into the young 
man’s confidence.
“You look a bit of a wrestler yourself,” I said. A 
little flattery helps in making friends.
“So do you,” he replied, which put me off for a 
moment because at that time I was rather thin.
“Well,” I said modestly, “I do wrestle a bit.”
“What’s your name?”
“Hari Singh,” I lied. I took a new name every 
month. That kept me ahead of the police and my 
former employers.
After this introduction, Anil talked about the well-
oiled wrestlers who were grunting, lifting and throwing 
each other about. I didn’t have much to say. Anil 
walked away. I followed casually.
“Hello again,” he said.
I gave him my most appealing smile. “I want to 
work for you,” I said.
“But I can’t pay you.” 
I thought that over for a minute. Perhaps I had. 

I asked, “Can you feed me?”
“Can you cook?”
“I can cook,” I lied again.
“If you can cook, then may be I can feed you.”
He took me to his room over the Jumna Sweet 
Shop and told me I could sleep on the balcony. But 
the meal I cooked that night must have been terrible 
because Anil gave it to a stray dog and told me to 
be off. But I just hung around, smiling in my most 
appealing way, and he couldn’t help laughing.
Later, he patted me on the head and said never 
mind, he’d teach me to cook. He also taught me to 
write my name and said he would soon teach me 
to write whole sentences and to add numbers. I was 
grateful. I knew that once I could write like an educated 
man there would be no limit to what I could achieve.
It was quite pleasant working for Anil. I made 
the tea in the morning and then would take my time 
buying the day’s supplies, usually making a profit of 
about a rupee a day. I think he knew I made a little 
money this way but he did not seem to mind. 
Anil made money by fits and starts. He would 
borrow one week, lend the next. He kept worrying about 
his next cheque, but as soon as it arrived he would go 
out and celebrate. It seems he wrote for magazines — 
a queer way to make a living!
One evening he came home with a small bundle of 
notes, saying he had just sold a book to a publisher. 
At night, I saw him tuck the money under the mattress.
I had been working for Anil for almost a month 
and, apart from cheating on the shopping, had not done 
anything in my line of work. I had every opportunity 
for doing so. Anil had given me a key to the door, 
and I could come and go as I pleased. He was the 
most trusting person I had ever met.
And that is why it was so difficult to rob him. It’s 
easy to rob a greedy man, because he can afford to 
be robbed; but it’s difficult to rob a careless man — 
sometimes he doesn’t even notice he’s been robbed and 
that takes all the pleasure out of the work.
Well, it’s time I did some real work, I told myself; 
I’m out of practice. And if I don’t take the money,he’ll only waste it on his friends. After all, he doesn’t 
even pay me.
Anil was asleep. A beam of moonlight stepped 
over the balcony and fell on the bed. I sat up on the 
floor, considering the situation. If I took the money, 
I could catch the 10.30 Express to Lucknow. Slipping 
out of the blanket, I crept up to the bed. Anil was 
sleeping peacefully. His face was clear and unlined; 
even I had more marks on my face, though mine were 
mostly scars.
My hand slid under the mattress, searching for the 
notes. When I found them, I drew them out without a 
sound. Anil sighed in his sleep and turned on his side, 
towards me. I was startled and quickly crawled out of 
the room.
When I was on the road, I began to run. I had 
the notes at my waist, held there by the string of my 
pyjamas. I slowed down to a walk and counted the 
notes: 600 rupees in fifties! I could live like an oil-rich 
Arab for a week or two.
When I reached the station I did not stop at the 
ticket office (I had never bought a ticket in my life.) but 
dashed straight to the platform. The Lucknow Express 
was just moving out. The train had still to pick up 
speed and I should have been able to jump into one 
of the carriages, but I hesitated — for some reason I 
can’t explain — and I lost the chance to get away.
When the train had gone, I found myself standing 
alone on the deserted platform. I had no idea where to 
spend the night. I had no friends, believing that friends 
were more trouble than help. And I did not want to 
make anyone curious by staying at one of the small 
hotels near the station. The only person I knew really 
well was the man I had robbed. Leaving the station, 
I walked slowly through the bazaar.
In my short career as a thief, I had made a study 
of men’s faces when they had lost their goods. The 
greedy man showed fear; the rich man showed anger; 
the poor man showed acceptance. But I knew that 
Anil’s face, when he discovered the theft, would show 
only a touch of sadness. Not for the loss of money. 
I found myself in the maidan and sat down on a 
bench. The night was chilly — it was early November 
— and a light drizzle added to my discomfort. Soon it 
was raining quite heavily. My shirt and pyjamas stuck 
to my skin, and a cold wind blew the rain across my 
I went back to the bazaar and sat down in the 
shelter of the clock tower. The clock showed midnight. 
I felt for the notes. They were damp from the rain.
Anil’s money. In the morning he would probably 
have given me two or three rupees to go to the cinema, 
but now I had it all. I couldn’t cook his meals, run to 
the bazaar or learn to write whole sentences any more.
I had forgotten about them in the excitement of the 
theft. Whole sentences, I knew, could one day bring 
me more than a few hundred rupees. It was a simple 
matter to steal — and sometimes just as simple to 
be caught. But to be a really big man, a clever and 
respected man, was something else. I should go back to 
Anil, I told myself, if only to learn to read and write.
I hurried back to the room feeling very nervous, for 
it is much easier to steal something than to return it 
undetected. I opened the door quietly, then stood in the 
doorway, in clouded moonlight. Anil was still asleep. 
I crept to the head of the bed, and my hand came up 
with the notes. I felt his breath on my hand. I remained 
still for a minute. Then my hand found the edge of the 
mattress, and slipped under it with the notes.
I awoke late next morning to find that Anil had 
already made the tea. He stretched out his hand towards 
me. There was a fifty-rupee note between his fingers. 
My heart sank. I thought I had been discovered.
“I made some money yesterday,” he explained. 
“Now you’ll be paid regularly.”
My spirits rose. But when I took the note, I saw 
it was still wet from the night’s rain.
“Today we’ll start writing sentences,” he said.
He knew. But neither his lips nor his eyes showed 
anything. I smiled at Anil in my most appealing way. 
And the smile came by itself, without any effort.
- Ruskin Bond
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