Asif stands behind the counter, watching the young men as they loiter around his shop. He’s seen them around before, hanging around in their big group, wearing hoodies and tattered tracksuit bottoms. They’ve never come inside his shop before, normally they just stand outside and bother his customers as they go in and out. Asif has had to chase them away a few times when they’ve scared the elderly ladies who come in for their gin and cigarettes. Now though they’re inside, wandering up and down the aisles and shouting to each other.
“Vinny mate!” one of them shouts, “Check this out! Curly Wurlys for a quid. A whole pack of them,”
One of the young men walks over from where he had been staring at the alcohol and joins his friends amongst the sweets. The others slowly drift over and gather around the sweets too. They know that Asif won’t sell them the alcohol that they want. None of them have any ID and although they’ve tried to goad him into it Asif still won’t sell them vodka and cider without any. He knows that they get some of the customers to get it for them though. They think that he can’t hear them when he’s inside the shop and they’re outside but he can. He can hear them asking customers who come in regularly to get them vodka. He always turns the customers away though, selling them whatever they want but the alcohol. He won’t help those teenagers break the law.
He spots Sally down one of the other aisles, restocking the cans and bottles of soft drinks. She’s reflected in the curved mirror that he has in one corner of the shop, her figure distorted. He can see that she’s glancing at the teenagers as they loiter amongst the stock, he can see the worry on her face as she flicks her eyes to them and back. He doesn’t blame her. Unfortunately there’s nothing that he can do right now. They’re not really causing any trouble, they’re not breaking any laws or any of the rules of his shop. They’re just making people uncomfortable and he can’t throw them out for that. There’s still one of the boys lurking by the cider bottles though and that’s worrying to Asif.
He watches the boy out of the corner of his eye, trying to be as careful as he can. Suddenly a loud shout and a crash from the sweet aisle draws his attention. He looks over, standing on his toes to try and see around the corner. He can’t see anything but a few chocolate bars scattered across the floor. He can hear the teenagers shouting though and a few more crashing sounds. He sighs and steps around from behind the counter to make his way over. This isn’t the first time that teenagers have caused problems in his shop, it won’t be the last either. Normally it’s kids though, proper little kids who are only just on the edge of being counted as teenagers. He knows that they take things sometimes, small things like a few chocolate bars. But he can never catch them so he can never punish the one who has stolen from him. That fact fills him with anger and he feels the almost overwhelming urge to strike out against those who disrespect him and wrong him. These teenagers here, these young men who are causing him trouble are probably going to do the same thing to him. He can’t let that happen. He has to send a message to everyone who wants to hurt the shop that they can’t get away with it. And these teens are the ones who are going to help him do that.
Suddenly the boy who was by the vodka slams into him, sending him flying into the greetings card display. Asif looks over to the boy who is racing out of the shop and sees that he’s clutching a bottle of cider tightly in his hands. The boy has stolen it from him! He has actually taken a bottle of cider and run away once he’s been caught. Rage boils through Asif and his vision is filled with red for a moment. He won’t get away with it.
“Hey!” he shouts, trying to get his balance.
His feet slip and slide on the plastic covered cards that litter the floor but he eventually gets himself steadied. Asif’s shout has startled the would be thief and he’s lost his footing on the tiled floor. He goes down for a moment, sprawling everywhere. The plastic bottle of cider creaks worryingly for a moment but it doesn’t break. Asif races towards the teenager but he’s faster than he looks and he’s back on his feet in seconds. He can hear Sally running behind him.
“Asif!” she shouts, “Leave him. It’s only a bottle of cider,”
He ignores her shouts and races through the door, right on the heels of the thief now.
“Asif!” she cries, stopping in the doorway, “Leave it alone! It’s not worth it!”
“It’s the principle,” he shouts back over his shoulder, “He can’t get away with it,”
He reaches out. His fingers wrap around the hood of the boy’s jumper and he yanks. The boy tumbles back and falls to the floor. The bottle of cider flies from his hands and skids across the road. The boy is twisting and writhing in Asif’s grip. His fists fly out and one catches Asif in the stomach. Asif doesn’t think, he doesn’t stop. He pulls back his hand, curling his fingers into a fist. He swings. The punch catches the boy in the jaw and he cries out. The boy wraps his arms around his head. Asif doesn’t stop. He swings and punches the boy in the stomach. He does it again. And again. The boy is shouting out now, crying. He punches at Asif again, catching the older man on the jaw. Asif roars with anger. He pulls back his arm and punches the kid right in the face. He hears the crunch of bones breaking. He feels a burst of warm wetness on his hand. The boy screams out, clutching his nose. Asif clouts him around the head. The boy falls, spinning as he hits the ground. Asif doesn’t stop. He steps forward and kicks the teenager. Again and again until his foot starts to hurt.
There’s screaming and shouting all around him. Suddenly strong arms wrap around his body and pull him back. Asif knows he is shouting, knows that he is screaming but he doesn’t know what he is saying. He just keeps shouting. He fights against the arms pulling him back, tries to get closer to the boy but he can’t. There are sirens in the distance. They’re getting closer.
“What have you done?” Sally cries as she crouches beside the boy, “What have you done Asif?”
Asif looks at the boy and suddenly calms. He goes limp in the arms that hold him and they release him slowly. He stares at the scene in front of him. Sally is crouching over the boy. There’s blood everywhere. His fists ache. He stares at his hands in horror, they start to shake. He’s done this, he’s beaten this boy.
“Why would you do this?” Sally cries at him, “Why would you do this to him? To us? Do you have any idea what’s going to happen?”
Asif does, he knows it as well as he knows his shop. He’s stepped over the line and there’s no going back. He got retribution, revenge, and now he’s in deep, deep trouble.
“I told you!” Sally cries, rising to her feet and shouting in his feet, “I told you that this was wrong! I told you that violence and revenge don’t solve anything. Now look what you’ve done. We could lose everything! And for what? Revenge? Teaching him a lesson?!”
“You’ll be safe now,” Asif says, talking on auto pilot. “They won’t try to steal from us again. They know that we’re not afraid of them, that we’ll punish them ourselves. They know that they can’t get away with hurting us,”
Sally looks at him for a moment and then her face crumples. She falls to the floor in a heap and begins to cry. People slowly start to drift over and stare at the bloody man, the crying woman and the beaten boy. Even the other teenagers are watching. Asif sees that their eyes are full of fear. Maybe he didn’t do the right thing.
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