I have recently taken to pondering the might-have-beens of my life, the alternative futures, possible pathways, which events might have taken.
Physicists theorise that there is not just one reality, but a multiverse of different versions of this one, producing an infinite number of parallel universes.
Each bifurcates along the lines of flight deriving from the choices we made facing the various options which presented themselves at key moments during our lives. As I reflect on my own past, I am confronted by the possibility that I may have pursued a life of crime, and perhaps become my own ‘Mr. Big’, heading up my very own crime syndicate.
My criminal partner was my friend John. We met in primary school, when we were about ten years old.
We lived opposite each other on the main road out of the small northern industrial town where we grew up.
Our first foray into the underworld was a classic scam. It was the practice, in those days, to return bottles of pop (what North Americans call ‘soda’) to the store where they were bought.
When you did so, you received the deposit back again. It was about six pence (in ‘old money’ – that’s pre-decimalisation, to show you how long ago this was!).
So, John and I would climb over the back wall of the local corner shop, steal a few bottles; and go back in through the front entrance of the same store, to claim our reward.
We realised that, to perpetuate the swindle, we could not keep cashing in our bottles at this store; so we travelled further afield, walking perhaps twenty minutes to the next retailer, to cheat them. As usual in tales of this kind, we could not remain content with our level of felony; we needed to diversify, and graduate on to greater misdeeds.
In the centre of town was a small toy shop. They stocked the kind of plastic toy soldiers popular with us boys, in those pre-internet days.
We would go in, and pretend to sift through the box at the rear of the store; then put a couple down our trousers, before walking out and running around the block to check out our ill-gotten gains.
The real trick was, however, to go and actually buy one toy soldier (I think they were U.S. Cavalry), in order to remove the owner’s suspicion; because surely we couldn’t be stealing if we were buying?
I nearly had a disaster, when I stole one of my friend’s own toy soldiers (there is no honour among thieves!), and he found it under my bed, when he was round to play.
I don’t remember what excuse I gave, but our friendship continued unaffected; until he moved away to another town, and we never saw each other again.
We weren’t caught, and my criminal endeavours ceased soon afterwards, when I went up to the secondary school.
If not, perhaps I would have progressed through the ranks of gangland, to become an underworld mastermind?