She had dodged most of the chewing gum, including a cigarette butt and a ketchup wrapper, but Maya still counted five pieces that she had stepped on.
Gum didn’t look so bad when it was dry like that, but the fresh bits looked horrible. The boys at school used to take pieces out of their mouths and stick them under the desk, until the teacher found out and made everyone get a piece of paper and scoop them off. No one did it any more.
Maya was still looking down at the pavement when she reached the Post Office and nearly bumped into an elderly lady hobbling up to the door.
‘Look where you’re going!’ she snapped. The old lady wasn’t much bigger than Maya, but she had a mean look in her eye and gripped her stick so hard that her hand had gone white.
‘Sorry,’ mumbled Maya and darted past her into the shop.
The sugary smell was rich and intense, luring her to the shelf beside the door where she knelt down and got to work.
A nervous sweat prickled on Keith’s forehead as he turned on to the main street. It should be quiet, especially on a weekday morning, but for all he knew, old biddies could be out in force collecting their pensions. He could already see one shuffling in through the door as he approached.
Keith stuffed his hands in his jacket pockets and his fingers touched the blade. The coolness of the metal against his skin made him feel a little more collected.
He glanced about the wind-worn street, pulled his cap further down his face and went inside.
First thing was easy, thought Maya; strawberry bootlaces. She reached her fingers into the tub and took three. Maya liked the way they got tangled together. Sometimes she would make a knot out of them and put the whole thing in her mouth so that when she chewed, all the flavour burst out.
Next, she picked out a few cola bottles. They were nice, but not her favourites, so they were good as a filler before something really tasty.
Maya’s hands moved intuitively to the chocolate eggs and banana marshmallows. She picked out two of each, followed by a sherbet flying saucer.
Keith’s eyes darted about the gloom of the Post Office. There were two cashier’s on duty today. The postmaster with his A4 spectacles, was perched behind one of the windows. Keith could bet he didn’t miss a thing and he lowered his gaze before their eyes had a chance to meet.
There were three people queuing for the cashiers, but no one at the stationery counter, as he had hoped. Behind it, a middle-aged, blonde woman was busily arranging discounted chocolate that was for sale next to the till.
This was it. Keith clutched at the knife and went to take a step. Then the old lady in the queue turned.
‘I better get an envelope for this, hadn’t I?’ She patted a knitted cardigan that was folded under her arm.
‘Oh, how lovely!’ said the woman on the counter.
‘It’s for my granddaughter, you see,’ continued the old lady. ‘It’s her first birthday next weekend.’
Keith twitched and threw another glance at the cashier. Any minute now he would know something was off. If the old hag would only get out of the way he could make a grab at the till. Then he spotted the old lady’s handbag dangling off her shoulder. It was an easy snatch.
At last, Maya was done. It had been tough, but she had decided to finish off with a fizzy strawberry strip. It cost five pence, but in her opinion it was worth it. She could make it last all day if she wanted.
Feeling happy with her choice, Maya stood up with the bag in her hands and turned to go to the counter.
Keith grabbed the handbag by the handle and yanked at it, but was shocked to find that the old woman held on. The force of it pulled her sideways and she toppled into the shelf of cards opposite the counter.
He wrenched at the bag again and this time it slid from the old lady’s grasp. Keith spun round wildly and made for the door, but to his surprise, a little girl was stood right in front of him. Keith tried to side step her, but his momentum was too great and they collided.
Maya flew backwards, her head bouncing off the floor as she landed. The sweets flew out of her hand and rained down across the shop like a handful of confetti. A strange throbbing sensation quickly gathered behind her eyes and she noticed dots of colour floating about in the air above her.
Oddly, Maya didn’t feel like crying, but she didn’t want to get up either, so she decided to lay there until the strange feeling went away. She turned her head and looked over at where the man had fallen. He was lying on his front and two people were kneeling on his back and arms, pressing him firmly to the floor. He caught Maya’s gaze and looked back at her with a hollow expression.
After a moment, Maya’s focus switched to the space on the floor between them. A few inches from her hand lay one of the sweets, a cola bottle. It was coated in specks of dirt and bits of fluff. Just across from it, was the strawberry strip, all twisted and squashed into the matted carpet.