First it was pencils, then Bic Biros, and finally fountain pens. When the expensive items started to go missing, that is when the name Klepto stuck. Strangely, the moniker did not seem to upset him. It is not that he did not react when he heard it. He did; sometimes even aggressively. However, it often looked as if he were going through the motions of being angry only because it was expected of him.
Klepto looked like a villain straight out of a Dick Tracy comic strip. However, he was not in colour; he was in black and white and shades of grey. His skin was pale, and he smelled of soap and mould in equal measures.
His oblong head sat uneasily on a short, stocky neck, forever hidden by the upturned lapels of his raincoat or jacket. A jutting square jaw protruded his lower lip over the top one. It lent him the appearance of an old, toothless man, but Klepto was fifteen.
His hair was thick, black, and greasy. The parting began almost directly above his left ear and stretched across the top of his head, as if to conceal baldness. His mouth was unusually wide; sometimes, when he smiled, its corners appeared to reach his ears. When he spoke, his thin lips did not move, and he had a slight stutter. His jaw dropped and closed, while the words seemed to escape his mouth with a slight time lag. The effect was surreal; as if you were being spoken to by an unusually large ventriloquist puppet.
The few times his roommates managed to catch Klepto stealing, he would look at the ground and smirk with half his face. It was an awkward mixture of shame and contempt.
Even his classmates began locking all their possessions away, and Klepto began to act stranger than usual. He started cutting classes. He could be seen shuffling along hallways, carrying heavy shopping bags, holding them close to his chest, fearing they may split, exposing their contents at any moment.
One evening, two men paid a visit to Klepto’s dormitory: a tall man wearing a tweed suit and pungent aftershave, and a stocky guy, with rolled-up shirtsleeves, who smelled of sawdust and wore a carpenter’s leather apron. The man in the tweed suit invited all of Klepto’s roommates outside. The workman seemed entertained by all the interest they had generated in the occupants of the neighbouring dormitories. He was carrying an old, dark leather satchel, which looked as if it had been repaired countless times; a crowbar and a saw handle were sticking out the top.
Both men went inside, and loud banging and scraping noises began filtering through the closed door. When the noise stopped, the workman left in a hurry, swearing under his breath. He returned pushing a wheelbarrow; only pausing to wipe the sweat off his brow with his forearms.
Tiny heads popped round dormitory doors with feline agility all along the corridor. They watched in silence as wheelbarrow after wheel barrow of old hardback books filed past. Wide-open eyes and whispers followed the workman, as he struggled to balance each load, when walking away from them. They searched his expressionless face each time he came back with an empty wheelbarrow, smelling as if he had just taken a couple of puffs of a cigarette.
A couple of hours and many wheelbarrows later, Klepto was spotted wandering back to his room, hunched over while clutching to his chest a pair of large shopping bags, around which he had wrapped his raincoat.
The man in the tweed suit was sitting on Klepto's bed smoking and leafing through a comic book, when Klepto entered the room. He dropped his cigarette in an empty beer can, shook it to make sure the butt had gone out, placed it on the floor, and raised himself to his full height. Klepto’s shoulders slumped, and his raincoat and bags dropped to the floor. Books spilled out of each bag. Klepto and the man in the suit looked at each other but neither spoke; there was no need. The adult bent down slowly, picked up Klepto’s raincoat and folded it across his forearm, like a waiter about to serve table. He gripped Klepto’s elbow and spun him round. Exiting the room, they walked down a gauntlet of tiny, silent faces.
Klepto was quiet. He did not look up at the man’s face, nor did he peek over his shoulder at the stares he felt on his back. His eyes remained glued to the ground and, just before he turned the corner, some say he broke into a lopsided smile. That was the last time anybody saw Klepto.