My Two Years of Hell

by Mark Ingham

It all started innocently enough one day I was walking past the video rental shop and I thought I might like to watch a video. I went into the shop and there were millions of DVD's. All sorts of videos movies, TV shows, documentaries, comedies, drama, art house. There was way too many to choose from. I couldn't even work out what category to go to. What if I got it wrong and I chose something boring I would waste my hard earned money that I got for working in the call centre all day. Also I would waste hours of my life watching videos. Time that could have been better spent grooming my hair or something equally as rewarding.

Little did I know the choice of videos was the least of my problems! I was about to embark on two years of unadulterated hell. After 45 minutes of looking at all the available videos I settled on Ocean's 11, as well as the Lost Boys a 1980's movie about vampires. It was a tough choice. After making my purchase I went home and I watched the Lost Boys. They were on weekly hire so I thought I would watch Ocean's 11 the next night. What a bad mistake that was. I ended up going out the next night and I didn't get to watch it. Something came up the following night and Ocean's 11 remained unwatched. Then it turned out my sister came to visit me from Sydney and stayed with me. Really I blame her for the whole thing. I forgot to return the videos by the due date. I remembered a week and a half after the initial hire date that they were still sitting on top of my book shelf. I thought it would be okay I would just return them the next day. But I didn't. I had the chance to return them and they were just a little bit late and I would pay the man a $10 fine and it would all be okay. But no, it was all too much, I kept on forgetting, I had other things on my mind. They just sat there on my bookshelf. I started to feel a bit guilty each time I saw them on my bookshelf.

A month passed and the videos still sat there collecting dust on my bookshelf. Some days I didn't even notice them but other days ooohthe shame I felt when I saw them. One day I thought maybe I should watch Ocean's 11. Considering I wanted to watch the movie and it was sitting on my bookshelf so I should just do it. I got as far as taking the DVD out of the cover and putting it in the DVD playerbutI couldn't do it. I was too ashamed at what I had done. The video was not mine to watch. This was past the point of videos just being returned lateI was starting to think of myself as a video thiefa criminal! There was no way I could return them now, what would they say when I turned up and returned two videos over three months after the due date. I am sure they would have humiliated me in front of the other patrons in the DVD rental shop. The man at the counter would be outraged that someone could hold videos for so long in complete disregard for clause 1.74 of the Video Vision Balaclava proprietor/patron agreement which clearly states "weekly video hires should be returned by 7pm of the day that falls exactly seven days after the date of hire. Breach of this rule shall result in late fees equal to the hire price being incurred on a weekly basis up to the date of return. Breach of this condition may also result in a ban on hiring further videos."

I have seen that man as I walked past the shop in my guilt when I would peek in and wonder about the possibility of returning them to assuage my guilt. I am telling you here and nowhe didn't look too friendly. He had a black beard, a wonky eye, a horrible ugly face with an evil smirk. I saw how he looked at the customers. I saw him talk to one customer who was hiring a video who had outstanding late fees he started out nice enough until he swiped the video card through the computerthen out came the ugly smirk...he shouted "LATE FEES!!!! $23.48" The customer was shocked but from the man behind the counter, with the black beard, the evil smirk and the wonky eye, from him came the most bone chillingly pure evil laugh I have ever heard. Again he boomed "LATE FEES!!! $23.48 NO VIDEOS MAY BE HIRED UNTIL THIS DEBT IS DISCHARGED!!!". Then he lifted his handthe only thing is that it was not a handit was a hook!! I also thought I heard a pack of Alsatians barking from behind some bars at the back of the shop. That's right he had dogs to take care of people who didn't return their videos on time. Well I don't know if this was all part of my imagination or not but I made a hasty retreat across the road. For 18 months after that I dared not walk past that video shop. I crossed the road to the other side whenever I had to go to the local supermarket to buy groceries. For those 18 months I also avoided other video shops. I did not hire a video anywhere for over two years.

There were many times during the two years where I wanted to confess to someone what I had done. Whenever I heard mention of the new movie Ocean's 13 I cringed. I would not discuss this series of movies with anyone oh the guilt how can a man stand so much guilt. I may have revealed to my brother what I had done. I was drunk and it all came out. He condemned me and urged me to return the stolen videos which I will now refer to as contraband. He said that he had friends that had video fines they were still paying them off bit by bit every time they rented a new video. This was years after they returned the videos. He said that video shops know that people don't return things on time and they prey on those people. They make over their profit from fines and there was no getting out of it. Well the guilt worsened. I could no longer stand having the videos stare me in the face every time I went past the bookshelf. I tried to put them in the book shelf with my own DVD's. Again I couldn't do it. It was if by putting them there with the videos that I owned I was claiming these ones as mine as well. Once I did that there was no turning back, there were no half thoughts that one day I would return them. I would be a confirmed deranged criminal mastermind video thief. Instead I put them out of sight in the cupboard. It was still bad, I still couldn't get them out of my mind most of the time when I passed that cupboard. I thought of throwing them in the communal rubbish bins in my block of units. I thought if I got rid of them then eventually I would forget. Again I was too weak!!! These videos were not mine to throw away it would be very very wrong. I had to live with the evidence of my guilt in my own house, under the very same roof under which I slept nightly. I deserved these feelings of remorse. It was like a punishment for what I had done!!!

Well this went on, as I said for 18 months. I tried to put the videos in various places throughout the house where I could just forget about them, in the spare room, hidden behind the blinds on the windowsill, on top of my wardrobe where I couldn't see them. I put them in the empty cupboard above the oven in the kitchen, but I couldn't forget about them. This was having a big effect on my life. I could no longer go anywhere near a video shop, instead choosing alternative routes to avoid walking past. I couldn't talk about movies with anyone because it would just remind me. I couldn't go to the movies. I felt guilty every time I entered my home. It was no longer a home to me more just a reminder of my crime.

Then one day I could stand it no longer. I was talking about movies with one of my colleagues (I am not sure if you have colleagues in call centres maybe they are just work people, maybe you have be something like a doctor, a lawyer or an accountant to have a colleague). Yes we were talking about movies on one of our more productive days and it hit me what I had done. All of a sudden it all came out and I confessed. I explained about the movies, the two years of guilt, the not being able to hire any new videos. I talked and talked about this mess I had gotten myself into. I felt so free to unburden myself. This secret I had kept for 104 weeks, the secret that only my brother and the video shop proprietor knew anything about. It felt good and I kept on talking, not just to one person, but to two, and then four and by the end of the day I had told my story to over 15 people. It was out in the open and I was prepared to accept the judgment of my peers. I am not sure why but some of these people laughed at my plight. They did not seem to take the situation nearly as seriously as I did.

Well, anyway, I am glad I unburdened myself on these innocent lean six sigma project officers. One particularly bright work mate came up with a solution. She was going to ring the video shop anonymously and tell them what had happened. She was then to ask them: would could be done? What was the solution? To make sure everything was above board the conversation was to be listened to by an astute and neutral observer who was able to tap into the phone line while the conversation took place.

Well this was brilliant and the plan was put into action. Unfortunately when my colleague called the video shop they did not trust her 100%. It may have been the man with the hook instead of an arm, the black beard, the wonky eye, the horrible ugly face and evil smirk that she spoke to. My anonymous colleague whose name shall not be revealed for fear of her being labelled an accessory to the criminal offence of stealing videos she told the man with the hook that she was enquiring in regards to a hypothetical situation for a friend of hers. Well the man with the hook was onto it immediately, and he knew that this was no hypothetical situation. He was not only evil but smart as well. However despite his evilness he said that the best course of action was to drop the videos in the overnight return chute and forget about it.

Well over the next few hours I thought about this and decided against it. I wanted my name to be clear and wanted no black ban against me. Who knows if they would tell other video shop owners in the area, they may even provide my details to other businesses in the area such as the supermarket, or the bread shop, or the deli. I resolved to face up to my crimes. I would march proudly up to the counter in the video shop and come clean about my crime. I would pay any fine that was applicable no matter the price. That was the only way I could live guilt free from then on.

Well that night I marched home from the train with purpose. I got home I grabbed the videos from under the fridge, my most recent hiding place, and I walked back to the video shop. For the first time in 18 months I walked past that shop on the same side of the road. While walking there my resolve wavered several times. It would be so easy to just drop them in to the overnight chute and bolt. Bolt for my life. In fact that is what I decided to do. But when I got there I had a rush of bravado. I decided to face up to the man with the hook instead of an arm, the black beard, the wonky eye, the horrible ugly face and evil smirk. I would not be put off by him or anyone else. If he was to release the Alsatians to maul me then so be it. I would face the consequences of my actions. I worked out that the fines should have been over $2000. I thought that maybe they would be prepared to negotiate but I would see.

So I did it!! It was the moment of truth upon me after two long years. I walked in. I saw the man with the hook instead of an arm, the black beard, the wonky eye, the horrible ugly face and evil smirk. The funny thing was that he didn't have a hook instead of an arm he just had a normal arm, he didn't have a beard at all and I think he was about 14 years of age and I am not sure that he could have grown a beard, his eyes were just normal, his face was okay it was not ugly at all, and he just had a sort of bored expression on his face not the evil smirk I had seen previously. So I confessed to him. I told him I had some videos to return, that it was two years after the due date and I was prepared to pay any fines that had accrued. Well he had a look at the computer while I was nervously clutching my wallet. And then it camethe evil bone chilling laugh, and the swearing. Holy shit he said those videos are pretty bloody late aren't they. Then I noticed his laugh was not so bone chilling as it was sort, how to put it, good natured. I asked him what would the fine be...and he said - ten bucks ought to cover it mate. I passed him a ten dollar note. To top things off he said he really appreciated my honesty in coming forward after so long and that was it I left. The nightmare, two years of hell, it was over within the space of a two minute transaction with a 14 year old school boy. I was free. I made a private vow to myself to never return a video late again.

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