It was 12:30 a.m. Having been out the previous three nights, I was eager to get home quickly. Though I was not more than a five minute walk from the subway, I gave into temptation and hailed a cab.
As I sprinted towards the car that was in the process of discharging a passenger -- a small man with an over-large suitcase -- I saw the wallet winking up at me from the pavement. It was a woman's wallet, probably freshly fallen. Holding the back door of the cab open, I craned my neck around, checking out the street-scape. A young girl was making out with a guy against a building. Some young toughs glared and glowered as they trumbled by. A bunch of British businessmen walked briskly, talking in that too-bright, too-loud voice of the intoxicated. There was a high concentration of questionable people on the street; any number would have loved to claim the wallet as their own.
So I scooped it up and jumped into the cab.
"Amsterdam and 116th and can I have a light back here?!" I shouted to the driver.
I felt a jolt of adrenalin, a surge of sudden wakefulness. My palms were sweaty. Guilt mixed with curiosity and excitement.
Whose wallet was this???
And what if there was the proverbial million bucks inside? Would I have the moral integrity to return the wallet to its owner?
I opened up the wallet and peered inside. There was not, as it turned out, a million bucks. The sum was closer to one hundred dollars.
There were seven credit cards, an employee ID and a driver's license, with an address. The owner of the wallet was a 26-year-old woman from Long Island who worked in Manhattan. She had long blondish hair, parted in the middle. She was the kind of young woman who blended into a crowd. Nice looking but utterly unremarkable. Kind of bland. She had receipts from several meals. She had store charge cards. I counted her credit cards again. Seven credit cards for a 26-year-old. Huh.
Peering in the inadequate light, I called information on my BlackBerry and fed them the address on the driver's license. Within minutes, I was speaking with a woman who was completely awake, not sleep-saturated, as I had feared. The wallet belonged to her daughter, she told me, but she hadn't come home yet and there was no indication that she even knew the wallet was missing.
I was thanked profusely and praised for my honesty; arrangements were made by the parents to retrieve the wallet the following day. But the next day I got a call from the father who was at a holiday party and couldn't make it and asked would I mind babysitting the wallet until Monday.
Somewhat surprised that he trusted a complete stranger with his kid's seven credit cards and cash over the weekend, I agreed.
The weekend came and went. On Monday afternoon I got a call from the father. He would be coming to my home, by subway, to meet me and get his daughter's wallet back. Feeling sorry for him for having to make the shlep uptown, I arranged to meet by the gates of the Columbia campus.
The appointed time arrived. The father showed up at the Columbia gate, looking out of place. He had white hair and wore a boxy black coat. His face, as they say, had the map of Ireland etched upon it. He thanked me sincerely. I handed him the wallet out of my bag. Awkwardly he gave me a small box his wife had "thrown together." I told him a gift was unnecessary. He said that when his daughter returned home at 3 a.m. that morning, she hadn't even noticed that her wallet was missing. He borrowed my phone to call her, since his phone battery had died. He got his daughter's voice mail and arranged to meet her at Macy's to do Christmas shopping.
Handing the phone back to me, he waved goodbye and left for the downtown subway. I crossed the Columbia campus, heading home. Something nagged at me but I couldn't put my finger on it.
It's been a week since I found the red wallet. I now realize what was amiss, indeed, every time I think of this small saga, I am struck by the same three things:
- The fact that the father made all the arrangements and traveled to pick the wallet up for his adult daughter
- The fact that the adult daughter didn't notice her wallet missing all evening. (Was she drunk or very drunk?)
- The fact that the adult daughter didn't once contact the person who found her wallet
Her glaring absence from the retrieval process made it seem like the wallet did not really belong to her. Though the wallet contained a driver's license that bore the face and name of a 26-year-old girl and there were lots of credit cards in her name and certainly a decent amount of cash, she appears to be a phantom, a figment of my imagination.
But the wallet's owner actually does exist. I found her on Linked-In. I Googled her and learned where she went to school. And now, because her father used my phone to call her, I have her cell number as well. I admit it. I'm tempted to send her a single text. It would say "hey kaitlyn! yr wlcm!"* One week after I found the red wallet, the conclusion I've come to is that, unless her parents are covering up for some terrible thing that happened that evening, the wallet's MIA owner is a 26-year-old child --someone with a case of impaired responsibility, faulty decision making and an stunted sense of menschlichkeit**.