By Rob Hill
The bookkeeper riding the elevated train took his nose, momentarily, out of his paperback. Across from him sat a young woman and a child. The child wore a striped ballet costume under her padded winter jacket. Every so often, she hopped to her feet and twirled enthusiastically around the center pole of the train before being reeled back to the bench. Was the young woman her mother? She looked barely twenty. An older sister perhaps. Through the window behind them, a frosted roofscape of brick chimneys and lightning rods carouseled past. Conscious of staring, the bookkeeper returned his nose to his paperback.
The train pulled into the next station, and the doors hissed opened. In his peripheral vision the bookkeeper noticed the woman and child exiting the train. He looked up and saw a black leather pocketbook resting on the seat where they had been. “Wait!” he called out just as the doors slid shut, and the train jolted into motion. He stared blankly at the pocketbook. If you see something say something. But there was no one to listen. He picked it up and hesitantly unzipped the pocket. Inside he caught a glimpse of a wad of money. He slid the pocketbook into his coat lining. Feeling a twinge of guilt, he glanced around. Did anyone assume he was stealing it? No accusatory glares pointed in his direction. He went back to his book but found it difficult to concentrate on the words. He thought of the woman somewhere on the streets below, overcome with panic on discovering her loss. Perhaps returning to the station and finding the train long gone and her identity with it.
His station approached. He hurried through the winter streets and, upon reaching home, hastened inside where he hunched over his dining table and examined the pocketbook thoroughly. Aside from the money, which he now saw consisted of a twenty and a few rumpled singles, he found a state-issued ID and a credit card. In her photo she looked so achingly young and woeful. He dialed the bank customer service line. After navigating a maze of touchtone questions, he eventually reached an agent and explained the situation. The agent was unable to call the woman, claiming it was against company policy to make outgoing calls. But she suggested he take the pocketbook to the local branch of the bank. They would be able to contact the woman and have her property returned.
The bookkeeper bundled up once again and left the house. By now the snow was coming down sideways. He pulled his collar up and squinted as he navigated the streets. Visibility was poor. Dense flakes lashed his face and stung his eyes. Another person might’ve taken the money and tossed away the pocketbook, he mused. Why had he been raised to be so honest?
He came to an intersection and stepped off the curb to cross. As he did, a van rushed around the corner and slammed into him. He was thrown forward and crushed between wheels and wet pavement.
The EMTs who arrived on the scene found the woman’s pocketbook in his coat. “Looks like karma took care of this guy,” said one of the EMTs. He had no tears to shed for a thief. The EMT took the pocketbook to the bank branch, just a few blocks away, and let them know it had been recovered.