I was about to leave home for a concert on Sunday when the phone rang. The caller’s English was heavily accented. I might have snarled, as I sometimes do when I get calls from strangers with impenetrable accents, especially if I suspect — as I did — that the caller aims to sell me something. This time, perhaps because her voice was so soft and pleasant, I just said, “I did not understand what you said. Would you repeat it, please?”
Speaking slowly, she identified herself as Oceania from Manhattan Fruit Exchange and said I had left my wallet behind after buying groceries there. I do this sort of thing from time to time, usually when there are too many things in my hands or on my mind. I had not yet noticed that the wallet was missing. I thanked her for calling and told her I would pick it up right away.
Walking to the store, which is in Chelsea Market, I imagined that the wallet’s contents had been removed except for the business card with my name and phone number on it. I pictured myself at the bank the next morning, having the credit card and ATM card disabled and replaced. I hoped the wallet still contained my MetroCard, which has my picture on it and wouldn’t be useful to a stranger, so I could get on the subway in time for the concert.
Oceania was behind the checkout counter at the store. That’s her in the picture. She smiled as she handed me my wallet, which she had concealed under a stack of papers.
The wallet’s contents were intact, including not only all the cards but also $80 in cash. I dipped into it for some bills to reward Oceania for her trouble. She shook head when I held them out, saying it was not necessary. I insisted and eventually prevailed: She had saved me a lot of trouble, which she did not have to do, and I appreciated it very much. Please.
I don’t know how much Oceania is paid, but I doubt that she is anywhere near as comfortable financially as most of the store’s customers. If I’d been in her position when I was young and broke, I’d like to think I’d have done what she did, but easy cash from the wallet of a careless person who probably didn’t need it as much as I did, with no chance that I’d be caught, well ….
I do know I’m glad I wasn’t rude to Oceania on the phone, and that I’ll think twice before I bark at the next caller whose accent I can’t understand, even if the caller does turn out to be a telemarketer.