Union Square, Summer Afternoon

So my wallet got stolen today on the subway. Of course, everything was in it, including $200 in cash, an $80 store credit, and my return-trip Jitney ticket. I tried to cancel my bank account but couldn’t with no ID, and the bank manager said I had to file a police report.

So I did that at the underground Union Square precinct, and the woman taking the information started hassling me about one thing or another—What bus had I taken that morning? Where exactly had I gotten on? Did I actually see someone take my wallet? If not, I couldn’t know it was stolen. Finally she said that if I couldn’t give her the exact bus number, she couldn’t file the report—and I lost it. I started to leave the station, but had a few words to say to the policeman at the desk about the difficulty of having one’s wallet and money and ID stolen in the subway, and not being able to file a police report because I didn’t know what the number of a bus I’d taken that morning. Somehow, I got the attention of about fifteen cops in uniform and plainclothes people: everyone stopped doing what they were doing and looked up, stealing glances at one another.

The policeman at the desk went off and had a word with the woman, who came back and apologized. Imagine what could make cops uncomfortable—a big-haired, 55-year-old lady in Birkenstocks, a black t-shirt, and a backpack, talking about the absurdity of her situation? I wasn’t raving. I didn’t yell or anything.

Anyway, it’s not poor me. Really, who cares? It’s only money and time. The thing that really got me was when I came out of the station and immediately encountered someone who I think was an older black lady, but who looked, at first and second glance, like an eighth-grade boy: she was short and stocky, with close-cropped hair. She was wearing a red t-shirt and red basketball shorts. She stopped me on the sidewalk and apologized for bothering me, and then she started to cry. The tears stuck in one eye, and rolled down her cheek below the other. She said she was hungry and she just wanted to go home. I believed her.

Of course, I had absolutely no money (or food), and no access to any. But there I was, the woman who had just silenced a room of New York City cops with my icy, middle-class fury, unable to help this woman who was really in pain. It sounded like complete bullshit, even to myself: “My wallet was just stolen, and I have no money.” I had a wealth of resources, just not financial. This woman was was hungry, and she wanted to go home. I wanted to take her up in my arms and hold her.

But, really, that’s what I wanted for myself. I was hungry too, and I wanted to go home. And I’m sure like her, the home I wanted to go back to did not exist anymore: neither the near-past home, nor the home of long ago.

Somehow that woman and I are now bound. I feel her, like a tattoo, like an unmet obligation.

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