[Flash fiction in no way relating to the prompt!]
I’ve seen tossed purses in a few places in this country. Down by Fruitvale exit, out along Lake Merritt, overused no longer attractive. Next to the Safeway. Over by Berkeley Bowl, I spied a cloth bag once. Maybe not a purse exactly. In Japan, you’d never see a purse on a sidewalk.
But there it was, as foreign to me as I was to it. And this sidewalk. I wanted dim sum but the shop down the block was closed. On a Sunday. Imagine that. An odd occurrence. The donut shop was open, however. I bought $20 worth of donuts, not a typical Japanese morning meal. But I was hungry.
Then I saw it. A slack leather bag. It was deep Covid time when we wiped down everything with 70% alcohol…twice. I picked up the purse. A brown-pink soft leather sack off the sidewalk. I could feel the viruses crawling up my arms. I’m an animal scientist researcher. My mind works in a certain imaginative way.
The slinky shoulder strap first struck me as a snake on the sidewalk. All shiny and wet. My hands were sticky from the donuts (maple cream, chocolate donut holes, jelly filled, and a crunch). My cat Fuku (Lucky in English) licked the crumbs in the box. She likes to walk with me on a leash, so I indulge her. I squatted and dug through the jumbled contents of the slacked sack.
Most striking about the purse – soft pink-brown masque—embroidered bouquet of spring flowers on the upper flap, patchouli infused, was a tremendous rolls of cash, like moola, like big bucks, like legal tender, like filthy lucre, like mostly $20 bills. In cash. Many bills crushed into a ball. It took a minute to unravel each bill. Spread the bill out. Smooth it. Press it. I did this in my apartment, not on the sidewalk.
I had to count the bills at least three times just to guess how much money I held in my hands. In my apartment. I’d never seen this much money in a bank, let alone in a purse on a sidewalk in front of my house. I would certainly feel awful if I lost this much money. I was a bit in shock. Graduate students don’t see these many green American bills in one place. This many $20 bills. Foreign grad students especially. To be certain, this was a serious business. I counted the bills again as I sat on the polyethylene carpet covering my small apartment. I counted more slowly each time. I counted and separated the bills. I stacked them in piles of tens. Each pile equaling $200. My heart beat fast for a few hours. I counted the bills and wiped my sticky hands on my jeans: $24,460.
My first thought: daily life is a moment of time attached to another moment of time. Early Basho. I was born on Honshu Province. Basho haunts everyone and everywhere there.
I pulled out a Planned Parenthood appointment card from the purse. It was next week! This could be serious. Immediately I reached out to the owner. She had hidden a business card with her name and phone number in the top slip inner pocket under a flap. She owned a company called “Wildflowers.” I had a name, an address, a phone number, a company. I rang her phone all morning. She did not answer. I left messages. No return call. For days. I then rode my bicycle in the rain over to her apartment without Fuku this time. I don’t have a car. I gave my car to a woman whose son has diabetes and needed to see doctors at the beginning of the pandemic. I rode my bicycle quickly as the rain downpoured.
A Victorian apartment building stood three stories. In a tough neighborhood. On a budget I guessed. I had her $24,460. I left her a terse note. Short and sweet. Found your purse on sidewalk. Text me (my phone number). I peaked through her windows. Impossible. The curtains were slammed tight. Though it was raining, I watered the drooping flowering plants outside her door. Geraniums, nasturtiums, cornflowers, pansies. I felt like an alligator stalking her prey.
Back at my apartment, Fuku sat as curious as I. We palmed through the bag deeper this time. We found two heads of frisée, one extremely large onion, an amazing gargantuan plastic bag of marijuana, and a sizeable mountain of recipe cards. No clue about “Wildflowers.” Later I learned, she was born in 1991, in South Carolina, a country eons away from now.
Later I learned someone had broken into her car, stripped it, but left her bag on the sidewalk in front of my apartment. Later I returned the bag, on the next possible pandemic day after she texted to tell me to meet her at the restaurant where she worked.
I rode my bicycle again in the downpour, leaving Fuku at home. Got a flat tire. Fixed it in the rain. Met her and her friends at the restaurant where they all worked. They hugged me over and over though it was pandemic time and we were expected to be six feet apart. Finally, I pulled the purse over my head, gave it to her and the $24,460. The rain has stopped. I dried off riding home.