I had buried my
wallet deep in the left front pocket of my trousers the day we left
for Europe and returned it there during all our forays to great
wonders of the Old World. The strategy had worked for 20 of our
21-day vacation in England and France, so that as our last day in
Paris waned, my wallet was the last thing on my mind.
We had just left
The Louvre and Notre Dame Cathedral--inspiring monuments to
fabulous art and lofty ideas--and now were sitting on fold-down
plastic chairs on a concrete platform in a subway station of Paris. I
was consulting a map, making sure the train we were about to board
would take us toward our hotel, so that we could collect our bags and
leave. As the train squealed to a halt, my wife, Jeanne, and two
teenaged boys, Travis and Justin, headed for the nearest door to
board. A young man with an accordion playing for tips blocked our
way, however, so we changed directions to board through the door to
our left in the seconds allotted before the train would close us in
and move on.
A man crowded on
behind us just as the doors hissed shut, but I paid him no mind, as I
grasped the bar before me and braced for the train's
acceleration. Standing there, I felt the slightest, feather-light
touch on my thigh, a common enough sensation in subways.
Maybe the touch
alerted some part of my subconscious mind. When we reached cruising
speed, my left hand dropped to my front pocket as if from habit. Then
panic owned me. My wallet was missing! Catastrophic. Two days
earlier, my sister had been mugged, her purse stolen, and she had
spent hours canceling credit cards and verifying reservations before
leaving Paris a day sooner than planned.
I had no time for
such as that. This subway ride to collect our bags at the hotel was
the first link in a tight schedule of timed connections that would
include a taxi to the bus station, a bus ride to the ferry at Calais,
a voyage across the English Channel to Dover, another bus ride to
London's Victoria Station, a train ride to Gatwick Airport, a
plane to Cincinnati for our connection to Nashville, ending in a
van-ride home to East Tennessee where mountains of work waited. The
wallet contained no money or passports, but it held schedules,
verifications, phone numbers, identification, credit cards. None of
those things went through my conscious mind, however. I remember a
mental sensation, not quite rising to the level of words, but to the
effect: WALLET GONE. CATASTROPHIC. Jeanne was sitting, looking up at
me, and she saw the panic in my eyes.
I answered with a
question. "Do you have my wallet?"
Then I remembered
that feather-light touch to my thigh and turned to the man standing
slightly behind me to my left. He was about 30, with dark, neatly
parted hair with a slight wave to it. He had a slightly bad
complexion and wore glasses. Folded over his left arm was a leather
jacket in which anything might be hidden. I knew immediately. He was
the thief. He glanced away, and then I was in his face.
I must have looked
scary. With three days growth of beard and bloodshot eyes from sleep
deprivation, and with anger bringing the veins out in my neck, I
roared at him from a foot away, "Give me back my wallet!"
For a week I had
been using pigeon-French recalled from college days, gratified I
could make my needs known and initiate simple conversations, but in
my anger I was bellowing old-fashioned East Tennessee Amuri-can-ese.
"Give me back my wallet!"
have your wal-let," he responded.
"Where is it
I glanced to where
he pointed to my right--nothing there--and quickly back. He was
jiggling the latch on the door, and I saw the train was rushing to
another platform for its next stop. I would have grabbed him by the
shoulders and shaken him, but miraculously, inexplicably, Jeanne was
reaching up to hand me the thick black wallet.
drop' it," the man repeated. "She have it."
checked the contents and began apologizing. "I'm sorry.
But I needn't
have. He was the thief all right. Travis said, as the doors slid
open, "It was behind him on the floor. I saw him drop it."
Travis had put his foot on it then, and Jeanne had picked it up.
I yelled, as he jumped off the train and ran from view, "I have
a witness!" I added a few choice words not permitted in family
papers, but he was lost on the crowded platform. Doors hissed shut
behind him. One woman expressed regret, but mostly the Parisians
looked curiously, guardedly, at the angry American. I didn't
care. We had the wallet back, our connection to so many connections
that would take us home.