As the lady was making her way toward me, I had that sense of trepidation we who live in large urban areas have when a stranger approaches us. I’m thinking she was a well-dressed panhandler, a hustler or a mentally ill person. Our cynicism is well-informed; to leave or enter a train station in parts of the bay area means often navigating through a gauntlet of dirty hippies, political activists, homeless folks, buskers and solicitors of all persuasions.
I was standing on the BART platform at Oakland’s MacArthur station, waiting for a train. This woman and I were among a small handful of people spread out on the platform. She walked up to me and I immediately knew she was none of the aforementioned hustlers. She was a small lady, Asian, 50 something, carrying a couple of grocery bags. My defenses dialed down, I turned to face her.
“Is that your briefcase over there? She asked.
She pointed to a bench 20 feet from where we were standing. On it was a nondescript black computer bag.
“No ma’am, not mine.”
I paused for a couple of seconds.
” The unattended bag in a train station…” The wheels were turning in my head as I spoke to her. “We never used to think much about that, but these are different times, aren’t they?”
She smiled wryly. ” Do you think we should call BART police?”
I shrugged. ” I guess that might not be a bad idea. Do you think if I do they will go crazy and shut the station down?”
The woman turned and pointed at a young guy, Latino, 20 something, walking toward us. “I wonder if it belongs to him?” she said.
“Really? I would never leave anything like that just sitting there.”
We waited for him to walk near us. The woman approached him. ” Sir, is that your bag over there?”
He looked at her, puzzled, then glanced over at the bench. “No, it’s not.”
I mentioned we were wondering if we should call the cops.
The guy said, ” I guess we could go look at it.”
The three of us walked in unison, slowly, toward this bag on a bench. The lady whispered, “Be careful, it could be dangerous.”
The young man said, “Well, if it’s a bomb we are gonna get it good anyway, standing here. Let’s look inside.”
He unzipped the bag. The woman and I bent over to take a peek. Inside was a laptop, an external hard drive, and a bunch of cords.
The three of us reacted with a combination of exhaling in relief and surprise. Someone, harried from a long day at work, likely carrying a couple of bags, maybe even escorting a child, simply boarded the train sans their very important piece of baggage.
The guy pulled a piece of paper out of the bag – it was a United boarding pass. ” Someone is having a really bad night right now.”
The woman said, “I’ll take it down to the station agent.”
As she walked away with the computer case and made her way down the stairs, the young man looked at me. ” That person is lucky we were the ones that found it.”
I smiled. “Yeah, I guess they are.”
A couple of minutes later, the lady came back up the stairs. The three of us dispersed, silently, each stopping at three different boarding spots on the platform.
The train pulled up to the station. I looked at both of them, wanting to say something or to nod goodbye. They didn’t look back. The train doors opened, and the three of us disappeared into the cars.