The night I board the Peter Pan bus for Providence, there's a young-ish guy, hair cropped close to his scalp, in a black overcoat, arguing with the driver. The driver is collecting people's tickets, and the overcoat-swathed unfortunate is short on a paper ticket. He only has it on his phone.
I reflect for a moment on how that could have been us--at least, if I hadn't dragged my mom and sister to the Manhattan School of Music's uncomfortably warm library to print the tickets, because I didn't want to make trouble, goddamnit. Memories of aggravating Indian airport officials expecting to verify paper tickets and coming up against our iPhone versions still stung rather fresh in my mind. I didn't think they, or this Peter Pan driver, were right, but I didn't want to suffer in accidental martyrdom like this poor guy just trying to get back to Providence.
He steps on board and throws his satchel into a storage bin, but the relief is short-lived. The driver again demands a paper ticket, and then says the one proffered is incorrect. Go get a new one.
"You gonna give me 5 minutes, man?" asks the clearly frustrated passenger.
"I'm gonna give you one minute," says the driver in a warning tone that allows no opposition.
The guy runs.
I sit, tensely, hoping beyond hope that the bus doesn't lurch away, out of the Port Authority darkness, without him.
And then it does.
"His bag!" shouts my mom as we move. "His bag's still here!"
"Driver!" some other passengers say. "There's a missing rider!"
From the impenetrable dark up ahead that is the driver's seat, there is no response.
"Is his bag seriously still here?" I ask my mom urgently. We're moving through NYC traffic now, weaving through herds of Times Square tourists like alligators cutting down migrating zebras in the water.
"Yeah, it's up there," she says. I leap out of my chair to check.
Another passenger points up to the right rack. "That's it," he says gruffly. I grab it. It's an expensive-looking brown leather satchel. It feels hard.
"Oh shit," I say, too loudly. "A laptop."
I pull the bag down. A name, a number--anything, it's got to be somewhere. I unzip the outermost pocket out of instinct--that's where I put my contact info in all my bags.
One small paper about the bag itself. Useless. One receipt from a jeans store. $89. No name.
I open the bag itself.
"This is so intrusive," I mutter. There are two small fliers about a protest, something about Venezuela. Some handwritten notes. The telltale glow of a MacBook, adjacent to a neatly folded green hoodie. This is bad. Somewhere in the Port Authority building there's a guy stranded in NYC as we zoom further and further away with his laptop, his clothes, and his--
"Notebook!" I hiss.
It's got to have a name.
I open it. Inside cover. Thank the Lord, I think, and I'm not even religious.
There, written in neat handwriting, is a name. And a number. And an email. And a school. (Let's call him Kendrick Montoya for privacy's sake). Rhode Island School of Design.
"Call him," I say to my mom, and tell her what to say to this stranger--stranger whose notebook, name, number, and bag I now know and hold. It's an oddly intimate moment.
Except he doesn't pick up.
She leaves a message.
"Your bag is safe," she says, twice at different points. I find that funny. The opposite of safe is endangered and yet we don't think of bags as being endangered, we think lost. Stolen. It's as if the bag is a child, now that someone's protecting it. Safe.
We wait at a red light and suddenly there's a commotion at the front of the bus. A bunch of people stand up and openly gawk.
The doors fling open.
Could it be...?
I hope, beyond hope.
Oh my f***ng god is the unbidden thought that comes to mind.
Inexplicably, across more than a dozen blocks of NYC traffic away from the Port Authority, it's Kendrick Montoya of the overcoat and satchel and number and notebook.
A few people cheer.
"We have your bag," my mom says, and I sheepishly put it back up on the rack. "How did you do it?"
"Ran, then a taxi," he says breathlessly. "When I couldn't see the bus anymore I asked the driver to go faster. When I saw the red light I asked him to jump in front of the bus."
"That's great, man," says an awed passenger behind us. A few people nod and grin.
"Thank you, thank you," says Kendrick. It reminds me of a performer taking a bow, thanking his clapping audience.
A few minutes later he cranes his head back to look at us and ask quizzically, "How did you get my number?"
"Oh uh--" I start. In my nervousness I think that the question is a sort of accusation; I'm unsure of how to un-awkwardly state "I rifled through your bag."
"Your notebook," offers my mom helpfully.
"Thank you so much," he says, and smiles.
It occurs to me, thinking later as the bus exits the city and passes out of the range of bright lights and tall buildings that not everyone rifles around strangers' bags looking for a contact name and number, even though we're supposed to. On a crowded bus that job could've fallen to anyone, and more often because of that social diffusion of responsibility, to no one at all. It didn't feel like anything special when I grabbed that brown leather bag off the luggage rack, and in truth, it wasn't. But it's the type of thing that I hear people say makes them believe in the "goodness of humanity"; so as I look briefly at my reflection in the dark, dirty bus window, a small twinge of hubris or satisfaction at happy endings makes me think I'm looking at the "goodness of humanity" in the face.