Friday, 27 July 2012

Testing Wallets

The business card read “Cafren E......, Illustrator” but, since I had never known of anybody named Cafren, I couldn’t say if it’s owner was male or female. I spoke the name out loud and it sounded like a lazy pronunciation of Catherine. Then I thought it might be the Gaelic form of an ordinary name like Kevin; or the outcome of prolonged parental agonising over novel names for offspring; or possibly the invention of its owner, intent on adopting a distinctive-sounding stage name with an eye to future fame and fortune. The card, along with a discount voucher for Paradise Island Adventure Golf, was in a wallet I had found in the street. There was no cash, no bank-card or anything else.

Losing your wallet is an inconvenience, minor or major, according to the significance of its contents. I am, of course, making the assumption that the wallet was lost - or that it was stolen, emptied and discarded. But there is another possibility which is that its owner threw it away in disgust at what their life had become. I imagine Cafren out on the town the previous night and having drunk far too much, proclaiming to his/her friends that life was going nowhere fast, that the name Cafren had been an error of judgment and that it was time to make a new start, to reinvent oneself with a fresh identity and set of goals; then, with an oath and an over-dramatic gesture, tossing the wallet, repository of ID, onto the kerbside (having previously exhausted its monetary content).

If this is what happened it was a brave gesture on Cafren’s part but one which was inconsiderate of the consequence for the likes of me. For the finder of a wallet is faced straight away with an unwanted question concerning their own moral values: is the urge to pick it up driven by concern or by opportunism? Is the underlying motivation a wish to reunite wallet and owner or is it merely the base hope of acquiring a fat wad  of notes which, on the flimsiest of imagined justifications such as that it might have belonged to an evil drug-dealer, can be spent as greedily as a banker’s bonus?

All this flashed through my mind as I stooped to pick it up but I am pleased to report that relief, not disappointment, was my feeling on discovering its meagre contents. I was able to drive the morality test deep into the long grass of ‘academic point of interest’ and not have to tee-up to the next level - whether to return the money or steal it. Nevertheless I felt the wallet, empty treasure chest or remnant of a shattered dream, was part of its owner’s identity and it would have been disrespectful to throw it in the bin. So I kept it for a while.

I thought it a little unfair that the next morning, in almost the same spot, I was tested once more by the sight of another wallet abandoned at the kerbside. This one was fat with promise and I had to resist the frisson induced by the anticipation of instant wealth while, bending to pick it up, I fought to convince myself that my intention was benign. Stuffed though it was, it contained no cash but bank cards, a driving license, various club passes and loyalty cards. And with a name like Peter and an ID photo there was no gender mystery to ponder. With considerable detective acumen I noticed that there was an unzipped compartment that may well have contained the cash and from this I deduced that Peter’s wallet had been stolen, relieved of readies and chucked contemptuously into the gutter.

I took Peter’s wallet to a branch of his bank from where they could arrange for him to retrieve it. They wrote down my details so that they could send me a reward (I am still waiting for it but I understand the bank is itself a little short of cash these days). Peter phoned to thank me but I missed his call and listened instead to his message. I thought of calling him back and assuring him that it was empty of money when I found it – but that might sound as though I am guilty so I’ll leave him guessing.

I didn’t make any effort to return Cafren’s wallet: after all, the Paradise Island Adventure Golf discount voucher had recently expired.

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