The Generosity of Thieves

thiefI found a wallet.

I found it behind that pointless shelf in the woman’s stall.


Who’s watching me?

No one’s watching me. That would be illegal. Christ I’m in here half naked.

She’s going to come tearing in here searching for it.

Or she doesn’t realize it’s gone yet.

What’s in here?

Credit cards.

Laundry card.

There’s a social security card?!?

Jane McLeaven.

Holy shit this is a copy of her passport.

Who carries around copies of their passports?

I will steal her identity.

I cannot steal her identity. Identity theft is not a nice thing to do. I do nice things.

Though it does seem like she’s practically asking me to do it.

I could do it.

Social security card, passport, two forms of state ID.

Jane McLeaven was born in the 80s. She was born in 1986.

I am nearly ten years older than she.

But we’re both students.

I don’t have my life any more together than some younger student that can afford to stick her wallet down the side of the pointless shelf in the women’s stall.

I have my life so together I can afford even to find her wallet down the side of this pointless shelf in the women’s stall.

She hasn’t come back yet.

I should get out of here.

Should I leave it here?

Christ that passport copy.

There is a copy of her passport.

She was born in Nigeria.


Is that west or east Africa?

People forget about Africa. Or they think of Africa as one whole place. If they think of it at all.

Most people don’t really know that Egypt is a part of Africa. Or if they know it they don’t really know it. Not in that deep way of knowing. Not in that sense that people know about how the Eiffel Tower is in Paris.

I know the Eiffel Tower is in Paris.

I’ll take it with me. I’ll go and when I do I’ll take it with me. And by the time I reach the first floor exit, I’ll know what to do with it.

Is she out here by the sinks? The door will swing open at any moment and she will be here then, suddenly, by the sinks. She will ask me for her wallet right here by the sinks.

I’ll leave now.

She is not by the elevator. Only an Asian man standing by the elevator, waiting calmly for the elevator. He knows nothing of the wallet in my bag.

I have the wallet in my bag!

The first floor. The corridor. The lobby. The exit. The security system that encases the exit.

An alarm will go off.

No alarm goes off!

I am outside now. What!? There are no consequences, the whole world is in a clean falling tumble and already I am outside. I am free. There is nothing but the day and the light and the fact of someone else’s wallet in my bag.


There are maybe twelve, maybe fifteen things in my bag. All but one of them are mine.

I am walking! Like a criminal with a dead rat, I think, thinking again, immediately, how no criminal, no real criminal, ever hangs out with dead rats. No. No one alive wants anything to do with a dead rat.

For the most part.

To the street, to the gutter, to cross the street, the second gutter, on the other side now, I have put blocks, I have started to put blocks between where I was when I found the wallet, when I decided, I made the decision, to put it in my bag, and now, here, this. Walking. You can walk with someone else’s wallet in your bag and you can be free. This is what freedom is. It is ripping people off and walking away. It is looking just like everybody else.

In class, talking. I have this idea to pull the wallet out. To go through it, right there in public, in front of other student. Like a daring, willful criminal now, dancing and languid before the police station. Who gives a fuck? Now I’ve done it.

I do not pull the wallet out and go through it. I wonder if the woman seated next to me is the owner of the wallet, if she is Jane McLeaven. The Jane McLeaven. What would Jane McLeaven think if I suddenly, with perfect randomness, pulled her wallet out. If she is sitting there hating the fact she has to sit there while her wallet is missing. And then she sees it getting pulled out! Getting gone through! Or if she is sitting there with no idea that her wallet is missing. If she has no idea and sits in the middle of the nothing that will become, soon, shortly, a major event. A crisis.

I am sinking into my new space. I am enjoying my new space. It is fully furnished and there is running water and there is furniture, even. There are cajoling messages waiting for me on the answering machine when I get home. Such a strange new space!

I pull it out.

I do not pull her wallet out. It takes every fiber of my strength and being not to pull her wallet out. I sit calmly. I listen to the class. I ensure my bag is fully closed and secured. There are no wallets, mine or otherwise, visible from the top. There is nothing out of order, out of the ordinary. That to ask if anything was out of order or in any way abnormal would be extremely strange, it would be suspicious. To ask to look inside my bag would be a violation of my rights. My human rights! My rights! Mine!

“I don’t have your wallet,” I would say. “I am very sorry to hear you have lost your wallet but that’s not something I have. I’m not going to let you ransack my stuff just because you’ve lost your wallet.”

Then I might add something like, “You’re being ridiculous.” I would use ridicule as a tool and I would seek to find advantage. You can study eyes and hand gestures as you do this work. People avert their eyes and they wring their hands, even ripping their very nails, when you apply the full torque and tension of strongly worded ridicule.

Just because you’ve tucked it down that pointless shelf in the women’s stall, lady, well. That was your choice, not mine.

Have you ever thought about how pointless that shelf is? Just stop for a minute and think about it.

(See—I’m using a distracting technique here. This is an act.)

How did you know that?

Me? Oh me? Oh, I do have your wallet. Oh gracious. Here you go.

And the prize for the best Samaritan goes to….

But no, none of that. And anyone anywhere could have her wallet. Anyone anywhere in the whole world, even anywhere in Nigeria of all places, well, anyone could be opening up credit cards, flying to Lagos, throwing down dominos while their shirts and shorts get washed on her dime, her laundry card dime, her laundry card plugging away on the slot machines that activate both the washers and the dryers, both, at the same time.

Money, money everywhere.

I look just like anyone, anywhere. But I’m different from everyone, everywhere.

Because I have your wallet.

I sit through class. I listen to the teacher. I take notes. Good girl. Just like a good girl. Not at all like a wallet thief.

I am a wallet thief.

I am a wallet thief!

No no no no no no no. No. I found it fair and square. She stole it from herself the moment she decided to tuck the damn thing down the side of that stupid pointless shelf contraption.

(You begin to notice how angry you can become when entangled at the moment of other people’s misfortune. It hits you like an accusation: all lead. All square. And it’s a frank transgression, and you wonder for a minute why, when, how, you crossed this threshold. When did you begin to equate misfortune with transgression? You can’t tell. So now you’re angry at yourself. And you become angry at your anger. So now you are laughing. And you consider it a form of charity. You are magnanimous. You are being free.)

Jane McLeaven! She would have been so relieved, flooded with relief, to have rushed back and just found it there, still there, it’s plump little rear just waiting to be plucked back up and in its rightful owner’s possession.

Not here, now, in my bag. Not with me. The me that is walking, that is moving a thousand miles a second, as far as lost wallets go.

Her wallet is with me.


No one suspects a good girl to keep a found wallet. Everyone relies on a good girl to find the wallet and the value of the good girl in finding the wallet is that she gives it back. She gives it back every single time. This is also called luck. It is not misfortune. It provides reason to be magnanimous.

Lucky for me I am not a good girl. Unlucky for you I am not a good girl.


After class and on the way home I run into him—exhausted and heavy bagged and just worn—so we agree to dinner out. What? We never eat dinner out. Lucky me once again!

When we see there’s a student discount but only for students and only for cash and only for dinner, we sigh and we say well. Well. But I say don’t worry. I say I have cash.

Do you have enough? he asks.

Let me check.

I am careful here. I must pull out the correct wallet. I must be sure to not pull out her wallet, her unfamiliar wallet with its long, densely irregular creases (how did you get those? Wait, where did you even get that? is that thing new? I’ve never seen that before,) and instead slip all the money out.

There. I’ve done it. I’ve slipped all the money out.

I am a thief!

Oh shut up.

Finder’s fingers.

Look, I have almost 40 dollars. We have enough.

Let’s get some appetizers.

Let’s get the wings.

I love wings!

Me too. I love it here.

It’s amazing here.


We are so lucky. We are laughing. We consider giving to charity.

We decide the charity, tonight, is ourselves. We are generous in that regard.

What I will do is order this food and eat this food and forget all about whatever this woman is going through while I order and eat and enjoy and forget. While I become alive in the worst possible way. Ahhhh.

And I wonder if Jane McLeaven has realized now—now—that her wallet is gone. It’s gone.

She must. It’s been about six hours since I found it. And who knows how long it was sitting there, just wedged way down deep in that upturned shelf. Just waiting for me to find it.

I found it!

I’ll spend the money.

Look, I’ve already spent the money.

All that money? See? It’s already gone.


I’ll spend the rest of it too. I’ll use the laundry card, I use the stamps, I’ll do things like that. There’s some stupid coffee discount card in here too. Yes. Just little things like that. But the credit cards, the social security number, the drivers license, things like that—those kinds of things. Those things I’ll leave alone.

That’s because I’m mostly good. For the most part I am good. I am a good girl.

And tonight I’m rich!

So let’s try these appetizers.

Our lives, our concerns, our mincing little arguments, our upcoming trip to California, the weight of bags and tripods, the real work of his journalism, the question of the bill and the tip. All this sudden money. His legitimate career. And then there is also the fact that he would never do anything like this vs. the fact I think I may have been waiting my entire life to do this. That I will do it again. And do it more.

To not just find but to take. To discover and to use, and not passively (stamps! Laundry card!) but actively. To sidle up to the bar, the reception, the counter, and to say yes, hi, hey, I’ll take that one. Cashmere? Yes, perfect. In light blue. Sign here? ID too? Of course, of course. No, of course. Identity theft is rampant these days, of course. You do have to be careful. There you go. Thank you so much. Yes, for quite a while, quite a while. But a little savings does go a long way, doesn’t it? And you really can turn a buck if you know what you’re doing. Well, thanks again. Goodbye! Goodbye!

You fold your money some weird way.

Oh, did I? I never noticed.

I never did either.

Well, money’s money, right?

Right you are. Let’s go.

Late at night with time on my hands, with his work and all this time on my hands, all the space and time alone with nothing but a lamp on and my bag right next to me, yes, it was late at night inside our home that I could finally go, milimetrically, piece by piece, through the contents of the wallet. I could examine each piece and weigh it. Feel it in my hands. I am calm. My hands are cold. People think I’m too thin but that’s not why my hands are cold. My hands are cold because I am a thief. I am a calm, collected, cold thief who can now determine privately, comfortably, magnanimously, in the comfort of my own home, what I will do to each.

Because I kept the wallet so there are new decisions to make. Incremental decisions. Layered decisions. Good.

Some of these things, like I have said, are immediately valuable to me and won’t move an inch. They will never leave my being until the moment I decide to spend them.

I decide. I am in control. This is mine.

I have settled into the ownership. I am happy because I am wearing the nice new blue sweater, too, which I charged, and it is cashmere. I am momentarily grateful for the access to her card but then I stop myself. I must be careful. I did work hard for this. And it was and is the bare minimum. Yet one must be careful. One must tread lightly and not move too quickly. One must endeavor to not become a hardened criminal. Yes, one must.

The laundry card is active. I’m sure there’s money on this laundry card. I can tell just by looking at it, by its feel. I weigh it up in my cool, level hand.

And the metro cards too. I will slip down into a station and swipe it, just take a casual look at how much I’ve got going on these. Start making some moves. We might be talking about monthly unlimited. I could start getting out a bit more—think nothing of heading downtown and then making three stops on the way back, here, here, and here, all of which would have been about ten dollars before but now, here, because of this, free!

I am free.

But credit cards, social security numbers, things like that. No. I won’t touch that stuff. Not hard, anyway. Not much. Not a great deal beyond the sweater, which I don’t regret.

You would have been a fool to pass that sweater up, too. You would have kicked yourself silly if you hadn’t gotten it. $730 is an enormously sensible figure for a sweater of this quality, this caliber. Yes, you would have called yourself a bald faced fool. Don’t pass up simple essentials. Please.

Look, I’m not really out to ruin anyone’s life. Just get around a little more easily, if I can. Just get a few curry puffs if they come my way. And wings. That’s all. A sweater is, well. Sweaters come and go in everyone’s lives. I think this is a fairly well established fact.

And another fact: I am a simple, good girl. I am a good girl.

Which leaves the broader question of the wallet itself.

He’s pushing and working away in there, turning the pages, banging the copy, pruning back the leaves of his notebook. He is a journalist and he moves quick. So I need to be careful. He’ll finish up, close his computer, and reappear. He will walk into our bedroom. He will walk straight in and close the door. So I need to be careful, be sure he doesn’t see this wallet that I’ve got, this other person’s wallet. This is another person’s wallet. It is a strange and foreign thing.

I’ll put it in a garbage can.

No that’s just mean. I’m not mean like that.

I’ll return it to the library.

I can’t return it to the library! They’ll have all these questions. They’ll want to know where, what time, how, in what condition. They’ll tell me she’s already come and gone, looking for it. That she was hysterical. Despondent. That she had once been filled with hopes and dreams, had felt a measure of promise about herself, but now this, nothing. That she had come to know destruction.

That it was, would be, my fault. All my fault.

They’ll want to know who I am. They’ll want my name. And then there will be the account of what is missing. What had gone missing. Of who could have been responsible for the missing pieces between the time it was lost and now. And I would be the clear A-1 top notch person most likely to have stolen things.

I would be the one they’d want to talk to.

No way I’m going back to the library.

I’ll put it in a mailbox.

Let the mailman figure out what to do with it. Make the discovery of the wallet stripped, now, of all but its most essential pieces, the generosity of thieves, the things that mean nothing if not total identity theft and therefore felonies, jail time. I’ll let that dangling modifier become the mailman’s own problem, his own stare-down into the gulley-throated prospect of vice. I’ll let him work it out, the prospect of doing the wrong thing.

When it is so easy to do the right thing! To simply drop the wallet into any mailbox. The license is right here, it has her address on it. So Jane McLeaven’ll get her wallet back! Things are really starting to look up for her.

It’s the right thing to do.

The right thing to do was to leave it with the security desk at the library the moment you found it.

Well. Then they would have taken exactly everything I’ve already removed! They would have done it themselves! I’ve just saved the trip and the trouble, see?

Let it be someone else’s problem.

But once I drop it into the mailbox I can’t get it out. I can’t reach back into that upswing and fish the thing out. It’ll be gone—federal property. And then what? Some change of heart? Some desperate bid to become, yes, finally, exactly, her. To steal her identity but with the prospect to do so—all the numbers and codes and dates and addresses now, freshly, out of reach.

Oh that would be horrible. A real shame.

I’ll keep it here, for now. Safely tucked in my bag. Safe by my desk in my bag. Who would ever think to look for Jane McLeaven’s wallet here, when it’s just in my bag?

No, it’s nothing. It doesn’t matter at all. It’s like I never even did it. And already she’s probably asleep, she’s exhausted all resources, she’s tired of thinking—straining to remember where? When? Why?—well, it’s gone.

But what the hell was in there anyway?

Were all my coffee rewards cards really in that thing? I can’t fucking remember.

Yes, they are. And I have them, Jane McLeaven. All of them. And I intend to use them. I like that coffee place too. It’s very good. You have, it would seem, some measure of taste.

And when Jane McLeaven wakes up the whole nightmare of the lost wallet will be right there waiting for her. And with me it will be right here, waiting for me too. It will remain just a question, just a possible question that I may or may not get around to answering tomorrow or even the next day. I don’t know what I’ll do about this thing just yet. I am a very busy woman. I am a good girl but also a very busy woman.

So I haven’t decided. But the mailbox is definitely one option. I think that’s safe to say. And it’s hard to go two blocks without running into a mailbox in this neighborhood.

No. It shouldn’t be a problem.