I blame Yeats.
I was reading a collection of his poems at a sidewalk café table on a strangely warm afternoon in Dublin’s city centre, when his musings on young love distracted me from my surroundings.
The waitress dropped the check pulling me out of my reverie, and as I reached under the table with Yeats’ rhymes ringing in my mind, I felt nothing. I reached again, this time taking my eyes off the page, straining to see under my chair. No handbag. I turned to check the back of the chair. I checked the empty seat across from me. Placing my bookmark inside the sun-weathered pages I began to blame Yeats for this Monday afternoon robbery.
This was just one day of the hundreds I lived in Dublin, and while busy sipping my second cup of Barry’s Irish tea, I was committing several travel sins. First, I selected a chair a table at the café with my back to the street. Instead of the steady foot traffic on South William Street being right in front of me, I put it behind me, placing myself in a vulnerable position. I was eating alone, engrossed in a book, and I had placed my handbag out of my line of sight underneath the chair, ignoring that handy piece of travel advice I’ve read dozens of times ‘if you must place your handbag underneath your chair, slip the strap around your ankle to prevent the attraction of petty thieves’.
After being robbed, the mind frantically searches for any other possibility. I jumped from my chair, securing the attention of the waitress, ‘my bag, it’s gone’.
Stepping inside the door of the small café she muttered, ‘I think I know what happened’. I almost expected her to return with the bag in hand, citing that someone had turned it in, thought it was left unattended. My thoughts turned to items that were in the bag: wallet, cash, house keys, a notebook full of scribbles on my time spent in Ireland.
The waitress returned with the manager, describing the scene. ‘The girl was sitting here, behind this young lady. She seemed nervous and wouldn’t order even though she had been looking at the menu for ten minutes’.
It was then I realized that I knew who had expertly lifted my bag. A woman with bleached blonde hair and two arms full of tattoos had sat down near me about 20 minutes prior. I noticed her at first, fidgeting in the chair in and trying to get comfortable. I didn’t notice when she left, carrying my handbag. The waitress quickly pointed out that from the moment she was gone, there was nothing out of the ordinary in the scene, ‘just a woman walking down the street carrying a handbag.’
I couldn’t pay for my lunch. While I waited for the police – called Garda in Dublin – to arrive and take notes on the incident, the thief got further and further away. I was told the bag might turn up, that local drug addicts were known for snatching bags, taking the cash, and discarding them at the side of the road.
That afternoon I wandered around Dublin, crossed the bridges, strolled up O’Connell Street, my eyes scanning for that mop of bleached blonde hair. That night I dreamt about floating over the River Liffey, no sign of my black notebook beneath still water. The days after the robbery I walked into the police station, enquiring about the robbery, and later when my first questions yielded no results, whether any bags at all had been turned in.
Weeks later, when the locks were changed, credit cards cancelled, and I was resigned that the notebook, just pages from being full, was long gone, I received a package in the mail. It was wrapped roughly in brown paper, the address scrawled in thick black marker. Tearing it open – my thoughts far from the stolen bag – there it was: my brown leather purse, returned to me.
My wallet was inside with every credit card, ID, and old receipt. My Irish mobile phone, my keys, and there in the center compartment zipped away, the notebook. I opened the inside cover, reminding myself that in the first page prompt: ‘If lost please return to…’ I had filled in my Irish address.
Instead of someone bringing it to the police station, they took the time and money to mail it to me. The package arriving on my doorstep reminded me of the soul of the Irish, the generosity of time and feeling of community I felt so deeply in this city. Even the blonde thief, just took the cash and discarded the bag somewhere it would be found. It wasn’t damp, dirty, or ruined.
Some places whisper to you after you have gone. From the streets of New York, it is still audible. As Yeats wrote, ‘I hear it in the deep heart’s core’.