Patting myself on the back: A random good deed

January 28, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
Jan. 28, 2015

This past Saturday afternoon, I was sitting in DaisyCakes, a bakery on Foster Street near Central Park in Durham, N.C. With perhaps one exception, this was only the second time that I’d visited this establishment on a Saturday. I was a bit surprised by how crowded it was. People came in and out at a fairly steady pace.

I ordered some hot cocoa and took a seat on one of the benches along the north wall. I was sitting there, blogging about my recent “exploits” in a local charity Scrabble tournament, when a pair of people sat down at the table next to me. One of these individuals was a white man, maybe in his mid-30s. The other was an androgynous-looking fair-skinned, fair-haired person; I couldn’t decide if this person, who was sitting immediately to my right, was the man’s girlfriend or his son. After this pair finished eating lunch, they left the bakery.

A few minutes after that, I looked at the bench to my right. I was chagrined by what I saw: A small gray zip-up purse lying unattended on the seat.

To be honest, I wasn’t sure if this purse had been left by the person who’d sat beside me moments before or if it had been placed by a new customer who wanted to reserve the table for herself or for her party.

What to do, what to do? I doffed my earbuds and stepped outside in the hopes that the people who’d been sitting beside me would be within earshot.

I looked south on Foster Street. Nobody was there. I looked east and didn’t see anyone in that direction, either.

I peered to the north. I saw the couple who’d been near me walking off in the distance. No way could I call out to them and be heard.

Should I just leave the wallet where it was? The DaisyCakes staff would keep it safely.

However, it was nearly 3 p.m., and the bakery was about to close — not just for the day, but until Monday morning.

I went back inside, still fretting. If the person walking by Central Park had left the wallet, wouldn’t she (he?) need it?

But what if the person who had left the object was just steps away?

It was sitting right there. I picked up the wallet, unzipped it and peered inside. I quickly spotted what I was looking for — the top edge of a North Carolina driver’s license.

To my embarrassment, I had to make at least three fumbling efforts before I was able to slide the license out of its surprisingly tight pocket. Finally, though, I was able to get a glimpse at the front of the plastic card. The picture of a blond person, clearly a woman, confronted me. I spotted a first name — Rachel.

That tore it. I had to return the wallet to that couple. I put the license back, zipped up the wallet and hurried out of the bakery with it.

The couple was still, and still receding in the distance. I’d have to run for it.

So I did. I ran past the auto body shop on the corner of Foster and Hunt streets. I ran past the Central Park pavilion that is home to the Durham Farmers’ Market on Saturday mornings (and Wednesday afternoons in warmer months). I ran past the lawn to the pavilion’s north, which is called, logically enough, the Lawn. I ran until I got within five or 10 yards of the couple.

“Rachel!” I shouted.

The woman turned around. “Yes?”

I tossed the wallet. “I thought you might want this,” I said.

She stepped toward my throw and reached down to catch it near the bottom of its arc. The woman and the man thanked me.

I said, “You’re welcome,” and immediately turned to go. I leaned over and gripped my knees for a moment before I started walking back to the bakery, at a much slower pace than I’d left it.

On my way back, I paused a moment and made a conscious effort to regulate my breathing. I felt a mild burning in my lungs.

That mild burning faded away — slowly. It lingered until sometime on Monday.

And when I woke up Sunday morning, my body was sore, especially my legs. It took me a little while to remember why I was feeling that way — because of my impromptu 0.1-mile run for charity.

Anyway, I’m thinking that’ll be my one and only good deed for the year. (But yeah, hopefully I’ll get into better shape at some point in 2015.)

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