When the busboy brought the dark brown leather Burberry purse to the front desk of the steakhouse, where I worked as a hostess, we scoffed. What kind of person forgets their purse at a restaurant, we wondered. An expensive purse, at that. We figured she must be some rich housewife, who doesn’t really care too much about her belongings. I didn’t care to reflect on the instances in which I left my purse on the bus, or in a lecture hall, or at home so many times. I’m certainly not rich.
When I went into work three days later and the Burberry purse was still in the front hall closet’s lost and found area, I frowned. How could this person not have returned looking for her purse? I looked inside for a wallet to contact the owner, but there was no driver’s license, no credit card, only an unnamed debit card and some tissues and candy. And a red lipstick. The other hostess and I joked that maybe she was an escort. Or some lady who loved to party, who ended up leaving the restaurant drunk. I didn’t once remember all the times I’ve been drunk and left things behind at bars and restaurants. I’m certainly not a hard party girl.
When the old man walked through the front door of our steakhouse, I had no idea he would be coming in for that purse. He asked if we, by any chance, had found a brown bag the week before. When I pulled it from the closet, his face lit up. He explained that the purse belonged to his wife, who was waiting in the car because she could no longer walk. She had dementia, he explained, and the two of them had spent the entire week retracing their steps, trying to find the brown leather Burberry handbag. It was an 85th birthday gift from their eldest daughter, he said. His wife treasured it dearly and once she realized it was missing, she was devastated, he said. He thanked me for keeping it safe for them.
When he left with the purse that day, I teared up. It’s so easy to make assumptions about people we don’t know. About people we have never met. It’s so much harder to see our own faults.
We really don’t know anything at all about the people we meet, or their purses.