Lost And Found
It was only after I got up to leave the coffee shop that I realised my book was gone. It was a large hardback, a biography of King James the VI and I that I had bought in Borders about an hour before, and had been carrying around with me, still in the plastic bag it was handed to me in. I retraced my steps, which in itself took another fifteen minutes as it had been a fairly busy hour, but there was no sign of it.
After leaving the coach station, the last place I remembered visiting, I was about to concede defeat and go back to buy another copy when I noticed a man walking in front of me carrying a borders bag, with a book in it that was the same size as the one I had lost. Even though the idea seemed ridiculous I began to follow him, synchronising my steps with his while staying at least three yards back.
Eventually he came to a halt at a bus stop, just as the bus was pulling up. Inwardly I began debating whether or not to follow him. I knew that it was utterly ridiculous to assume that he had stolen my book just because he was carrying one the same size in a bag from the same shop, but at the same time, he was the only person I had seen all day carrying a hardback book in a Borders bag, and I had spotted him near one of the locations where I might have lost it. There was also the fact that he looked like exactly the kind of guy who would be thrilled to find a biography of King James the VI and I lying around unclaimed. My decision was made easier by the fact that I had a pre-paid bus pass, so it wasn’t going to cost me anything to follow him. I clambered on, sitting behind him so I would see when he was getting off.
Half an hour later, just as the summer heat and the rhythmic movements of the bus were beginning to put me to sleep, he pushed the bell for the next stop. I looked around. We were in the middle of a generic suburban area- red brick semis, satellite dishes and canine excrement on the pavement. The bus stopped and as he rose to alight I did too. It was only after I had gotten off that I realised that, other than him, I had been the only one to do so, making my following of him far more conspicuous than in the crowded streets of the town centre.
I tried to walk as if I knew where I was going, and just happened to be going in the same direction. I followed him in my peripheral vision, avoiding looking at him directly in case he suddenly turned round. He didn’t, and eventually he turned into the driveway of one of the many identical houses. I walked past nonchalantly, stopping as soon as I was out of sight. I waited, listening for the sounds of the front door being unlocked, opened and closed, then peered round into the driveway.
I could see him moving around in the front room. After a minute or two he left and I ran up to the window. There was a narrow side window that was open a couple of inches, and underneath it was the plastic bag from Borders. I tried to reach in and grab it but the window was too narrow and wouldn’t open any further. After a quick look around the garden I returned to the window carrying a long stick. I pushed the stick through the gap and tried to lift up the bag with it but the angle was wrong, and in my efforts to reach down far enough I accidentally pushed the window forcefully against my fingers. I swore loudly, and dropped the stick into the house.
The sudden silence after I had shouted seemed overwhelming. I expected the door to open any moment, and for the man I had stupidly been following for no good reason to burst out, shouting angrily. Nothing happened. Seconds passed, and I became aware of a noise from inside the house. I pressed my ear to the narrow gap of the open window to be sure. It was the sound of a shower running upstairs. At that point I realised that there was another equally significant sound, one that I had not heard. The sound of a door being locked.
I moved slowly over to the door and tried the handle. It offered no resistance, and I peered in slowly, feeling the same sense of dread and excitement that a novice shoplifter gets when walking out of the store. I could see through the hallway and into the kitchen. There was no one there, and the only sound was the shower running upstairs. I crept into the house as slowly and carefully as I could, then, not wanting to stay in there any longer than necessary, I dashed into the front room.
The borders bag was on a desk under the window with three drawers down either side and there were a couple of bookshelves containing a handful of books, along with a couple of vhs tapes. There were also a few small plastic storage boxes piled up in the corner. The stick was lying on the floor in between the desk and the wall. I picked it up, hesitated then picked up the Borders bag. It was empty. After a quick glance around the room, I opened the top left drawer of the desk. There it was. The biography of King James the VI and I. It even had the receipt sticking out the top, the last four numbers of my debit card clearly visible. I was about to reach in and pick it up when I noticed something else in the drawer.
It was a set of house keys on a key ring from a restaurant in Spain. They took photographs of customers and made them into key rings, figuring this would make a better memento than a book of matches, and therefore be more likely to bring people back. I knew the restaurant, having been there on a family holiday at the age of around twelve. I had taken one of the two key rings that were given to us that night, a key ring that I had lost four years later. A key ring that was now looking up at me from a desk drawer in a strangers house. The photograph in it was unmistakably the same one that was taken in the restaurant.
I felt light-headed, and was almost overwhelmed with an urge to sit down. Instead I opened the next drawer. It was filled a variety of objects, all of which I recognised as things I had owned and lost at various points in my life. There was the Darth Vader figure I had owned when I was three, with the bite marks I remember making, a USB stick that had fallen out of my pocket on the way to work, a long sleeve t-shirt I had left at a party. There was even the 8-ball from a game of pool I had played in a pub a few weeks ago which had been knocked off the table and rolled away, seemingly into oblivion. I looked up at the shelves. The books there were also ones I had lost. There was a graphic novel that had fallen out of my pocket in a taxi, and a Harry Harrison paperback that I had thrown into a field in France. I quickly looked through the storage box at the top of the pile. More stuff I recognised. In fact everything that I could ever remember losing seemed to be here in this room, along with many things I had forgotten.
The sound of the shower stopped abruptly, to be replaced by the sounds of footsteps upstairs, knocking me out of my daze. I looked around, panicking, feeling nauseous, and decided to get out as quickly as I could. I grabbed the King James book, and ran into the hallway and out of the house. As I turned from the driveway onto the street, I thought I could hear someone behind me, but I didn’t look back, just kept running ‘til I felt sick, then kept going until I had to stop, half leaning and half collapsing against a bus shelter. It took a good five minutes to get my breath back fully, and for my heart to return to its normal rate. I looked around. It didn’t look like anyone was behind me, or if they were they hadn’t kept up.
A bus was approaching. I didn’t recognise the destination, but at that point knowing where I was going seemed like a low priority. I held my arm out for it to stop, then made my way up to the top deck, sitting at the back and sinking down far enough to be invisible from the street. Only then did I begin to relax.