Last night, as I left Auckland for the first week of Parliament for the year, I did something quite foolish.
I was waiting for my bus to the airport (the stop is literally right in front of my apartment building — I can look down from my bedroom window and see it), when I realised I had left my phone upstairs charging.
I ran back upstairs to grab it, taking only my handbag with me. I left my messenger bag and my carry-on suitcase sitting on the bench.
What caused me to be so careless? I suppose it felt secure. It was a sunny, still evening. Mt Eden Road was quiet and warm after the long Anniversary Day. I was only running upstairs for two minutes, and my flat is just above the stop.
But when I came back down, my bags were not on the bench. I glanced immediately across the road to the opposite bus stop, and Lovelock Ave, which heads west down the hill. A car door shut in a dirty, old red hatchback. I didn’t recognise the make, but my impression was that it was a 2-door.
A lone man waited at the opposite bus stop. I called out to him, probably with some panic in my voice, “Excuse me, did you happen to see who took the bags that were on this bench?”
He immediately looked to his left and pointed at the red car, which was just pulling out and heading away from me, down Lovelock Ave.
I took off sprinting and raised my right arm, waving. I must have yelled quite loudly, because my flatmate heard me from inside our kitchen.
It may not have been words, or if it was, it was something like “NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO. COME BACK! THOSE ARE MY BAGS….I NEED THEM” as I futilely pursued the vehicle. It squealed as they sped up, down the hill and around the sharp right turn Lovelock Avenue makes. I was trying to make out the license numbers, but it was hopeless as they disappeared from view.
A woman in an SUV with two kids happened to be pulling out in that direction as I ran by. I was nearly breathless,and must have looked desperate. She rolled down the window.
“Help, please can you help?! Those people just took my bags, in the red car. Can you…?”
She said, “Yes, I can drive, but it may be too late, I doubt we can do anything.” I watched as she drove off, and started considering my options, cursing myself and reflecting that although everything I had just lost was replaceable, it probably mostly wasn’t covered by insurance. A woman who happened to be in her yard asked me with concern what had happened.
I was so upset and mind reeling with adrenaline, I could barely explain. I managed to say that some people had taken my bags and driven off.
“I heard that car just peel out down the street. Come, let’s call the police!” she said kindly.
I was shaking my head. “It’s no use. I didn’t see the plate numbers, I didn’t even see the make of the car. I can’t believe this!” I was on the verge of tears, filled with regret and frustration. I was inconsolable.
“Come on, we’ll have to call the police in any case.”
Before I could begin to cut my losses, and come to terms with the fact that I had lost the bags and everything in them, the woman in the SUV pulled up.
“It’s okay! We got them!” she said, smiling broadly.
“What?!” The woman on the street and I were both incredulous and confused. I simply could not comprehend what she was saying, or what had happened. My heart was still racing from the sprint not two minutes earlier.
I looked in the back seat, sure enough, next to her daughter, there were my bags. Both of them. Not a thing missing from either.
The woman in the SUV said, “they took them by mistake, I think. That’s what they said…”
“Oh my god! I can’t believe it. Thank you so much! Thank you!” I was overcome with relief, but still incredulous.
The kids waved as the woman in the SUV drove off to wherever she had been heading. The woman on the street grabbed me laughing and gave me a big hug. I declined a cup of tea because I had to catch the next airport bus, and I walked back up to Mt Eden Rd. The man at the bus stop had caught his bus. My flatmate drove up — she had been looking for me. I explained what happened, still laughing and shaking my head.
I don’t know the names of the people in this story, but I am thankful to all of them. The innocent bystanders who saw what happened, and helped without question. The woman who got my bags back. Perhaps especially, the people who decided to give me my stuff back after taking it. It wouldn’t have been worth much to them, and frankly none of it was irreplaceable for me. It just would have been inconvenient.
We are lucky to call home a city and a country where strangers will come together to help someone they don’t know.
I won’t again leave my bags unattended at a bus stop, but I do feel reassured that we are all in this together. People can and will do the right thing, at least some of the time.
[Epilogue: the daughter of the woman in the SUV contacted me after seeing the Herald article! She said the people had pulled over and were unloading the bags when they pulled up. The young woman in the red car was very sweet and said they had taken them by accident...]