Where can it be? It can’t simply have disappeared. I kneel on the linoleum floor, press knees to worn brown and ocher and ivory tiles. Bending, stretching, I reach under the couch to probe carefully, all the while wondering, who puts linoleum in a living room? And who lives in this mess? I pull wadded articles from beneath the couch — old ragged blankets, tattered pillows. All is covered in thick clots of dust.
I do not find my purse. Wallet, cash, photos, ID — gone.
This place has an air of abandonment — cluttered and aged, forgotten. The air smells stale and still. After searching the living room, behind and beneath furniture and boxes and bookshelves, I walk down a narrow, shadowed corridor, up a steep flight of equally narrow stairs. The hall stretches on through murky half-light. At its end, a rim of light edges a plain door. I press it open, find a young girl in a small, cramped bedroom. She has glossy brown hair and tanned skin and sits, her legs tucked beneath her, on a tall bed. Although she is a stranger to me, I know, looking at her, that she is the one — the thief. She has stolen my purse.
A wave of anger boils up, shivering through me till I tremble. Who does she think she is? To steal from me? Steal my identity? Yell at her. Threaten her. Pick up the phone there on the wall, pretend to dial the police, fingers barely touching the keypad. Speak to the crackling, open line, explain the crime. (Hang up quickly when a man’s voice answers!)
But my implied threat has reached her. She is truly distressed, has risen to her knees on the bed, with hands clasped at her chest and fingers threaded in a gesture of pleading.
I insist she return my purse; at the very least, she must help me look for it. She nods frantic agreement while I describe it — olive green canvas with a peace sign patch stitched to its front. As I provide more detail, I feel a weight upon my shoulder, a pressure against my hip. Glancing down, I see the purse, my purse, slung across my chest from right shoulder to left hip. Completely baffled, I cannot understand how it has come to rest there when I have spent so much time hunting for it. When I look up again — to apologize, to call off the search — the girl has scurried away.