I boarded the bus, looking around for an unclaimed seat. There was one, on the left. I put down my backpack and was about to settle. Something was wrong. I reached for my wallet, which should be in the right back-pocket, because that’s where I tuck it. The pocket was empty. Had I put it in the backpack earlier? I zipped the bag open and looked. I could see the pen-pouch, the laptop adaptor cord, the flask, a couple of other pouches. The wallet was not there.
The bus would start in ten minutes, maybe less, along with the other schoolbuses that were lined up in the compound, the drivers and the attendants milling around them, students exiting the building, coming up to board their assigned transports. Other teachers who used this bus were already on board. I picked up my bag and walked to the door. I’ll need to let this one go. I had bigger things to worry about.
The wallet I was missing contained some cash, along with two bank cards. I did not have any other money on me. I had my phone, and through that I could access online payment portals, and my phone had enough charge to last me a couple of hours. And I had a fully-charged power-bank in my bag, just in case. But that was it. Without my wallet, I did not have access to any hard money.
I should have panicked, but I didn’t. It mildly surprised me even as I made my way back up the stairs to the fifth floor, where I worked. I could see why I was being calm and systematic. I had been spending the last couple of days reading a Sidney Sheldon thriller. For the first half of the book, the protagonist was hunting down his targets across two continents – with minimal leads and no support – one by one, one country at a time. Over the last fifty pages I had read, the protagonist was on the run from a dozen intelligence agencies, alone and running out of time. He was taking every step without any room for error, his mind alert, his thinking free from any anxieties or imaginings of failure. – My composure as I made my way up was no mystery. I was simply emotionally in tandem with the man I was reading about.
When was the last time I saw the wallet? I was in the restroom, taking it out and keeping it on the sill before unbuckling my belt. I must have forgotten it there. – What if it is not there? Who would take it? I was not sure if it was the wallet I had taken out and kept on the sill. Wasn’t it my phone? My phone in its brown leather casing? – I couldn’t remember.
I checked the restroom. There was no wallet.
I walked up the first corridor, towards the two rooms I had been in over the day. I did not remember handling or looking at my wallet when I was in those rooms, though. But I had to check, just in case. It was not a case of theft, it was just a case of misplacement. I had left the wallet somewhere. I looked in the first room, then in the next one. Nope. Nothing. I had already checked the computer desk at the main workstation, because I had stopped there in the morning to take some prints. There was nothing there either.
I made my way to my own room, the place where most of my stuff is kept, some of it inside my cupboard, some on my desk. If I cannot find the wallet, I thought, I would have to see the people at the bank and get both the cards blocked. And get them to issue fresh cards for me. I would need to take a day off. I entered my room, went up to the cupboard. My wallet wasn’t inside it. Someone could have found it and put it in my desk drawer, I thought as I pulled the drawer open. The usual stuff, pins, papers. No wallet.
There was no use looking around the school and asking the housekeeping staff; if they’d found it, they’d have brought it to me immediately, or I’d have received a call from the security guys. They hadn’t found it. There was nothing more to be done here for now. I climbed down, taking my phone out. I’d have to book an Ola or an Uber because taking a bus without any cash on me was out of the question. A cab could take me straight to my doorstep, and from there I’d have to plan my day for tomorrow. Two banks to visit, for a start.
I strode out of the building into the compound. The buses were still there. It hadn’t been ten minutes since I had gone back up. I spotted my bus and ran. As I took my seat, the first bus on the queue started rolling out of the gate. There was nothing for me to do for thirty minutes. I went back to my book.
I was on the 81% mark when the bus dropped me off by the road. From here, I’d hitchhike the rest of the way, which was about four kilometers. It was not a problem, it was something I did almost every day. I was thinking about something else. Had I brought my wallet to school at all? If I hadn’t seen it all day, and if it was my phone that I remembered taking out in the restroom, then had I left my wallet home? If I had left it home it’d be sitting right on the table, in my study-cum-bedroom, right where I had probably left it. Either that. Or tomorrow was going to be a busy day, but that was ok. People lose wallets all the time. It was not something beyond addressing. I would have to figure out a way to get some cash, maybe, before the new cards get activated. I could ask someone to give me some cash, which I’d pay back online immediately. It was going to be fine. No need to start thinking.
A bike stopped for me. I climbed on, thanking the man for stopping. He dropped me off in front of my housing society. I decided to have a light supper at a shop by the road. What’s the use of hurry, I thought. There’s nothing I can do today anyway. The wallet won’t disappear from my table if I get home fifteen minutes late. If it is there, that is. If it is there.
It was past five when I arrived at my building. Now it was only a matter of minutes, I thought as I walked to the lift. Seconds. I pressed the button and fished out the doorkeys. There was nothing to get worked up about. Stay in the moment. What I’d find out one minute later could wait for sixty seconds. No need to imagine possibilities.
I took off my socks, took off my shoes, and turned the key. Closing the door behind me, I slipped the backpack off my shoulders and entered my room.
The table was there on my right. On the table, lying against the desk calendar and a hardback book, was my wallet. I had forgotten to take it with me when I had left for work in the cold dark early morning.