We were sitting at an elevated table toward the western side of Bryant Park, a few quiet blocks over from Times Square.
Ivy and I wore casual clothes and discussed casual topics, because on Sunday, one can afford the time to be casual.
A random rainstorm had cleared the park of its many weekend inhabitants, but the decidedly stubborn sun had just made its second appearance of the day. We relaxed amongst the rays of lucky light, taking in a quintessential New York autumn afternoon.
“What are you doing the 20th?” Ivy asked. Her belongings were scattered on our green metal table; she fidgeted with her phone.
“I donno,” I said. “Let me look.” I reached for my own mobile, and flipped open an omnipresent force in my life: the iCal. Meanwhile, my bag rested an arms length away, propped in another chair.
In the midst of our weekend planning, a slow moving woman passed near our table. She wasn’t old, but probably older than us, wearing orange flips-flops and a blue hoodie. I might have pegged her as homeless, but then it’s truly impossible to tell at times.
Either way, she slowly (very slowly) walked over to the chair where my bag lay. Immediately my senses were heightened, and I considered what this woman was contemplating. Was she about to say something? People talk to you all the time in parks. But no… she tilted her head a tiny bit, and slowly grasped the top of my bag.
It was almost as if she were asking permission.
“May I…?” her eyes questioned.
“May I…?” her eyes questioned.
No. You may not.
“That’s mine,” I replied matter-of-factly. Then I angled my head to match her own and snatched the bag away from her hands. She gave a subtle nod, and then looked calculatingly at my friend.
Things seemed as if they were about to get a whole lot less casual.
Ivy had a moral dilemma: If she reached for her items sitting on the table, it would obviously be an offensive gesture and the woman’s prerogative was not yet solidified. Maybe she was confused? Ivy stared at the woman, but didn’t make any moves to relocate her phone, credit card, keys, etc.
The woman’s hand jutted forth at a pace much faster than her previous attempt in grabbing my backpack. Her fingers stretched across the table, clutching for Ivy’s possessions.
“JESUS CHRI--!!” Ivy yelped, scrambling toward her coveted items. She scooped up everything in one quick move, and then glared at the woman.
Nope. Not casual.
In the midst of their scuffle, a Louis Vuitton wallet had flown from the woman’s sleeve and landed unceremoniously on the table. Our uninvited visitor suddenly forgot about future spoils, and reclaimed what was hers. (Although, let’s be honest… that wallet wasn't hers.)
And now it was awkward. She stared at us, particularly at Ivy, as if waiting for something to happen. I had not a dollar on me, or even a piece of gum. Only my computer, empty wallet, cell phone, and personal space were hers for the taking.
“We don’t have anything,” I said, not with anger but with certainty. Ivy looked at me with the “I-can’t-believe-this-is-happening” face, her eyes bulging out of their sockets.
The woman accepted our words with another subtle nod. She and I? We had come to a mutual understanding: Neither of us had much.
So she walked away.
While of course I had sympathy for this odd woman, I was also struck by the sheer irony of nearly being robbed. And of all places! After every possible dangerous spot I’ve inhabited, freaking Times Square is always the worst! (That’s your lesson for the day, folks.)
“It's so funny to almost get robbed in broad daylight at the speed of a snail,” Ivy said as she stuffed her items away. We laughed and laughed at the sheer oddity of it all.
But then, this is New York. Everything is slightly ironic, a wee bit contrite, and certainly absurd. Yet even here, sometimes all we need are a few words from a stranger to ensure that we’re still alive.
So I wish I’d said a little something more.
[Editor’s note: Despite my conflicting inner thoughts, this "attempted robbery" was pretty awesomely hilarious. If only you could have seen our stunned faces... ]