As our shared pint of goat cheese and cherry ice cream was turning into a puddle, Shannon and I attempted to analyze our bizarre encounter: Why had the woman taken a bus and not a taxi? Why didn’t she have a cellphone? Why did I let her use my phone? We laughed, writing it off as one of those New York experiences, but my mind was stuck on one thought: I was now the most recent point of contact.
I looked at the number I had dialed for her, which was from Boone, N.C. I imagined a meth lab hidden in the woods, run haplessly by the cast of “Deliverance.”
After 10 minutes, we agreed that the woman had arrived safely at her destination. Then, just as Shannon and I stood up, the persistent vibration of my phone rattled the metal park table. Above the number appeared the words I feared: Boone, N.C.
We stared at my phone as if it were a bomb that might detonate if either of us made a sudden move. Worst-case scenarios raced through my mind: What if the woman had taken off with the $100,000? What if someone had stolen the bags? What if she had hidden the money and said that I had stolen it? I envisioned her appearing at the edge of the park with some henchmen, pointing at me and shouting, “That’s him! That’s the guy who stole my bags!”
The optimistic part of me, though, imagined the opposite. Maybe he was calling to thank me — to say, “Hey, man, sorry I was a bit short with you earlier. It’s been a really stressful week. I just wanted to let you know that the drug money arrived safely, and we both appreciate your help.”
I walked Shannon to the subway, trying to hide the tension in my stomach. Then I powered down my phone to disable the location services. I felt vulnerable as I hung my head to keep a low profile on the normally breezy two-block walk to my apartment. At home I double-checked both locks and closed the blinds. I slept very little that night, bolting awake with each passing car and every distant siren.
Boone, N.C., never called again. As much as I want to say that, as a result of that incident, I’ll never let a stranger use my phone, that’s not the case. In New York, there’s a constant struggle between risk and reward, and it’s easy to either skeptically ignore or cynically refuse anyone who asks for anything. I’m used to it — most of us are. But maybe it’s better to have faith in people, even if it means a night of poor sleep, rattled nerves and melted ice cream.
Nabil Ayers is the author of the memoir “My Life in the Sunshine” and the president of the record label Beggars Group U.S.