'Lost and Found' by Wester Wagenaar

Lost and Found

The central location of the Lost and Found ensures a continuous stream of forgotten items. Scarves, gloves and umbrellas are golden oldies; wallets, keys, and telephones are commonalities; laptops, dentures and walking canes are rarities. And then there's the stuff Satoshi brings in, the one person who doesn't abide by the unwritten rules of the Lost and Found.

Satoshi is my most loyal patron. Every morning when I put on my uniform and get to work, I look forward to his arrival and his drop-off – one item each day. Yet, today, as I stir my vending machine latte even after the milk and coffee have become indistinguishable from one another, my eyes keep bouncing to the clock on the wall. Four o’clock. Satoshi is late.

You see, Satoshi is a punctual man. I don’t know if he wears a watch underneath his long-sleeved, white turtleneck sweater, but he never fails to visit at five past ten – during the quiet slot sandwiched between breakfast and lunch – or at five to four – before most employees are allowed to leave their work duties. Satoshi’s visits evade the daily rushes, one more reason why I’ve quietly grown fond of him over the months.

Most people drop off the objects they find only when the station is busiest, turning their action into a public display of good-will. To them, the Lost and Found resembles a karma well. They do not stuff the non-monetary object in their backpack, but neither do they track down the owner to return their property. They just drop it off here and that’s already enough. To them, it doesn’t really matter whether the rightful owner recovers said item. They’ve done good, now they can gloat about it. Without exception, they leave my booth, straighten their backs and swivel their heads, checking to see whether passers-by have picked up on their good deed.  

I remember how Satoshi entered one day, his frizzy black hair almost completely covering his eyes, a glance directed at his feet rather than me. I must have worn a trained smile at the time. His feet remained pointed inwards as he stood there, motionless, unresponsive to my practiced ‘how can I help you?’ He slid his backpack off his shoulders and, beneath the counter and just out of my sight, he rummaged. Raising himself, with a thud and a hollow clang, he dropped the object on the counter. Before I could take a proper look, he disappeared into the maze of the underground station, taking long strides, his chin still tipped to the floor. In front of me lay a slow cooker.

When on the fifth consecutive day he dropped off a Cookie Monster toaster, I discarded the phrases I’d been trained to use and disrupted his usual dart to the exit. I had thought of a quirky remark the day before, in case he showed up again, but ended up blurting out something else entirely.

            ‘Cookies?’

I felt like an idiot.

To my surprise, he responded, with a voice much lower than I had anticipated. He kept his vowels within his mouth, mumbling rather than voicing his words.

            ‘I prefer bread over pastries.’

            ‘Where’d you find it?’

            ‘Long story.’

            ‘Care to tell me?’

And he did. He told me, slow and nearly inaudible at first, how he had sat down at the park five minutes from here. Opposite him was a sausage stand, stationed next to another bench. On it sat an old man, cross-legged, tearing apart bread and feeding the crumbs to the birds. Satoshi noticed the man wasn’t clenching stale bread, but a piece of brown toast, the outlines of Sesame Street’s Cookie Monster burnt on it, freshly popped from the blue toaster at his elbow. Satoshi’s eyes followed the toaster’s cord and found it discreetly plugged into the sausage stand, the cord of the grill hanging limply beside it. It took two full rounds of toasting before the vendor discovered his sausages weren’t shifting from their raw pink and he chased away the elderly feeder of birds. The Cookie Monster toaster was left behind, forgotten, on the bench.

            I tried hard to stifle a laugh because I didn’t want to scare him off. ‘What’s your name?’

            ‘Satoshi.’

            ‘Mine’s Rose.’

Every subsequent day, Satoshi’s items came with a story: a colourful potted plant left in a sandbox to soak up sunrays; a canvas stuck in-between two vending machines so tightly, that when Satoshi tried pulling it out, the top layer of the artwork ripped off, revealing some still life of grapes underneath; a full-length mirror a man forgot at a nearby bus station, only when discovering his twin wasn’t sitting beside him on the bus, that he’d lost his brother. Each day, looking through the cased opening behind the counter, Satoshi’s eyes remained fixed on the objects he had delivered, and whenever he finished his stories, he lifted his head and a thin, slanted smile appeared on his face, as if to say he loved what I had done with the place. 

I look at my booth differently since Satoshi started visiting. His things have started piling up, but they are now objects that seem to belong here; imbued with the memory of anecdotes, they stopped feeling foreign to me. Meanwhile, the rest is junk waiting to be retrieved. About half of the owners of delivered items do indeed drop by and collect their stuff, the rest I throw away after the standard period of a month. Satoshi’s items, however, remain in the booth with me.

I never told Satoshi I understand what he is doing, pondering instead how far he would take this. I listen to his stories, carefully, as if the truth is to be found in the pretence, in the breadcrumbs of the Cookie Monster toaster, behind the paper that covers the still life. I feel that with every item Satoshi brings to the Lost and Found, I become better equipped to understand him. When he dropped off a guitar with broken E strings, I wondered whether he stopped playing after the strings snapped. When he delivered a set of used crockery, I wondered whether he was eating from plastic plates and cups at home. When he brought an expensive-looking make-up kit, I wondered whether it once belonged to a girlfriend of his, or whether he performs in a theatre group at night. Satoshi’s stoic face never confirmed nor dismissed any of my tacit guesses.

I turn to the clock yet again. Twenty-seven past four. The hope I felt before gives way to a sense of betrayal, and then morphs into the fear that perhaps something has happened to Satoshi.

To calm my mind, I walk past the shelves of labelled cardboard boxes and through the doorless opening to the back. The room has never been wide, but it feels smaller than ever. I sidle alongside a wooden nightstand, careful not to knock over a pile of bowls and dishes, and reach a clearing with a stool in its centre. As I sit down, facing potted houseplants and a floor lamp with a swooped base and a metallic pull-chain, I feel comforted. The flora and floor lamp are Satoshi’s, of course. The same goes for every piece of artwork, kitchenware and book, each item carefully stacked or placed on shelves. Next to the blue Cookie Monster toaster, I notice the ironing board, the cover a Hawaiian print, and instantly remember its sad tale Satoshi shared. I decide to put it against the full-length mirror where it belongs. The toaster I lean against the colourful potted plant, before sitting again, allowing myself to calm down.

A loud clattering from the entrance of the Lost and Found makes me shoot up from the stool. I scuttle back, rushing over to the counter after passing Satoshi’s belongings. A cold gust whips and twists my hair as I step through the opening. I find the back of a hunched man, his arms almost touching the floor while hauling in something massive. The man seizes his grunts of effort as he drops the rectangular object and turns around.

It’s Satoshi, wearing an apologetic smile. He tries to stand straight, but the gesture is offset by flushed cheeks, continuous panting, and sweat stains round his armpits. He sidesteps, revealing what’s holding the door open: a two-seater brown leather sofa.

            As always, Satoshi directs his gaze to the room in the back, but the usual smile does not appear on his face. I am distracted however, by his pyjama pants and the toiletry bag perched on the couch. My hands grip my side of the countertop and I can’t help but look away – Lost and Found, the mirrored text on the window reads. I feel deflated, guilt lumped at the bottom of my stomach. I slowly swivel my head back to Satoshi and find that, for the first time, he stares at me directly. When I meet his eyes, they confirm my suspicion.  

'Lost and Found' by Wester Wagenaar appears in issue 20 of Gutter Magazine. You can subscribe here.