bob was a very nervous person, always worrying about something.
there were two things in particular he worried about.
the first was that life was not real. he constantly found little things, little discrepancies, that made him think the world was a dream and that he would wake up and find himself - where?
socks and handkerchiefs were almost the worst - every time he lost one - where could it have possibly gone? - he was sure the fabric of the "real world" was dissolving.
but the worst was at work , where pieces of paper would disappear - where?
there was no wind in the office - leaving him in terrified despair. sometimes he would stay after hours - with no overtime pay - desperately searching for a paper that had to - had to - be somewhere. the cleaning people, who spoke some language he didn't understand - spanish? russian? - never showed any interest or annoyance at him.
his closest call came one night when he stayed six hours after work on a friday and finally found a piece of paper with a phone number on it in a wastebasket he had already looked in eight times. he made his way to the subway almost sobbing with relief. he felt that this ordeal, since it had not destroyed him, had made him tougher. but just as he entered the subway it occurred to him - what if the paper had in fact disappeared - and then been put back? but this thought was too terrible to contemplate and he pushed it away.
but the second thing - the thing that frightened him most of all - was the thought of losing his wallet.
and then one evening it happened. he was almost at the subway - again, on a friday! - when he reached into his pocket and his wallet was gone.
although he checked his other pockets - without breathing - he knew right away it was no use - he always kept the wallet in his left back pocket.
for a moment he couldn't see - had he actually blacked out? he tried to pull himself together.
i can get through this, he told himself. i can do this. i only have to get through the weekend, until monday morning. he had a few dollars in a drawer in his apartment - his keys!!
he plunged his hand into his right side pocket where he always kept his keys - and they were there! it was going to be all right. he could buy some food and in any case he had enough peanut butter and crackers and milk to get through the weekend even if he hoarded the money.
when he got home he would call the credit card companies - he only had two credit cards - he had their numbers written down in a notebook that he kept in the same drawer as the money - but what if it wasn't there? he started to tremble and he forced himself to start walking. with luck he would be home in ninety minutes, the keys in his pocket would let him into the apartment building and his own apartment and the notebook with the credit card numbers would be in the drawer. all this, of course, if life were real.
i can do this, he repeated to himself.
on monday morning he would start recovering his i d. he would explain to his supervisor what had happened and that he had to make some personal calls. as a rule, he never made personal calls so he hoped she would cut him some slack.
maybe he could even get some one in personnel to help him. he would have to have the security people at the front desk call the office to let him in so he would have to tell them what had happened anyway. it would be embarrassing but maybe for the best.
thinking these things through made bob feel a little calmer. i can do it, he thought, it will make me stronger. life is real, we have to do these things. he realized that his heat was still pounding. then it hit him - what if a terrorist had his wallet and used his credit cards to buy -
"hey, mister -" he heard a voice behind him. "hey, mister -"
the voice came from a million miles away.
he turned and saw a teenage boy wearing a red jacket with a big letter "w" on it. a teenage girl with the same jacket was standing a little behind him. they both looked at bob curiously.