I was sitting in a storefront on the coldest night so far this year, light snow coming down, waiting for a Chinatown bus to New York that was already a half-hour late. Not where you'd expect to buy an iPhone, but...
The only other guy in the place was an older dude in a torn coat who kept bumming my cigarettes. All the shops around were closed. I was thinking about how good a hot chocolate would taste, and trying ignore the older guy talking way too loud on his PTT Nextel.
"Yeah," I heard him say, "ask her if she got a iPod charger. I got a phone—one of them iPod phones—somebody gave me. Try to get some money for it. A hundred dollars, some shit. These things go for I don't know how much—six, seven hundred. I better get two hundred dollars, real talk."
Now, I got the first iPhone at launch (and hacked it to work in Canada, where I live), traded up for the 3G when it came out, and then the 3GS—but then I started school, and in the first month somebody stole it while I was asleep at the library. I was locked into a contract, and there was no way I could pay to get another one at full price.
So I got another smartphone, which I pretended was better (it's more efficient and businesslike! Less of a toy!) and felt secretly bummed out every time another one of my friends got a new iPhone. And when the 4 came out this year, I was still on my same shitty contract, still a student, still broke, and just kept replacing the keyboard and trackball on my phone.
So I had to say something: "Hey, you're selling an iPhone?"
Breeeep "Hang on," he said into the Nextel. "Yeah, I got an iPhone. You got two hundred dollars?"
I said I probably did, and he handed me the phone. There it was: what looked like a brand-new iPhone 4, and when I turned it on, the lockscreen lit up with a picture of a baby about six months old: a full head of blonde hair, sitting on the floor surrounded by toys and looking at the camera.
"Do you know this kid?" I asked the guy.
"Man, are you stupid or what?"
"Seems like whoever owns this phone would want it back, don't you think?"
"Probably! What's that got to do with me?"
"Well, seems like the nice thing to do would be to give it back." I scrolled through the contacts. "Look, here's a phone number we can try right here."
"Man, do I look like I'm in the position to be altruistic?" He seriously said that. "You want the phone, you can give me the money and do whatever the fuck you want with it. If not, no problem."
I looked in my wallet: $27, a Canadian five-dollar bill, and a coupon for a free pack of something called "snus". I told him to hang on a second, went outside, and ran to a sandwich shop a couple blocks away (it was the only thing open in the neighborhood) only to find that their ATM was broken.
Running back I saw that the bus had arrived. It was the last one of the night, and I knew it wouldn't wait long. I started running faster.
"Hey!" the old guy yelled—he was outside smoking one of my cigarettes—"Don't miss your bus!"
I stopped. "Uh, listen, I know you said you wanted $200 for the phone, but is there any chance you'd take $27?"
"Yeah!!" He said it like it was the best thing he'd heard all night.
I gave him the money, he gave me the phone, and I started running again. "Hang on," he said, "gimme the rest of them Newports, too." I threw him the pack, and as I caught the bus I heard him shout, "Now get the HELL out of here!"
We got on the Turnpike and headed north; everyone else on the bus had been riding since Baltimore, and they were all asleep with the lights out. In the dark I turned on the phone to look for the owner's number. Playing with it and looking at all the new apps and gadgets they'd added since I last had one to play with, I got a familiar feeling of delight, and then an awful thought: I'm not giving this back, am I?
And then somehow I opened the photo library, and the first picture was of a woman about my age, with just the first suggestions of a pregnant bump under her sweater. As I scrolled through the pictures, she got bigger and bigger, smiling at her husband behind the camera. And then there were pictures of him painting their nursery, and putting together a little wooden crib, and then her getting bigger and bigger still—
And then all at once, pictures of a bright hospital room in the summer afternoon sunshine, and a brand-new baby all red and crying in a bassinet, and the beaming mother holding him for the first time. And then the baby's first time in the crib I'd seen built, and his first clothes, and him crawling and eating and smiling, and finally that first photo I'd seen on the lockscreen.
I found the couple's home number and called it; the husband answered. He was really grateful and incredulous when I told him what happened.
He actually just came to my house to come get the phone a couple hours ago. It was weird; I felt like I knew him, and I wanted to ask after his family. But I didn't say anything except Merry Christmas.
I made him give me the $27 back, though. I'm not in the position to be altruistic.
Lucas Remick is Canadian. Probably explains why he's so nice.
Illustration by Contributing Illustrator Sam Spratt. Check out Sam's portfolio website and become a fan of his Facebook Artist's Page.