Seventy-three-year-old George McNeilon selected his food in Value Mart more carefully than NASA chose its candidates for the space shuttle. Skim milk was $2.99, on sale from $3.49; white bread, 89 cents with a 10-cent discount; table salt, 99 cents, 20 cents off the regular price. Leaving the cashier, he estimated that he had saved 80 cents today. He was pleased that he had got good value for his money again.
At the exit, the chilly wind reminded him of his gloves. "Now where are they?" Not in the coat pockets. Not in the pants pockets. Not in the grocery bag either. He was sure he was wearing them when he entered the store. He clearly remembered thrusting them into the pocket of his coat. The worried man made a second thorough search of all his pockets, again including the grocery bag. Now he was sure they must have been dropped somewhere inside the store.
Old George had bought the black gloves at a 25% discount, for just $35.00, ten years ago. They were genuine lamb skin, soft and warm and very durable. Until then, he had worn cheaper man-made material that never lasted longer than three years. His impulsive decision to buy the expensive gloves turned out to be a good one, which even promoted his social status on the bus, as poorer passengers stared at him enviously for six months out of the year. He had taken care not to let a drop of water or rain touch his expensive gloves, so they looked like new. Losing this favourite possession was almost like losing a child to him.
Bad luck, he thought, to lose his expensive gloves on New Year's Eve.
George, calm on the outside but frantic on the inside, re-entered the store with long steps. He followed the same route he had walked before, starting at the bread counter, to the dairy section, the aisle where salt and sugar were placed, then the rest of the store. They were all open aisles and it did not take long to be convinced that the gloves were not in sight. After checking the forty-foot-long bread section, he quickened his pace through the two-hundred-foot aisle leading to the dairy products. There he even turned over egg boxes to see if the gloves had fallen in between. Several minutes of anxious searching turned out to be in vain. His heart grew heavier and he started to sweat as he entered aisle six. The salt and sugar were packed in white bags, and anything black could be spotted easily. No. His black gloves were gone. His sharp eyes could not have missed them.
He ran through all the other aisles, then all the way to the cashier, but there was nothing.
"Society has changed, people have changed", he murmured to himself. "Years ago, if somebody picked up something lost, they would give it back. Not any more!"
Yet he did not give up. He started from the bread section again. This time he focused on the baskets and gloves in other shoppers' hands. He would stare at anybody wearing black gloves to see if they looked like his. The first two ladies he met were gloveless. The third person he saw was a man who did wear gloves, but they were working gloves covered with paint stains. On his way to the dairy section, there was a glimmer of hope: he noticed a lady fifteen feet away wearing a pair of gloves as dark and expensive as his. He sped up and in three seconds was in front of her. He even said "Hi!". But when the surprised lady returned his greetings, his eyes dropped to the floor again, for the fingers of her gloves were just far too small for him.
Steps further on, he encountered a man who looked like a lawyer or a doctor, who was definitely wearing a pair of black leather gloves, but wouldn't it be embarrassing to ask, "Are you wearing my gloves?" On second thought, George decided that anybody who wanted to keep his gloves wouldn't be so foolish as to wear them right inside the store. So he started to look at people's bulging pockets instead, but before long, he found bulging pockets were too hard to detect. Most of them were stuffed with scarves, books, hats and caps , not necessarily gloves. "I am no detective," he admitted to himself, and headed dejectedly towards the exit.
On his way out, he went over to the cashier to ask if she had received any lost gloves, but she said no. Then he went to the manager's office to make the same inquiry. She asked him what colour they were, and when he said "black", there came another disappointing answer. Such a pair of expensive gloves, who would give them up? He took his time now, finally waddling out of the store.
It was freezing cold, perhaps zero degrees Fahrenheit. Without his warm gloves, he had to shrink his hands into his sleeves. It was only a seven-minute walk home, and when he was one house before his own door, he shivered so badly that a bus driver passing by made a special stop and offered to let him get on. Old George was too cold to say anything, and could only raise his trembling hand to make a gesture of thanks and refusal.
Back home, George was at a loss. In deep winter, he could not do without a pair of gloves. If he bought cheap ones again, he would have to replace them very soon. If he bought a new leather pair, they would cost fifty dollars now. He was very upset that people no longer returned things they found on the road.
After the holiday, poor George decided to buy another leather pair. Before boarding the subway, he stepped into Value Mart again to see if by any chance his gloves had been returned to the lost and found office. "What colour are they?" the woman in the office asked again. "Black," he gave the same answer. She looked into her drawer and drew out a pair of men's leather gloves. "Are they??"
"Yes! Those are mine!" George exclaimed, his eyes glowing with joy.