January 23, 2022 | Rome, Italy

Josephine

By | 2018-03-21T19:06:04+01:00 May 28th, 2015|"American Girl"|
Maybe best left alone.
A

grateful Josephine J.J. Jackson stretched out her arms to greet me. She sported a grey-haired Mohawk haircut complete with shaved sides and a spiky top. She stood no more than 5-foot-3. Six necklaces poured down her blouse.

Though I knew she was African-American and around 75 years old, she was not what I expected. Seeing me, she immediately claimed me as her personal blessing. “You are my guardian angel!” she shouted. “I prayed and God sent you. You don’t know it yet, but you’re going to be my friend forever!” She grabbed my arm and held fast.

“Oh God,” I shuddered. I wasn’t interested in sainthood, or even in a new friend. I was just doing a good deed.

I met Josephine by chance. One day, coming out of the DeKalb subway station in Brooklyn, I spotted a red quilted eyeglass case with a neck cord on a sidewalk otherwise littered with candy wrappers and windblown papers. It stopped me in my tracks. This clearly belonged to someone. I looked around quickly, hoping the owner might still be close by. I seemed to be to only one who even noticed it. When I opened the case, expecting glasses, I found a brand new smart phone instead.

But did I really want to get involved in trying to return it? Not really.

I considered my options as I held the Samsung in my hands, all the while wondering about the owner.

A traffic cop in the middle of the street seemed like the perfect answer. I’d just give the phone to him. The police probably dealt with lost items all the time. Then I imagined a box of phones languishing and forgotten in a police station basement. Who’d have time to track down individual owners?

I rolled the cool surface of the phone over in my hands and checked to see if I could access the “contacts” directory. It was strangely unlocked. I saw the last call was from a Viviane. With a simple touch I could let her know I had her friend’s phone. But did I really want the responsibility? No.

More out of curiosity than anything else, I finally hit redial. Within seconds I heard, “Hello Josephine.” It was Viviane. She told me the phone belonged to Josephine J.J. Jackson.

As luck would have it, Josephine lived in an apartment building only a block away. I returned the phone to the receptionist who insisted I leave my number. I agreed, glad the task was over. But it wasn’t.

A couple of hours later I heard Josephine’s voice in a long and ecstatic voicemail. After losing the phone, she’d prayed for its safe return. Now she wanted to get together to say thanks. I agreed, and a week later we met.

When we did, at a café, Josephine surprised me both with her style, and a gift. “I’m an artist,” she said. “I made this print 30 years ago when I lived on the Upper West Side. I used to have big art shows and even sold my work. I want you to have it. I even signed the back for you.”

I must admit it looked like little more than pencil scratches vaguely representing a water tower atop an apartment building. But I thanked her warmly. “We are going to be like sisters and I am going to see you all the time. I just know, because God sent you.”

I nodded silently, took the print, and said my goodbyes. The next day I received six texts from Josephine. One invited me to a dance performance. Another told me I was very popular with her Facebook friends. It was all too much for me.

God may work in mysterious ways, but what happened made me remember the source of my reluctance. Next time, I decided, I’d let someone else play Good Samaritan. I have blessings enough.

About the Author:

Madeline Klosterman wrote the "American Girl" column from 2008 through 2019.

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