Missing Person

St. Lawrence River
QUÉBEC, Canada
May 27, 2013

The smartphone was the newest model and a whole lot nicer than the old, secondhand one I carry. Why would anybody take it apart and strew the pieces up and down my block?

A light rain was falling as I walked home yesterday afternoon. About five minutes from my house I noticed something that hadn't been there when I left two hours prior: a cellphone lying in the grass along the sidewalk.

It was face-down and missing its back cover. Even before I picked it up I could see there was no battery inside, which I recognized was a good thing: it might have a better chance of remaining functional lying out in the rain without a battery inside.

I assumed the face would be cracked: why would anybody toss a functional phone? But, as I grasped it and turned it over I could tell that it was brand-new, a very recent model, and bore no visible damage. I slipped it into my coat pocket.

A couple minutes further down the path to my house I found the battery and a blue protective rubber casing lying next to each other in a neighbor's garden. I looked around for the last piece, the back cover, but it was nowhere to be seen.

I took the three items home and placed them atop the baseboard heater in my room. I searched on-line and found this was the latest, hottest offer from Samsung. When I stepped out again a couple hours later to go swimming at the campus gym I made a point to look around to see if I could find the back cover. I searched slowly along the sidewalk leading to Université Laval. I had nearly given up hope after walking beyond the places where I'd found the other parts of the phone. Finally, I found the back cover lying in the gutter next to the bike lane.

When I got back from my routine swimming laps at PEPS the first three items seemed sufficiently dried out to piece together with the backing I'd found in the road. I snapped everything shut, pressed the power button, and found that I was holding a perfectly functional, very nice smartphone.

There was a password locking the screen so I couldn't use the phone itself to place a call to figure out its number. So, I took the phone back apart, plucked the SIM card out, placed it into my own cellphone, connected my phone to my computer, then copied down the number that appeared when I opened up the software that synchronizes my phone's data. It was a Montréal area code. I called and left a message telling the owner that I'd found his phone.

Yesterday morning the phone rang. I answered:


"Well it's about time you picked up!", a woman's voice came down the line.

"Oh, I'm sorry. I'm not who you're expecting to call. I found this phone and am trying to figure out who the owner is," I said.

"Where did you find it?"

"Québec City."

"Québec City! Oh no... he said he was going there. We haven't heard from him for some days now."

"Maybe you don't need to worry," I tried to reassure the caller. "His bag probably got stolen. Whoever took it probably decided to chuck the cellphone out."

"No, no: my friend is schizophrenic. He's a really good guy. But he gets these episodes... "

I took down the address of the woman who called me and promised to mail the phone to her in Montréal the next day.

There were still a few hours before my afternoon appointment: meeting up with Annie at the Musee de la civilisation. We weren't meeting there to visit the exhibitions, but to just hang out somewhere different. I realized the last time I went to the museum that it wasn't neccessary to have a ticket to go to the upper-level cafe overlooking the St. Lawrence River. That would be the perfect place to while away a rainy afternoon over Anagrammes. We'd fixed the museum cafe as our meeting point long beforehand; I dashed off a quick text message asking Annie to bring her cellphone charger to our rendezvous if she hadn't already left home: her phone was the same brand as the one I found.

We sat down around a table overlooking the river. Before plugging the phone into a wall socket I showed Annie the reason I needed to borrow her charger.

"Nice phone!"

"Yes, nice. But, not mine."

I related the mysterious situation. Annie's immediate reaction was far different from mine:

"Shouldn't you call the police?"

"What, to report somebody's missing cellphone? I think it will actually be easier for both of us to get it back to him if I don't call the police."

"No, not for the phone. To file a missing person's report. Somebody who hasn't contacted his friends in however many days, who has a diagnosed history of schizophrenia, and who took apart his cellphone and threw it up and down your block out in your rain? He might need to be located."

"That's true. I hadn't thought of that. But, what kind of missing person's report could I file? 'Officer, I don't know the guy's name but somebody called me on this phone I found saying that the owner is schizophrenic and missing'," I said.

"I think it's better if I call the woman who called me earlier this morning back again, tomorrow. I'll see if there's any news before I send the phone to her address in Montréal, let alone file a missing person's report."

In the time it took to eat a salad (she) to eat a muffin (me) and to play one round of Anagrammes (the two of us, together) the found phone was fully charged. It didn't ring again over the rest of the time I held onto it.

The happy ending came just a couple hours ago. After class today, I called the woman in Montréal back. She said that her friend had been located and was hospitalized here in Québec City. Would I still be willing to send the phone to her address? Of course.

I just came back home from the post office. First-class postage to send a phone from Québec City to Montréal didn't cost all that much.

I feel that I've done my good deed for the day.