Twenty or so years ago when my boutique was located down the street at 245 Post, I had another branch in the lobby of the St. Francis hotel. The manager of this branch called me one day and he said there is a homeless man in the store who refuses to leave.
“I asked him to please leave,” my manager said. “But the man refused. He said he wants to personally speak to Shapur. In fact, he insists.”
I was busy at the time.
"What should we do?” my manager continued. "He doesn’t look well. He won’t leave. Should I call security? 911?"
This was certainly irregular. I thought for a moment and then told my manager to send the man to my main store, where I was at the time.
It wasn’t long after the call when the man entered my boutique. He was wearing a suit that seemed at one time quite nice, but was now tattered and dirty and many sizes too big. He carried with him a giant garbage bag bulging with different shapes—his belongings, I assumed.
"Are you Shapur?" the man asked.
"I am," I said, not sure what to expect.
"Are you yourself Shapur?"
"Yes that’s my name. What can I do for you?"
The man studied me a moment longer. He eventually seemed satisfied and walked slowly to where I was standing, the bag now at his feet. He dug through the bag a moment and finally removed a small box and held it out in front of me. The stench was quite strong.
"I found it on the street," the man said. He opened the box as he said this and inside, staring up at me, was a pile of brilliant, glistening jewels.
"I found it on the street," he said again. "And here I see your name on it. I wanted to see you and give it back. To make sure it got to you."
I was speechless. We had recently shipped a parcel to a client that contained about $50 thousand worth of jewels and diamonds. The parcel was supposed to be in the mail, but here it was in the possession of a homeless man I’d never seen before. I couldn’t believe it.
I took the box and thanked him many times. I was grateful of course, though perhaps a little suspicious. I examined the pieces; there was nothing missing. But how had my jewels come into the possession of such an unlikely man? And what would he want?
"Here let me give you something," I said and pulled out my wallet.
"No. I don’t want money," he said. He didn’t even think about it.
"Nothing?" I couldn’t believe it. "I have some cash right here," I said again and started counting the bills.
He was now bent over his bag, rearranging its contents. "I said I don’t want anything."
"Let me give you $100 at least," I said. I held out the money, but he wouldn’t take it. Surely he was expecting some reward.
"Ok how about $50?"
This time, he seemed to consider my offer. But he also seemed annoyed and uncomfortable, as if I had brought up a sore subject.
This man could have kept the diamonds. He could have sold them at a fraction of their worth and still made thousands. Perhaps even $20,000. But here he was agitated at the mention of reward and even, it seemed, insulted by my insistence.
He would eventually accept the $50. I’ll never know what he was thinking exactly, but it seemed to me this was a principled man. It seemed I had breached this man’s code, or his dignity somehow.
And then perhaps he was completely crazy. How could a man, in desperation, refuse money?
I thanked him many more times, still not quite believing what had happened. I was in a daze almost. But the man had no time for explanations. He simply wished me a good day, swung his bag back over his shoulder and left. I would never see him again.