- Jan 9, 2004
"All my life, I tried to be honest," said Osman Chowdhury, a native of Bangladesh. "Today is no different."
But the 41-year-old cabbie from Queens did have a message: "I''m proud of what I did so that people know New York taxi drivers are honest."
What he did started on Monday evening, when he picked up the woman at a hotel in midtown Manhattan and drove her to an apartment building several blocks away. She gave him $20 to pay the fare and asked for $9 back.
Hours later, at about 10 p.m., three other passengers with luggage discovered the woman''s suitcase when Chowdhury popped the trunk open for them.
Chowdhury first drove to the building where he had dropped off the woman. But he had no idea in which of the many apartments she might be and didn''t want to cause a disruption by knocking on doors.
He took the suitcase to the Manhattan headquarters of the New York Taxi Workers Alliance, a drivers'' advocacy group to which he belongs. He and the alliance president looked inside and found two display cases with 31 diamond rings inside.
"I saw flashing, and I said, ''Oh my God! Diamonds!''" Chowdhury recalled. "I was shocked. I was trembling."
They also found a small luggage tag with a Texas telephone number they called -- the home of the woman''s mother in Dallas. Meanwhile, she called the number, too.
The woman, who said she was a jeweler, got back the gems on Monday when she arrived at the alliance office around midnight -- incredulous at her luck. She offered Chowdhury a reward -- a check for $100.
He said it never occurred to him to keep the diamonds.
"I''m not going to take someone else''s money or property to make me rich. I don''t want it that way," said the soft-spoken cabbie, who was a contractor in Bangladesh until he came to the United States 15 years ago.
He does not own a cab but rents one.
"I enjoy my life. I''m satisfied," said Chowdhury, who is single.
He didn''t even mind the meager tip.
"I think some people might be broke," he said. "Or they''re distracted."
The woman from Dallas asked that her name not be made public.