‘I’ve got to get a new one,’ I say. ‘I can’t go on like this. It’s killing me.’
‘It’s very practical-looking.’ That’s Anne, seeing the positive; what friends are for.
On the rug between us stands my ugly battleship-grey, graphite, transporting-things box. The depressing beast of burden that I lugged around Europe for five years. It’s indestructible; it will never grow old and never die. Post-apocalypse, it will float away, lonely on the tide, forever unrecyclable.
‘You could cover it in stickers?’ offers Anne, with the chirpy upward intonation of a loyal childhood pal.
‘I could, except those stickers haven’t been invented yet.’
It’s a fair point, though. If I was more creative, I could transform, reimagine, repower it. Graffiti it. Even just paint it. Yellow, maybe. But that’s not going to happen. It’s gotta go.
Anne looks for the positive again. ‘It looks so reliable, solid, robust,’ she goes.
‘That’s the problem. It’s not who I am! I’m young, cool, unpredictable, original, indie. I’m nothing like that grey plastic box.’
I never liked it. And I didn’t choose it; it chose me.
I was working abroad, moving every year, and living out of a battered old rucksack. I needed something that wouldn’t disintegrate; something like a ship’s trunk in the olden days – to keep my belongings safe until the next leg of my voyage. The grey box made sense then. One day I was in some town with some guy. There was a sale. He bought one. I bought one. But that’s all ancient history.
‘Will you get a new one?’ Anne asks.
‘I haven’t found anything I like.’
‘Do you need one?’ asks Anne. ‘I mean, now you’re back home.’
‘Yeah, for holidays. I’m saving up.’
Everyone should have a cool bag, even if they never use it. Like an umbrella. Just in case. And they should get to choose, so it reflects who they are. Like with clothes or a haircut. Freedom of expression. It’s a human right.
Because it’s so humiliating - just when you’re reinventing yourself, moving on – to see that thing coming round on the luggage carrousel. And then walking it around town, like an ugly robot-dog. People notice. Oh, yes, they do. People judge you. Holden Caulfield was right – the nuns, all of that. He was out there, at peak finding-himself age. Exposed. He knew what was important - your luggage. People look.
‘Don’t worry, Anne. I’ll find one. There’ll be one for me out there, somewhere.’
We are quiet for a moment. Anne is biting her bottom lip, like she did during exams.
‘You’re sure you don’t want it?’ I ask.
‘It’s too big. I never go away long enough.’ Anne is as skint as me.
‘I’ll probably give it away, then. Just get rid.’ My hands are on my hips, which signals action. ‘Sod it. I’m going to take it now. Are you coming?’
At the charity shop Anne browses the clothes, while I lug the grey monster down the back. Some old-boy volunteer sees me coming.
He nods a quick hello, then straight down to business.
‘It looks empty,’ he says. Not disappointed, just matter-of-fact. ‘That’s a positive. And it’s good you’ve come with a friend. I worry about the ones on their own with a full case. You know?’
‘No, I don’t know,’ I say.
‘The accoutrements of a life.’ He waits.
‘A final audit, an accounting, the sum of what will be left to the world. Most people have a need for order. A prioritising and a reckoning.’
The guy looks like a psychoanalyst in his cardy, but he sounds more like a minister. He is right, though, about the prioritising. I remember the annual ritual of deciding what I could take, what I would have to leave before I left town for my next job: clothes, books, junk.
‘Luggage, baggage; it is important, don’t you think?’ he asks.
‘Big time, yeah, absolutely.’
‘The promise of new experiences.’ He’s off again. ‘Freedom. Time to explore the world and yourself. The prospect of adventure; signature events.’ Another pause. ‘Or a time to move on?’
‘Yeah, a time to move on. That’s me.’
The eulogy is over. I feel I should bury it now.
And I feel bad. My suitcase looks sad. It’s so ugly. I’m not going to give it a hug.
I just pat it. ‘Good luck, pal. No hard feelings.’
The old boy laughs at that. And, so do I.
Robert Scott lives in Edinburgh, Scotland, UK. He has short fiction in several magazines and a couple of anthologies. He’s on Twitter: https://twitter.com/RDScott9