Aren’t we all cursed when we are named? Cursed, because each time our names roll out of our lips, impressions are formed, assumptions are made and judgments are drawn. Our names prophesize our destiny. Our name, our first imprecation.
This story will not reveal my name and, yet by the end of it, you will know who I am. You may have come across me, surely. A colleague or a neighbour, perhaps. Someone in the crowd whom you heard being called out and immediately slunk away to avoid trouble.
The name that turned my happiest day into a nightmare. I had returned home after working for two years in a strange land. How my eyes had stung and the skin bristled when I saw patches of green, far below the clouds. My home.
My father would be a proud man, today. His only son, working in Dubai as a driver had come home for a visit. My mother would never let me out of her sight for the next few weeks. I was her miracle child born after several miscarriages and had never been away from her for this long.
She continued to stare at the monitor in front of her. Exasperated, I looked around the airline counter where I had been waiting for an hour now. It was late in the night and apart from a few passengers and taxi drivers, it was deserted. My patience was wearing out. Tomorrow was my father’s birthday and we planned to spend the day together. But, here I was fifty kilometers away from home, stranded outside the airport terminal. My father’s advice to be compliant rang in my ears.
“Appear as much unthreatening and yielding as possible. We people will be in trouble at the slightest of provocation. Don’t try to be right, when you can afford to be quiet.”
“And what was your complaint, sir?”
This was the third time I was explaining my predicament, each time to a different person. “I picked wrong baggage from belt. By mistake only. It is not mine. My suitcase, same colour, same company. But different.”
“You flew with us in SC9845?”
“I see you have handed over the mixed-up suitcase and filled in your details. My colleague has already noted down your mobile number. Please wait, sir. I’ll see what can be done.”
The preceding week had been hectic and my four-hour flight in a cramped seat was far from comfortable. And now I had shuttled back a good distance, after realizing that I had taken someone’s suitcase by mistake. Was that why I raised my voice?
“Look, I am waiting for long time. I pick up someone luggage by mistake. I am sorry. But you people are not doing much. I come quickly from home when I know the mistake. Please, hurry up. I not even see my maa properly after two years.”
It could have looked like an unkempt man in cheap capris screaming at a helpless lady because a CISF jawan manning the security check approached me with a stern face.
“What happened?” he asked the lady.
“The gentleman here had taken away someone’s suitcase by mistake and now he is hassling us to get his suitcase back.”
My explanations dried up in my throat when he shushed me with an authoritative flip of his hands and commanded me to show my boarding pass and passport. He then caught my elbow and directed me away from the airline counter. Refusing to budge, I said I would not leave without my suitcase. Perhaps it was not a good decision. I did not realize then that somebody had been watching this spectacle from a distance, a police inspector attached to the airport substation. He strode towards us, a twisted grin on his face.
“We will take care of this nuisance. Don’t worry,” he said to the jawan, and looking at me, he ordered, “Get into the vehicle.”
My heart began to beat faster and I tried to move away from him, clutching the passport that the jawan had handed over to me. The policeman wrenched the passport out of my grip and gave it a look. I saw a glint of frustration when he read my name. “Just as I suspected,” he mumbled and flipped the pages.
“Oh, Dubai return? Is that why you are acting all haughty? Let us show our hospitality for the Dubai-return macha here,” he winked at the constable who had now joined him.
A whiff of alcohol explained his behavior and as I stepped away from him crinkling my nose, he caught my T-Shirt and dragged me to the waiting vehicle.
“So now you are offended by my smell? Aren’t you Dubai-returns always smelling of cheap perfume and yet you scrunch your nose at me? Get into the vehicle before I break your royal nose, nawab.” the inspector threatened.
I tried telling myself that it was nothing but a misunderstanding as I climbed into the vehicle. Soon I would be on my way home with my suitcase.
However, an hour later, I was still at the station cowering, staring at the wall as the inspector went about his work. My last meal had been taken several hours ago and my exhausted sleep-deprived body was giving up. I tried to slip into one of the chairs, but an intimidating look cast in my direction made me stop. I realized I was shaking.
“So what did you loot from the suitcase you took?”
The inspector’s question froze my blood.
“No, Sir. I am honorable famil….”
“Rascal, speak up in Tamil. Don’t I know the kind of school you would have attended? I can make you holler for your mother in Tamil if I put my mind to it.”
My language instantly swicthed.
“It was a genuine mistake, sir. I took the suitcase in a hurry. That’s all.”
“You want me to believe that? You think I am a fool? Now tell the truth.”
“I work very hard in Dubai, sir. Sometimes, 20-hour shifts to send money to my old parents. Wallahi, I would never steal.” I tried to appeal to his sympathy. “I have a gold strap watch in the suitcase. All hard-earned money, sir. That is why I was worried. I am sorry.”
“You filthy rat! Does money give you the right to misbehave with a lady at the counter? Mannerless bastard! The problem is that you, buggers get away with anything by making a drama about being discriminated against and all?”
“But I did n….”
“Shut up. One more word and I will shove the baton up your hole. Perumal, put him in the last room. I don’t want to see his face for some time.”
The constable hesitated, “The last room has not been cleaned since that…”
“So what? That will teach this prick a lesson about crinkling his nose at a policeman.”
The room smelt dank. The stench of urine assaulted my nose every time I took in air. Squatting at the far end of the room, I leaned against the wall, hugging my knees to my chest.
My thoughts wandered. Was my father pacing the tiny apartment, worried about the son who said he would be back in a couple of hours? Would my mother be waiting for my return to have dinner together?
I am falling through the abyss…somebody help, I scream but I am mute….my limbs refuse to move…I can’t breathe…somebody help me….somebody help me…
The constable shook me awake, “The inspector is calling you.”
I tried to get up but my legs felt numb. Steadying myself with difficulty, I staggered towards the other room.
“They want you at the airline counter. You come here and report to me after that. You understand?” the Inspector glowered, and turning to the constable he said, “Go along with this cretin. He might give us a slip.”
I hobbled slowly towards the terminal building which was at least half a kilometer away. Looking at how pale I was, the constable made me sit on the pavement while he got me some tea.
“The guy is a jerk. That is when he is not drunk. If he drinks, then he becomes an unrestrained monster. He particularly picks on your people and gives them a hard time. I knew he would do that the minute he saw your name in the passport. Just don’t talk back and remain obliging. He might let you go.”
The constable had tried to be helpful, but the information only fueled my anxiety.
At the counter, the prim lady was now replaced by another gentleman. I learned my suitcase had been returned. After the formalities, it was handed over to me. When I was about to leave, I heard someone calling out to me from the counter.
“Sir, sir…..” It was the prim lady.
“I am …..very sorry,” she said. I understood she was indeed sorry. A resigned smile was all that I could manage as I turned to trudge back towards the station.
At the station, the inspector welcomed me with scorn. “Well, well …looks like our Dubai maccha is back with his treasure.”
“Leave the suitcase open on the desk,” he ordered
He rummaged through my belongings with his baton. “Lemme have a look at the suitcase that is making you so restless.” After noticing that I had nothing in it except cheap trinkets, he spat on the floor in irritation.
“Did you not say there was a watch or something?” he screwed his eyes at me.
A lump in my throat came out as a whimper as I reluctantly fished out the watch and handed it over to the inspector. He was still unhappy.
“You did not get anything from duty-free?” he said inspecting the watch.
“I don’t drink.” I regretted my answer immediately.
“Oh! So you just pass your time marrying many wives and planting bombs, eh?” he said, putting away the watch in his drawer.
I wanted to believe that I was crying because I was exhausted. And, the tear wouldn’t stop rolling. My sobs soon threatened to become a howl. The inspector looked at me with disgust, as if my tears were as revolting as my person. He took the watch out and threw it on the table.
“Get your dirty self out of here before I change my mind.”
I hurriedly packed my suitcase and did not forget to thank the inspector before I left.
As I stepped out of the station, I felt shame grating my nerves. Would it have been different if I had a different name on the passport? I couldn’t help but wonder. Was it not enough that I had been bullied in school? Was it is not enough that I was called a terrorist on the roads? Was is not enough that I had to quit my job in this country, because some customers had insisted on changing their ride, when they saw my name as their driver? My dignity had to face newer lows every day. Now, I was crying without restraint. A grown man, hurt and helpless.
The only silver lining of this dark day was that my suitcase and its contents were safe.
The sun was creeping up the eastern sky when my abba found me dragging my feet towards the taxi station. He had come to the airport looking for me.
“What happened?” he asked, protectively bundling me into the taxi he had come in.
He looked at my face and just like that he knew what had happened during the last few hours. He knew there would be no injuries, nothing external at least. He knew the bleed was from something else that was shattered beyond repair. Neither of us spoke for a long time and it was understood we would not talk about it to my mother.
My eyes finally dried up and I tried to be cheerful, “Abba, I got you a gold strap watch for your birthday.”
“Of course,” said the frail 70-year-old, drying up his own rheumy eyes.
And we pretended to carry on with life.
Team: Chekhov Guns
Prompt: The MC comes home from the airport to realize that they picked up the wrong baggage. What follows this incident?
This is an entry in ArtoonsInn ArttrA-5 hosted at Writers Room.
This ArttrA is sponsored by Tanima Das Mitra, Claws Club Member – ArtoonsInn, and hosted by the Watchers of ArtoonsInn.
Cover Photo By Sasha Yudaev
Get a Free website and 1-month free hosting from ArtoonsInn Geeks Room during ArttrA. No technical knowledge required. Click here to talk to the Builders at The Geeks Room.