“Goodbye sir. Thank you for travelling United International. Have a nice day.”
Martin Kaminski smiled politely at the hostess and stepped through the door of the plane, through the ribbed connection-way and onto the sticky neutral carpet that led into the arrivals lounge.
He felt a vague sense of incompletion. As if he had forgotten something, though he knew he hadn’t. He had everything with him: a raincoat over his arm, a plastic carrier that contained the cigars for his brother Robert and the two bottles of expensive French perfume, one for Robert’s wife Sarah, and one for his own wife Julia.
At the desk he showed his passport and exchanged smiles and thanks with the official.
At the next desk, a young woman politely asked to look into his plastic carrier and Martin was happy to oblige. She parted the packages with hands swathed in thin-film gloves.
“Ooh! I love that perfume!” she smiled. He smiled back.
“Don’t all women? One’s for my wife, the other for my sister-in-law.”
“I’m sure they’ll be very happy.”
“Hope so! Thanks a lot.”
“Have a nice day.”
Martin moved on, still smiling. People were so friendly, so welcoming. It was good to be back.
But he halted in the lounge, watching as his fellow arrivals were greeted by loved ones with hugs and kisses, or by smartly dressed young men holding placards that said things like ‘Mr & Mrs Yushi’ or ‘Bradford party from Des Moines’.
Again Martin was aware of that strange sensation of something not quite right. He bit his lip, looking around him, trying to decide what to do.
There was a coffee shop, not too busy at the moment. Martin walked over, draped his coat and plastic bag on a chair at an empty table and stepped up to the counter to place his order.
No sooner had he sat down, however, than he heard his name called over the PA. He was wanted at the information desk. Puzzled, he got to his feet. At that moment, the smiling barista came over with his latte. Martin explained and the barista nodded.
“That’s okay. You go see what they want, and I’ll leave your latte here for when you come back. I can keep an eye on your stuff from the counter, save you taking it with you.”
Martin thanked her profusely, retrieved his passport, phone and wallet from his raincoat pocket, and walked across the concourse in the direction of the huge sign offering ‘Information’.
It was almost a minute before the clerk was free, having shown an elderly couple how to find their car using a map of the car park.
Martin smiled. “Hello. My name is Martin Kaminski. I heard the message.”
“Oh yes, Mr Kaminski. Thank you for responding so quickly. Um – do you have any ID with you?”
“Yes.” Martin held out his passport. The clerk glanced at it, handed it back. He gave Martin a grin.
“Forgotten something, sir?”
“I’m not sure. Maybe. Why?”
The clerk, built like a body-builder trying out for a new action movie, bent and hauled a massive suitcase out from under the counter. He dragged it around the side and did a ‘hey presto’ wave of the hand. He gave Martin a huge grin.
“Ring any bells yet?”
Martin couldn’t help smiling. He shook his head.
“Sorry, that’s not mine.”
“Well, it has your name on it.” The clerk flipped the tag to show MARTIN KAMINSKI written in black capitals. Martin shook his head.
“That’s very strange. There must be a mistake. I didn’t have any luggage with me today.”
“But sir, it has your name on the tag!”
“I can see that, but I’m telling you this is not mine.”
“You have just arrived from Paris?”
“On flight CG772?”
“And you are Martin Kaminski?”
“Then this is your luggage, sir.”
An elderly woman with extreme-blonde hair and a permatan butted in.
“Excuse me, I really need to know where the first aid is, my husband is sick and we left his medication on the airplane.”
She indicated an old man in red chinos and a nautical shirt. He leaned on a walking stick, grey-faced and wheezing.
“Oh my God!” the clerk exclaimed. He rushed over to usher the man into the desk chair and immediately began dialling whilst telling the elderly pair over his shoulder the doctor would be there right away.
The woman began to unbutton her husband’s collar and loosen his belt, telling him in a high scratchy voice not to worry, the medics were on their way. He told her he had heard, he wasn’t deaf, and told her to stop fussing.
Martin was forgotten. He looked at the suitcase. He thought about his coffee. With great difficulty he hauled the suitcase over to the café and sat down to his rapidly cooling latte.
What should he do? He sipped the latte. It was still warm, but not so warm as he would have liked.
He thought for a moment. He still had that nagging feeling, that forgotten-something sensation still nagging away at the back of his mind. And now he was annoyed and puzzled too.
He checked the tag again. Yes. It still had his name in bold print. No address, just the flight number.
It seemed unlikely that there could have been another man with the same name travelling on the same flight. But the tag…
Martin finished his drink. He continued to think, and eventually he came to a decision. The suitcase was on wheels but it was still so heavy and hard to manoeuvre. What could be in this thing? It felt like gold bars or a ton of books. He set off across the concourse once more. Halfway over, he was forced to re-evaluate his plan – the same man was still on duty at the information desk, and besides that, there were at least half a dozen people waiting to speak to him.
Martin looked around. He spotted the United International desk, so he headed for that. He was feeling the strain of hauling the heavy suitcase around. If anything, it seemed to be getting heavier. He had to get himself into shape before his blood pressure hit the roof.
A bored-looking, uniformed clerk looked up. He didn’t speak, just raised an eyebrow.
“I’ve got this suitcase,” Martin began.
“Excellent. I’m very glad for you. You have a nice day, now.” The clerk turned away to look at his computer screen. Martin moved to stand in front of the man again.
“No, you don’t understand. It’s not mine.”
“Not yours? Did you take it in mistake for your own? Or did you find it?”
“Well, no, actually the clerk at the information desk gave it to me.”
“Why would he do that?”
“Because it has my name on it. But…”
“So it is yours?”
“But you just said it has your name on it.”
“Yes, but there’s been a mistake, it’s not mine.”
“You’ve been given someone else’s luggage?”
“Yes, I think so.”
“So they have taken yours by mistake?”
“No, I didn’t have any luggage.”
The clerk gave him a strange look. Clearly he thought this guy with the suitcase was drunk or something. The clerk came round the desk to take a look at the suitcase. He glanced at the tag.
“It says Martin Kaminski. Off flight CG772.”
“Are you Mr Kaminski?”
“Do you have any ID with you, Mr Kaminski?”
Feeling like everything was going in circles, Martin reached into his pocket for his passport. He wasn’t surprised to see his hand shaking as he held it out to the clerk.
“It says here you are Martin Kaminski,” said the clerk. There was a hint of accusation in his voice.
“Yes, I told you…”
“Then this is your luggage.”
“No, it’s not…”
“It has your name on the tag.”
Martin was in danger of losing his temper. He shoved his clenched fists into his trouser pockets and forced himself to calm down. He spoke quietly and clearly.
“Yes, I told you. But I didn’t bring any luggage with me.”
“You went all the way to…” the clerk checked the tag again “…Paris, France and back with no luggage?”
“That’s right. Look, I can explain…” Martin began, but the clerk had waved an arm at a security guard fifty feet away. The guard spoke into his radio and he and two others began to close in on the counter.
Martin felt alarmed.
“Look, I haven’t done anything wrong. I’ve been given this suitcase, and it isn’t mine and I’m trying to give it back so you can make sure it gets back to its rightful owner.”
“And this isn’t your suitcase?” the security guard asked.
“No, for the hundredth time, this is not my suitcase!”
“Easy sir, there’s no need to be aggressive,” the security guard told him, placing a hand on Martin’s chest. For a second, Martin was going to slap the hand away and plant his fist in the centre of the guard’s face, but he took a calming breath and forced a smile.
“Sorry. I’m a little tired, I guess.”
“But it has his name on the tag,” the clerk pointed out. The four of them exchanged a look, eyebrows raised. One man nudged the suitcase.
Another guard stepped forward.
“Sir, would you please open the suitcase.”
Martin couldn’t believe it. Maybe he should just walk away and leave them to it. His wife would be waiting out front. He passed a shaking hand over his forehead.
“Look,” he began, but got no further.
“Just open it, please, sir.”
The security guards all took a step forward, the clerk a step back. Martin lost his temper now. He began pulling items out of his pockets and slamming them down on the counter-top.
“Okay! Okay! If it will make you happy, I’ll turn out my pockets and you’ll see that there is no key, because as I keep telling you, this suitcase is not mine!”
There was a key. It lay there glinting in the light, between his wallet and his neatly folded handkerchief. Martin stared.
“Well, I…how did that get there?”
“Just open the case, Mr Kaminski.” The security guard nearest drew out his nightstick, but Martin hardly noticed. He picked up the key and with trembling fingers, pushed it into the lock and turned it. Then he turned the key in the second lock and without thinking about it pocketed the key, and one of the guards lay the case down on its side and flipped the catches. The lid bounced up.
Martin stared into his own sightless blue eyes.
Nothing happened for five seconds. Then whilst one guard felt for a pulse, the other two wrestled Martin to the ground and cuffed his hands behind his back. Somewhere nearby a lady screamed and a guard told the clerk to call the emergency services. Another guard, satisfied Martin was going nowhere, spoke into his radio.
After a moment, a guard spoke to Martin.
“Do you mind telling me, Mr Kaminski, just who is that in your suitcase?”
Martin shook his head as best he could from his position on the ground. He thought he was going to be sick. His head was swimming and he could hear his own heart pounding in his ears.
“I told you, it’s not my…”
“Oh that’s right. It’s not your suitcase. I forgot you said that,” the guard’s voice dripped with sarcasm. “Well then I guess we’ll have this little misunderstanding cleared up in no time.”
Martin looked past the guard’s legs.
His own hair, his own blue eyes, his nose, his mouth, his chin, his clothes, inside the suitcase, all neatly folded. Martin Kaminski.