Occasionally, we like to think of ourselves as different from the others; that we, somehow, stand out in some noticeable way. Today, however, I am not assailed by the thought of being unique. This is because I recognise I am just one of the others. All doing the same thing. Milling about restlessly. Heads inclined.
A sense of anticipation in the way our bodies lean away from the perpendicular. Like we’re all a group of programmed robots. We are all waiting and everyone, without exception, is consumed by a desire to get out of this place.
You may need to go through the red channel, although you have nothing to declare
This place being the airport. And this particular place being the baggage carousel. Round and round it spins, not smoothly, noiselessly, but chunkily.
Everyone’s eyes are focused on the chute at the far end of the carousel. It is from here that, eventually, one suitcase then another and another begins to shoot forth, like projectiles from a mouth veiled by what look like curtain blinds. A myriad assorted colours, shapes, designs, materials. I have my eye out for something blue, dark blue.
In keeping with the theme of uniqueness, I have tied two ribbons — one red, one green — to the handle, for the purpose of easy identification. The carousel doesn’t favour me. It makes me wait. But finally, I spot my case and just as it is within hand-gripping distance I feel someone beside me lunge forward and grab a neighbouring bag off the rack.
I lose my chance to pluck my case off and head for the exit. But wait! My eyes espy something amiss. And this momentary sighting begins to worry me.
Anyway, I wait until the baggage comes around again and this time neatly lift it off … and confirm that yes, indeed, one of the side zippered flaps is dangling open, like the mouth of a hungry pelican.
Luckily, I know I didn’t place anything in the torn pocket so nothing is lost but … the suitcase, for all intents and purposes, is damaged beyond repair. It will not travel again, that’s for sure.
So, instead of “getting out of this place”, I find myself wheeling a trolley in search of the damaged baggage office. Here, a little old lady, who must surely be on the verge of retirement — and therefore with much experience behind her — looks at my case doubtfully. What is she doubting? I wonder. The evidence is clear, right there before her eyes.
She wants to know if I have a picture of the suitcase just before I boarded — a picture of the suitcase as it was before it got damaged. I ask her politely if this is a thing she, or for that matter any fellow traveller, would do before checking in their baggage. Her look intimates that she finds my question both unwontedly sarcastic and offensive.
She hums and haws and makes it sound like I’ve done myself a disservice by not photographing the suitcase just before travel, like I’ve now managed to put it at the end of the queue in ‘damaged baggage’ enquiries.
Anyway, finally a set of forms is filled out with all relevant details — my name, email, phone number, complaint number, suitcase brand, possible cost, and then I’m sent on my way with a very firm PS, clearly enunciated: These matters could take anywhere up to three months to be resolved. Meanwhile, she says: “You may need to go through the red channel, although you have nothing to declare.”
At the red channel a kindly lady wearing gloves and handling a trained sniffer dog lets the animal do its thing before looking me up and down and declaring: “You’re free to go sir.” For just one moment before my feet kick into action I cannot help thinking: “This is unjustifiably criminal, really.”
Kevin Martin is a journalist based in Sydney, Australia.