Postcard From a Travel Bag

When I brought home the perfect solution to my travel day bag needs, my stunningly organized brother nailed it right off the bat: too many pockets. Too many safe places to stash things and, I’ve come to realize, insufficient available memory cells up here to keep track of them all. Two years down the road and I can vouch for the durability of every inch of Velcro, each of the eight zippers. They all get exercised multiple times a day, in fact any time I scramble around for phone, hand wipes, bus pass or passport, and come up with movie ticket stubs, foreign coins, fossilized breath mints. Whatever gets stashed in pocket will eventually be found in pocket, but only after checking every other pocket, sometimes more than once.

This morning my travels have led me to a sunny sidewalk cafe, charmingly situated on the site of a defunct gas station, across from a bustling produce market bursting with heirloom tomatoes and swollen melons of every stripe. I’m about half a mile from my home in Berkeley. Due to budget constraints, there won’t be any trips abroad this season. (Who am I kidding, what budget?) But seriously, travel is a state of mind.

I’ve snagged a cleanish table near the blooming clematis that climbs along the neighboring fence, and the scent of its flowers sweetens my tea. I could make a to-do list, or maybe just doodle my daydreams; the small lined memo pad will do for either, or even the back of an envelope. I plop the black nylon bag onto the table and begin to root around in the cavernous main compartment, where things tend to spin and flop like randomly matched socks and nighties in a front-load clothes dryer. When I open this zipper, there’s no telling what will tumble out first.

This time it’s a red leather rectangular wallet, auto-unfolded to reveal a pad of personal checks, stagecoach rolling primly across impersonal green horizon, fronted by not one, but four loosely-collated check registers adorned with my mostly illegible scrawl. Note to self: remove a couple of those registers, whose entries must be antediluvian.

Then another leather case, whose lid pops open to reveal my rhinestone-encrusted black cat-eye shades, the lenses impossibly smudged. I’m already sporting a similar pair in blue, which give me this movie star glam, so I close the case and make another note to self: look for those little lens-cleaning pads; there’s got to be a couple hiding in here somewhere.

I sit back and stir my tea, pretending I’m sipping vermouth on La Rambla in Barcelona, or Pernod on the Champs-Élysées, while casually scanning the cafe crowd for the possibility of charming diversion, adventure, or at least someone who’s not wearing Birkenstocks. When I reach out to move the bag out of my line of sight, out wafts a postcard, whose inherent unarmored nature speaks of freedom, whimsy, flexibility. Yellow sand, green palms, brown girl in white string bikini and a pair of great white pelicans in flight, all portrayed in dreamy, soft-focus watercolors, have journeyed to my bag from Cairo, with a postmark dated before the bag likely even departed China.

It was a few weeks or maybe months ago that it first slipped into my lap from the pages of the library book I was reading at the time (the title of which has since traveled on into some other reader’s consciousness). My attention was grabbed immediately by the familiar address on the back, in Richmond, a few miles north of here, and especially by the addressee, one Donna G. My friend Donna, tango dancer, loner, multilingual mystery who lives beside the windy marina where she writes software code and dreams. Delicious serendipity!

Now I turn over the slightly dog-eared card and read the message one more time. Yooo mama, how u doing? Then some stuff in Italian that I purposely leave undeciphered, allowing me to pretend that something of the lovers’ privacy has been preserved. On to the closing in English: I realized one dream of my life, to see the Pyramids and taste the desert sand. Un bacio affetuoso. It’s signed, with a Florentine flourish, Ignacio. PS I miss our talkings. Ignacio, who had to be the baritone gondolier from her eat/play/love adventure.

My cell phone rings, making it easy to locate, which is great because now is the time to call Donna and tell her how I found her misplaced memento. (It’s my brother, who’s noticed my neighborhood parking permit expired two months ago. I assure him I’ll remedy that as soon as I locate the renewal form.) When I ring Donna, I’m rewarded with her yelp of recognition. Yes, she recalls reading the unnamed novel, is tickled by the news of the wandering bookmark’s reappearance after its roundabout journey, and gives not a sign of annoyance at how long I’ve been carrying it around.

Pleased with the flow of things, I tuck the phone together with the proof of Donna’s romance into a secure inner pouch, feeling only a teensy bit envious. Then I withdraw the note pad, and begin to hunt for a writing implement. There has to be one in here somewhere.

It might be the shadow that makes me look up, or maybe it’s the subtle change in scent from sweet to savory. When I do, I’m treated to a close-up of the square jaw and hooded eyes of a Javier Bardem look-alike, Waterman fountain pen in hand. Perhaps the señorita would like to borrow his pen

About the author

A native of Brooklyn, Sheila Meltzer earned a PhD in linguistics from the CUNY Graduate Center, turned, and ran. She's tried life in New…

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Issue 18 · June 2013

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