I hadn’t noticed the suitcase at all when I sat down. I’d been so pleased that the train had arrived early, that I could take my choice of seats in the empty carriage and sit reading my book in peace until it was time to leave.
“Erm… Excuse me, is that yours?”
I turned round, not sure if the question was meant for me, and saw a short balding man, pointing to a battered leather case on the luggage rack.
“No, no…” mumbled an elderly gentleman, who’d taken the seat just behind me. He sounded embarrassed, apologetic, as though the case really should have been his, or as though, at the very least, he should have been able to explain why it was there.
“Is it yours?” the short balding man turned to me.
I looked up again at the faded blue suitcase, with its brass locks, and the sort of thick handle you could just imagine clasping comfortably. I hadn’t seen luggage like that for a very long time; all angles and corners, no wheels and pull-handle, no hard plastic, or zip-pockets. This was a suitcase made for the days of long slow journeys, for a time of uniformed porters and heavily laden luggage trolleys. A suitcase made for a luggage rack on a very different sort of train.
“No, not mine” I answered with a twinge of regret.
“Oh dear, oh dear” he began to bluster, looking back to the still open train doors, then up to the rack, then around the carriage. “oh dear, oh dear, oh dear”
He looked around again, uncertainty etched into his frown.
“I’ll have to report it… you can’t just leave a case…there’ll be a delay… it’ll cause all sorts of problems…”
He looked like a man who’d been brought up to do his duty, the sort of boy who always snitched on his class-mates, the sort of man who’d never leave work early on a Friday afternoon. He leaned forward, peering out of the door, searching for someone in authority. If he’d had a whistle in his pocket, he’d have blown it, shrill and hard.
Then a young, bearded, wild-haired man jumped on. Shoving past the short balding man, without a glance at the elderly gentleman and oblivious of me, he headed straight for a seat by the window. The seat just under the luggage rack.
Blustering, balding man turned back into the carriage, “is it….” He started to ask, just as the young bearded man reached up towards the suitcase.
And as the words died on his lips, as the elderly gentleman watched silently from his seat, as I looked on from across the aisle, the young, bearded, wild-haired man reached up and flicked open the lock.