GeminiMAGAZINE
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AJ could not have picked a worse time to
tell Mini he was leaving, with the shuttle parked
outside to take her to the airport, her red-checked
suitcase by the door. She was buckling her shoes
when he told her. Appalling. To think a second later
she’d have lifted her face for a kiss.

Just like that, he said it. “I have to leave. We can’t
continue like this.” As if it was somehow her fault.

She might have brushed it off and laughed and
answered, “Yes, dear, I promise I’ll cut my travel
next quarter.” His tone was too serious, too final for
that. Instead, she asked, “What do you mean?”  

With their hectic schedules one of them was always
traveling on business. They’d greet each other like
passing roommates, with a perfunctory kiss and a
hug, as she returned from a trip or he left on one.  

“We are not working anymore.” He pointed to her and
then himself.

She spluttered. “What? How?” A second later, “Is it a
who?”

She caught the briefest flash of embarrassment
before he said, “No…not that.”

“What then?”

The shuttle driver knocked on the open front door
right then, opened it wider. “I’ll take the suitcase for
you, ma’am.”

The coward. AJ chose the timing with care; he didn’t
want to get into details. “I’ll clear out my stuff, and
I’ll be gone by the time you return,” he said.

Ten years erased in twenty-four hours.

An avalanche of thoughts. She had a make-or-break
business meeting in Phoenix the next morning. This
marital situation was too fragile, too raw; the
meeting could be canceled.
Prioritize. The marriage
was not over yet. There could be opportunity to
salvage things.
If AJ wanted to fix things. Could AJ
have allowed a third person to step into their two-
person domain? She’d get this meeting over with, get
back early tomorrow; apprehend AJ before he did the
irreversible. Or had he already?

She shut the door behind her with deliberate
gentleness, took the shuttle to the airport.

                            * * * * *

“Hi!” the man at the window seat in the plane
greeted Mini as she checked the number on her
boarding pass. “I can change seats with you if you
don’t like the middle seat.”  

“Thank you, but no.” She certainly did not want to
accept any favors, however minor, and wasn’t in a
mood to start conversations with strangers on a
plane. So easy for AJ to walk out of their marriage
with a simple goodbye. Abbreviations, like his name,
were his style.

“I’m Vik Dey,” the man in the window seat said.
“That’s my favorite book.” He nodded at the book,
To
Kill a Mockingbird
, in her hands. She looked at the
book in confusion, wondered when exactly she’d
picked it up.

He was polite; kind eyes made up for an unfortunate
overbite. No one had ever offered to exchange a
window seat for a middle seat with her. She could
have upgraded to a better seat. Too many other
things pressed on her mind today.

“Yes, mine too.” She pursed her lips. Had AJ met
someone like this? With deliberate attempts at
conversation? Must be someone young and
attractive.  

Vik did not seem to notice her reluctance. “What’s
your name? Do you live in Phoenix?”

“Mini.” No point in telling Vik her last name. Soon it
would not be hers anymore. “No, business trip.”

In the aisle seat, a pony-tailed, graying academic
with a disapproving look. Him, she ignored.
Deliberately, she placed her right elbow on the
armrest, refusing to allow him the pleasure of that
territory.

He didn’t intrude. Instead, he read and graded
papers. She could have sworn he was listening to her
slanted conversation with the neighbor on her left;
the academic’s ear appeared to tilt her way a lot.

“From Denver, then?’

“Yes.”

Vik shot pointed looks at her ring finger. The ring
was at the jewelers, being polished. He didn’t seem
to pick up on her short answers or her silences. All
she wanted was to watch the words in her book swim
before her eyes, think about the fact that she would
soon be an ex-wife.

As the flight descended towards Phoenix, Vik said it
was too bad he was continuing on to San Diego.
“Would you like to get together, maybe get some
dinner in Denver sometime? I’m in your hometown
next week.”

Oh God! This was all she needed right now. Couldn’t
prevent the shock of distraction. This was
inappropriate. He must have noticed her discomfort,
her confusion, her clenched teeth, her flushed face.
She flicked her shoulder-length hair back a couple of
times, stalled.

There should be a time for recovery, a decent burial
for a dead relationship. Perhaps there was no harm
in one dinner out. That might show AJ. Show him
what? Should she give Vik her cell phone number or
ask for his?

From the corner of her eye she noticed Vik’s profile,
the curl of hair over his right ear. Perhaps it would be
more appropriate to give an email address or add
him as a friend on Facebook. A forty-year-old soon-to-
be single woman didn’t know these things. God, she
was out of it.

Yet, while Vik said goodbye to her, it was the
academic in the aisle seat who retrieved her carry-
on, a little rollaway, from the overhead bin. “Bad
idea, bad idea,” she repeated to herself. She
murmured a non-committal answer to Vik’s question,
and didn’t thank the academic. Grabbing the
rollaway, she rushed out of the plane.

As she watched the baggage carousel for her
distinctive, red-checked suitcase filled with samples
from her company, an overeager fellow passenger
jostled her, scrambled her reverie. “Excuse me!” She
enunciated every syllable. Her left hand held on to
her rollaway suitcase a little tighter, with her right,
she attempted to secure her handbag on her
shoulder, hug it closer to her body.

It wasn’t there.

The heavy leather handbag was an extension of her
body, the added pounds like another arm—one that
made a deep indentation on her shoulder, as wide as
her bra-strap. She quaked in consternation. Her life
was contained in her handbag.

Perhaps it fell off when the ruffian shoved her in his
eagerness to get to his baggage. No, she would have
felt her shoulder get lighter, heard the bag fall. She
stepped away from the carousel, blinked stupidly at
the floor.
Think, think, think.

She must have left it on the plane. It couldn’t have
been more than fifteen minutes since they landed.
The plane had to still be here.

Terror gifted her with speed, propelled her through
the teeming airport. People moved out of the way,
accustomed to passengers about to miss their
flights. The straps of her new high-heeled shoes
chewed on her ankles.

She focused on retracing her path from the gate to
the baggage claim area. Her handbag probably sat in
the plane, under the seat or on the seat. Waiting for
the next unscrupulous person who, by now, would
know everything about her. Perhaps even assume her
identity.

She must get back to the gate. After this halt, the
flight was scheduled to go on to San Diego. She
hurried up to Security Check. Relieved, she noticed
there was no line, no one in front of the bored-
looking older man who sat on a high stool twirling a
pen in his hand.

“Please help me.” He didn’t react to her desperate
voice, her wild hair, her panic-stricken eyes. “I just
got off the plane from Denver, Southern Airlines
flight 55 which is going on to San Diego. My handbag
is on the plane. I got off and realized I don’t have it.
I’ve
got to go back and get it. Please?”

“ID and boarding pass,” he intoned, as if inured to
desperate pleas.

“Listen to me. I’m telling you I don’t have my bag.”
How could this dullard not get it? All of her
identification was in her bag.

Two other security personnel manifested themselves,
alerted by her angry volume.

“Sorry ma’am. We cannot let you go through security
without proper documentation.”

“I HAVE to get my handbag. Come on, help me! What
are you guys? A bunch of useless goons? Let me talk
to your supervisor!” she screamed, “Hurry!”

By now a restless line had formed behind her.
Murmurs of discontent floated.

“Step aside, ma’am,” a younger official said. “Let us
take care of the passengers behind you. They have
flights to take. Meanwhile, I’ll call my supervisor.”

“Can
you not do something? You could accompany
me to the plane.”

“I can’t leave my post. We have to follow security
rules, ma’am. I can call my supervisor. She will be
here in a few minutes. Be patient and please step
aside. We have to take care of the people behind
you. ”

“This is urgent! Get me someone right now. Don’t
you understand I am about to lose
everything!?”

“Ma’am, if you don’t want to wait for my supervisor, I
suggest you go down to Ticketing. They will be able
to help you there. I cannot let you through Security
without proper identification.”

His studied, patient tones maddened her. Tears
threatened.
Stop. She was a capable person; she’d
handled countless crises at work. This was no time
to feel sorry for herself. She rushed from the security
checkpoint. She peered at the escalator coming up to
see if, perchance, her bag lay there. It didn’t.
Think,
think.
Would this swarming mass of humanity notice
a metallic looking handbag with big black buttons?
Would one of them turn it in?

She ran down the escalator; the rollaway bounced
behind her, clattered its way down to Ticketing.
When she finally located Southern Airlines’ ticketing
counters, she could see no airline personnel around.
The airline must hire few people, she thought, intent
on saving money, increasing their profit margins.
Passengers milled around bright touch screens,
sliding cards into slots on the kiosks, confirming
flights, checking in luggage, printing boarding
passes. They all seemed to know what to do. There
was no personal help in this automated world.

Mini spotted a stout woman with a Southern Airlines
nametag hanging by a thread round her neck. “It’s
urgent. I need help,” she gasped.

“How can I help you?”

“I just arrived from Denver on Flight 55. I think I’ve
left my handbag on the plane. Please, please help.”

“Give me a few moments to get my boss. Wait here.
Won’t be more than five minutes.”

The uniformed woman spoke into a walkie-talkie,
strode away from her. Her deadpan expression
remained. Not even the pretense of sympathy or
understanding.

Mini sat down on a stained plastic seat, gulped air;
didn’t realize she’d so deprived herself of air. She
was no exercise fiend, her legs unused to covering
such distances in a short time. Her fault alone, the
lack of vigilance. No, it was AJ’s fault.

She saw herself mirrored in the glass window, a
plumpish woman past the first flush of youth in
formal but crumpled pants and shirt, clutching the
handle of her carry-on as if it were a crutch.

Where are you, handbag? A psychic would be able to
tell her where her bag was right now. Perhaps if she
focused her concentration on the handbag it would
reveal itself.

She’d purchased it at a Black Friday sale three years
ago when the black buttons enticed. The bag hadn’t
left her side since. She was a faithful, one handbag
woman. No array of colors for spring and fall, or a
bag for every occasion. She used a bag until it fell
apart, literally; the straps would break or the inner
lining would tear, consuming her change and other
small items. Only then would she acquire a
replacement. Unlike AJ, who had no qualms about
replacements.

                                           * * * * *

The uniformed woman materialized at her side.
“Come this way.”  

Mini was taken to a minuscule office, where a
cheerful blonde smiled a customer-service welcome.
“Please, sit. I’m Angela Baker, the manager. I hear
you have a problem.”

Her voice husky with controlled tears, Mini said,
“Problem? That’s an understatement.”

“Do you know where you lost your handbag?”

“If I knew for sure, it would be simple, wouldn’t it?”
she snapped, then realized this was one person who
could help. “I think I left it on the plane. I came in
on Flight 55.” She looked at the clock on the wall.
“The plane should still be here. Can I please go get
it?”

“Calm down. I’ll call the gate. Someone should be
able to get into the aircraft and check for you. Be
quicker this way, anyway. What color is the bag?”

“Brown, with big black buttons.”

She called.  

“Unfortunately, the doors have been closed and the
plane’s pulling away from the gate.”

“What?”

“Don’t worry; airline personnel in San Diego should
be able to search the plane as soon as it lands.
Which should be in about an hour. What seat were
you in?”

“F2”.

“Here’s what we can do. Let me get your details.
Name, phone number. Please understand I need to
do this, so I know when I receive the handbag that I
am handing it over to the right person.”

Mini had nothing on her to prove her identity. No
credit card, no driver’s license, no old boarding pass.
No money or cell phone. No way to get out of this
airport in a town that was not her home. And worst
of all, someone, somewhere, had undoubtedly
vacuumed up everything about her.

“Umm…My name is Mini. M-I-N-I. Not like the mouse.
Last name…” she hesitated.  

“Last name?” Angela Baker raised an eyebrow.

This last name would not be hers for too much
longer. She’d probably revert to her maiden name.
Strange, after ten years.

“D-E-W-A-N."

"Contents?"

There’s a wallet in the handbag. Brown wallet.
American Express card, Visa, a Chase debit card. Of
course, my driver’s license. Oh, and a book.
To Kill a
Mockingbird
.”

“Any other cards?”

“The usual—library card, AAA card, health insurance
card, some grocery store cards.”

“How much cash was in your wallet?’

“I can’t remember. Maybe two hundred dollars.”

“Your cell phone number?”

“720-345-3456”

“I assume it was off since you were on a plane flying
in?”

“Yes.”

“Laptop?”

“Here in my rollaway. It’s dead. The charger is in my
handbag.” She remembered shoving it into her
handbag at the last minute.

“You are from here?”

“No, I live in Denver. I’m on a business trip to
Phoenix.”

“Okay, first things first. Let’s see if someone turned
in a bag. Let me make a few calls.”

Suddenly, all the fight left Mini. Nothing she could do
now but allow the wheels of authority and procedure
to take over. As if through a fog, she heard Angela
huddled in telephonic conferences, first with the
airline’s gate personnel, then with TSA, followed by
Information and lastly with Lost & Found, all of
whom informed her that no one had turned in a
brown handbag with big black buttons.

The manager looked at her after the last phone call
was complete, tapped a manicured finger on her
forehead. “Did you have checked-in luggage?” Mini
nodded. “Why don’t you get your luggage? I should
have an update for you by the time you get back.”

                                             * * * * *

In only a few hours, she mused on the way to
Baggage Claim, she’d gone from having an identity
to anonymity. It was that easy to become a non-
person.

She knew she should call AJ. He was still her
husband. He ought to know about the bag; their
credit cards and bank accounts were joint accounts.
It gave her an odd pleasure to think of him suffering.

She’d planned on taking an earlier flight to Denver
tomorrow, surprising him before he left. Now she
couldn’t leave this airport.

She’d have to call her employer collect (did they even
do that any more?). And as for her cards, where
would she start? Of course—they had to be canceled.
Her passport and birth certificate were at home.
Someone (not AJ, couldn’t ask him for a favor ever
again) would have to get her passport for her, courier
it to her, so she could book a ticket for home. Could
someone check into a hotel here without a credit
card? She’d seen television images of people
stranded at airports during winter storms for days on
end. She would be like one of them, without the
winter storm, of course. Such a tangle.

For now, she was a nobody. This was what it felt like
to be unmoored, unconnected, unidentified—an odd
freedom she could not enjoy.

A thought bloomed. Perhaps Vik found her handbag.
He’d go through the contents, know intimate details
about her. The single tampon tucked away in the
inner pocket, her brand of lipstick, the chewing gum
she favored. Receipts would tell the tale of her
shopping trips. He could call “Home” on her cell
phone and reach the answering machine repeatedly.
Or AJ might answer.

Oh, yes, Vik could find her business cards, call her
office. And the keys. The keys to her car. The keys to
her house. He could enter her home, then. She
couldn’t remember if she’d made their bed, if there
were dishes in the sink.

It could be someone else, though. Someone who
could cheerfully step into her home and her life. AJ
didn’t care anymore; he’d have left. Would his next
communication be through a lawyer? She had no idea
how these things worked.

Then, a morbid thought—if she died here no one
would know who she was. They’d have to get her
fingerprints and match them, she guessed. She
couldn’t remember if she’d ever been fingerprinted.
They could identify her through her dental records,
which were in Denver. Until someone looked for her,
she’d remain unidentified.

Her legs refused to hold her up anymore. She
plopped down on an end seat in the row of empty
chairs, watched the baggage carousel go round, a
solitary suitcase enjoying the extended ride.

She was jerked out of contemplation by a strong
hand on her shoulder. The graying academic from the
plane. With a lightning leap, she registered the
presence of her handbag. He’d slung the black-
buttoned bag over his shoulder, unashamed it might
appear womanly. Disapproval writ large on his
countenance.

“Mini, where have you been?” Of course he knew her
name; this man had been through her handbag.  

She noticed the crow’s feet around his eyes appeared
more prominent when he scowled. “I’ve been waiting
at Baggage Claim for over an hour. Didn’t you want
to pick up your luggage? And before you ask, I
looked at the name tag.” He pointed to the red-
checked suitcase on the carousel.

Her bag buzzed. “I turned on your phone hoping
you’d call yourself.” He handed her the purse.

She stared at the text from AJ—“call home”—then
powered the phone off. She made a mental note to
change tomorrow’s flight.

She knew she ought to thank the academic but felt
too exhausted to do so. Other women would have
gushed, perhaps even thrown their arms around him.
Some women may have dissolved into tears. Mini
found words and expression vaporized. She continued
to sit, watching her luggage go round and round on
the carousel.


Sudha Balagopal's recent fiction appears in The Writing Disorder,
Chiron Review, Superstition Review, Pax Americana, and other
literary journals. Her debut collection of short stories, There are
Seven Notes, was published by Roman Books in 2011.
by Sudha Balagopal
A FAITHFUL, ONE
HANDBAG WOMAN