The bag is tucked under a seat, at
the far end of an empty waiting
area. I wouldn’t even have seen it
as I wandered down the airport
concourse, but the wheel came
loose on my travel bag and I had to
kneel down and jam it back on.
It’s two a.m., only a few people still
around. There’s a retired couple in
matching running suits, arguing
about which rental car agency to
use, and a blond man who comes
out of the men’s room and then
loiters by the courtesy phone, as if
expecting a call. I move closer to
the bag and take a look. It’s square
and black, like many other pieces of
luggage you’d see at an airport.
There’s something deliberate about
the way it’s positioned, out of sight
of anyone passing by. On cue, the
disembodied voice on the intercom
repeats the same warning we hear
every ten minutes: Please report
any suspicious packages....
It’s probably nothing. Someone
forgot their bag, or they’ll come
back for it. It’s not ticking or
anything. (Do bombs really tick?)
Feeling a little foolish, I go to the
courtesy phone. I’ll let security
worry about it. The blond man
stays uncomfortably close. I turn
away from him as a nasal voice
comes on the phone. “Operator,
how may I direct your call?”
The running-suit couple walks by.
The wife stops arguing mid-sen-
tence, gives me a poisonous look
and inches closer to her husband.
I hang up.
What was I thinking? I can see the
headline now: “Arab Man Found
Near Bomb.” My parents would die
of shame, especially since no
Persian likes to be called Arab.
Remember that security guard who
found the bomb at the Olympics,
and got railroaded as the number
one suspect? That was a nice light-
skinned Middle American guy, and
Maybe I was imagining the look
that woman gave me. And how
would anyone even know it was me
that called? This is ridiculous. I’m as
afraid of terrorists as anybody else.
Terrorists probably hate American-
ized Muslims like me; I drink
bourbon and shorten my name to
Mo. There was a month or so after
9/11 when the news blared
endlessly about anthrax, and I was
scared to open the mail, just like
More so, because any bigot could
have sent me anthrax and blamed
it on bin Laden. My whole family
shook when a man was shot in
Phoenix for wearing a turban.
Strangers on the street have called
me jihadi boy, camel jockey,
terrorist-lover. Told me to go back
to where I came from (which is
Philadelphia). After the war started,
it changed to “Go back to Iraq!” And
I wasn’t imagining the look from
The blond man is still here. Why is
he hanging out by the phone?
Nobody’s going to call him on a
courtesy phone. He seems to be
staring over toward where the bag
is, even though it’s not visible from
here. Maybe he knows it’s there.
He could be a terrorist, an Aryan
Nations type like the one who
actually did bomb the Olympics.
Maybe the bomb’s set to go off later
when the place is crowded.
Someone will find it by then.
Someone besides me.
But what if they don’t? I get
outraged when people lump all
Muslims together as terrorists, yet
here I am doing nothing when the
result could be people dying. Maybe
lots of people. There’s another
courtesy phone down the hall, away
I can’t make myself move.
Everyone I know has a story—a
friend’s cousin or a cousin’s friend.
This one came back from a vacation
in Canada, got arrested at the
border and no one’s heard from him
in months. That one had an argu-
ment with his neighbor, and the FBI
showed up at his door. My ex-girl-
friend thinks her uncle is in Guanta-
namo. No one will confirm it, or tell
her what he’s been accused of.
I revise the headline: “Arab Man
Found Near Bomb Has Connection
to Terrorists.” The uncle of a
girlfriend who broke up with me
eight months ago.
I can’t just leave the bag there.
Someone could die. Lots of people
could die, and it would be my fault.
What would the Prophet do? What
would any decent person do?
I’m a citizen of this country. I was
born here. They can’t do anything
Of course they can.
Open a newspaper, turn on the TV,
someone’s always calling for
Muslims to be locked up. We’re all
terrorists until proven innocent—
and you can’t be proven innocent;
they don’t even have to give you a
trial. They can hold you underwater
until you think you’re going to
drown, beat you, send dogs to
attack you. They can make you
confess to crimes you never heard
of. Hell, a U.S. congressman said
that America should blow up the
holy city of Mecca. Do you think he
knows what country Mecca is in, or
The bag is just out of sight. A bomb.
Or maybe not.
A very pregnant woman comes out
of the restroom and gives me a
quizzical look. I must look like I’m
lurking here. I start walking
purposefully—toward her, past the
blond man, past the next phone,
my eyes on the baggage claim sign
at the end of the corridor. Some-
how my feet have decided for me.
The woman goes up to the blond
man. “Took you long enough,” he
“Sorry. That airline food did a
number on my stomach.”
“Where’s the bag?”
“It’s right over here.”
“You just left it there?”
“I wasn’t going to cram it into a
restroom stall with me. It’s OK,
who’s gonna see it?”
I glance back, careful not to stare in
an unseemly way. The woman pulls
the bag out and double-checks the
tag. Nothing is blown to bits, except
perhaps the person I thought I was.
Laura Loomis is a social
worker in the San Francisco
area. Her fiction has appeared
most recently in Many
Mountains Moving, On the
Premises, and Dia de los