He was slim and well-dressed with a nice haircut, not too short, not too long. He wore a black tailored jacket and well-made jeans. His black leather shoes showed no sign of the slush outside the airport. He could have stepped off the pages of an Eddie Bauer catalogue.
But he had something he shouldn’t.
He mopped his face with a white linen handkerchief as he put his shoes back on, and I wondered if he was sick. He didn’t look sick. His face was tanned with no sheen of perspiration. I’d never seen anyone perspire so politely. His handkerchief was the size of a large dinner napkin with embroidered edges. I didn’t know anyone other than my father still used them.
I had to search his belongings—two Apple notebook computers, one purple and one green, a black leather satchel for compact electronics, a shopping bag full of gifts, and a gallon-sized bag of small toiletry items of the type one would collect from hotel rooms. From the looks of the assortment he’d been around the world, and as he patted his forehead dry, I wondered what else he’d collected in his travels.
The suspicious item was a bottle of water. It was from Neiman Marcus and it wasn’t plastic. It was sturdy cardboard of the type cartons of milk are made out of. The only plastic on it was the screw-on lid like they put on cartons of half and half. It was quart sized. Too big.
Who buys fancy bottles of Neiman Marcus water? Maybe a better question would be why aren’t all water bottles made of this material? Maybe a better question is why do we continue to allow Nestle to siphon water out of the Great Lakes aquifer to ship around the world in single-use plastic bottles that end up in landfills and waterways and the ocean where there is a growing plastic dead zone the size of Greenland? Yes, Nestle has diversified into something more profitable than candy bars. How about a bottle deposit on water bottles? The politicos won’t do it. They won’t even take the steps necessary to keep Asian carp out of the Great Lakes, so how would they gather the will to keep plastic out of the oceans? But I digress.
Back to my traveler. He was polite about my having to throw away the eco bottle of water (though I wished there'd been a way to put it in a display case). He shrugged and mopped his face again. He slipped his belt back through the loops on his jeans and his watch on his wrist, then patted his forehead dry and wiped his neck. With each step of putting himself back together he had to wipe his face, and he was well put together. I stepped back and watched.
He dropped his bag of toiletries into the large shopping bag of gifts, wiped his face one last time and put his handkerchief in the pocket of his jacket. He threw a laptop bag over each shoulder and went off to find his gate. I changed my gloves and watched him out of sight and couldn’t help but wonder at the story of his life.
I filed him away in my character memory folder, fodder for the basis of a short story or maybe a larger piece, a snippet of a life on the edge. Do you do that with interesting people you encounter? All these innocents who don’t know they might be written about as they go through the motions of daily living? Have you ever recognized yourself in a novel or short story? They say that friends and family members of writers are doomed to a loss of privacy, their tightest-held secrets revealed under the thin disguise of fiction. How many families have been torn asunder by the writer in their midst? How many friendships broken? I, myself, have done it. I couldn’t help it. And I’d do it again. Have you?