The suitcase was my brother’s, bought at an American Tourister flagship store right before he moved from the country. After he got it home, he realised that it was too small to fit in everything he had so he gave it to me. You’re just going to a different city in the same country, he said. I told him I would pay for it but he shrugged off my offer.
It’s expensive, the suitcase. It looks good too, with its matte black finish and chrome-coated zippers. It has a combination lock that opens if you set the code to 108 and an orange ribbon tied around the handle. That’s what I tell the airport authorities. Not the combination key. The ribbon. I tell them to look for a suitcase with a ribbon the colour of stale marmalade.
They are clueless, the heavyset man in the short tie and the scrawny woman with the singsong voice. They check the flight manifest over and over. Then the man asks me if the suitcase contains any devices that run on batteries. He lists them out for my sake. Electric razors, power banks, e-book readers. Or a vibrator, the woman adds, her face blushing a bright scarlet but her eyes curious. No, I say. They walk away to confer with someone in the other city. The suitcase contains my clothes. All my clothes. I wish I had told them that.
Three shirts. Pa used to say you should never have less than three. I didn’t want to be more of a disappointment than I already was so I scrounged around till I had three shirts. Two of them are plain white while the third is white with cobalt stripes. I often wonder why I didn’t just buy the third one in white as well.
Two pairs of trousers. Pa thinks three is the magic number for trousers too but trousers are more expensive than shirts so two is all I have. They are both black because black is easier to clean. You might as well throw away a pair of beige trousers with stains on them.
Underwear. Each of them over four years old, with elastic bands that have lost their firmness and stains that no amount of washing can get rid of.
There’s a sweater in there too. A dark gray affair from Zara more expensive than all other things in the suitcase put together. Ma sent it to me as a gift for my birthday last year. It is a size too big because Ma doesn’t know how much weight I have lost since she last saw me. But I keep it, and wear it when I feel cold, because you don’t throw away a Zara sweater no matter how bad it makes you look.
And then there’s the laundry bag, that most utilitarian of receptacles when you are moving from one couch to another in the houses of a rotating cast of increasingly exasperated friends.
The heavyset man and his birdlike companion return and before they tell me anything, I say that the suitcase contained all my clothes. It feels good to say that out loud, a proverbial weight off my emaciated shoulders. The woman smiles but the man is all business, asking me if there is anything else in there that he should know about.
A half-empty tube of toothpaste and a toothbrush that is two months into the three-month cycle that I follow for toothbrushes. Use one for three months and then change. I had been told this as a child when my parents had taken me to a dentist. I haven’t been to one in ages but being religious about changing my toothbrush every three months makes me feel better. It doesn’t matter that my teeth are already loose in their sockets and my gums bleed with the regularity of a menstrual cycle.
He asks me if that’s it and there is a hint of impatience in his question now. A book, I tell him. A thrift store copy of Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse, much thumbed and without a bookmark inside because I know the words line for line. They don’t know what to do with this information so they check their manifest again. When no answers are forthcoming from that sheet of paper, they tell me they will get in touch. These things happen, the woman croons.
As they escort me to the exit, the man asks me for a phone number I don’t have. I tell him my father booked the flight for me. I see his sympathy for me morph into disapproval. The woman leans in close and whispers, asking me if I had anything else in the suitcase, winking at me like this is our little secret. Everything, I tell her.
Ajay Patri is a lawyer and writer from Bangalore, India. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Oddville Press, Every Day Fiction, *82 Review, and Toasted Cheese Literary Journal, among others. He is currently working on his first book.