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  • Writer's pictureLianne van der Walt

A CASE FOR THE COMMON SUITCASE

Standing at the airport carousel, waiting for the warning bell to announce the start of the conveyor belt, I switch my mobile phone on and watch as it connects. Around me fellow passengers stand waiting, eyes shifting between the stationary belt of the carousel and the spinning wheel on the screen of their mobile phone as it prepares to connect to the local service provider. We are all a little anxious as we wait for our luggage. Isn’t it strange to think we hand in our suitcase at the airline check-in desk with not another thought as to how it is going to re-appear hundreds or even thousands of miles later?

Waiting patiently for the alarm to ring, my mind starts to wander, and I consider the awful possibility of, “What if my suitcase does not arrive!” Everyone is trying not to look worried, but it has been an unusually long wait and still no sign of our bags. We steal furtive glances at one another and strain our ears in the hope that someone knows something regarding the delay. Perhaps they changed the carousel number? I start making a mental note of all the irreplaceable things in my bag. I should not have put Gran’s diamond ring in the case, nor should I have packed the wireless speaker or my favourite pillow without which I cannot get a restful night’s sleep. The glass coffee plunger will be missed but is replaceable. Oh no! My diary and…and…and… The list of irreplaceable items grows. Why did I pack these things I ask myself and the truth is because wherever we go, we want to feel safe and comfortable and at home. We pack whatever it is that we think is needed to create this feeling. Our suitcases are more than just bags in which to transport stuff. A suitcase is a travelling companion.

Suddenly the alarm rings and the conveyor belt kicks into action. The bags start appearing as they get pushed out the entrance and slide down one after the other. A general sigh of relief is felt and now it is all eyes off the phones and onto the bags. We watch avidly as each new bag appears, and heads turn with each new arrival. I am always amazed at how some pieces of luggage actually make it through in one piece, tightly taped together with packing tape and copious amounts of string. An elegant Louis Vuitton finds itself unsatisfactorily bumping alongside a tatty tog bag covered in stickers from everywhere and Timbuktu. Once we spot our bags, we can relax and play a little game - match the bag to its owner. After years of travelling, I have developed a bit of a sixth sense and am fairly accurate most of the time.

On a previous trip, a lady and I chatted while waiting at the carousel. She chuckled when she saw me dash off to look for my cabin bag which I had temporarily mislaid while in search of a trolley. I laughed sheepishly and told her it was not the first time. She strongly suggested I get rid of it and replace it with a more reliable companion. She told me about a friend who had invested in an easily identifiable garish-looking bag. She had been in a hurry between connecting flights and had grabbed what she believed to be her one of a kind garish-looking bag. By the time she had arrived at her destination, she realised that what she had believed to be the only awful bag in existence was not hers and she was now sitting with someone else’s luggage. We always wonder how was it possible to have taken the wrong luggage, well, given the general stressful circumstances of an arrival terminal, it is actually horribly easy.

From personal experience I know that by the time I have made my packing list, packed my luggage cubes, squeezed in the last-minute must haves and weighed everything, the last thing on my mind is whether or not I have clearly marked my bags. Name tags and ribbons are normally just add-ons which may or may not have survived the last trip. We figure that like a mother with her child, we will always be able to identify our luggage with a single glance and at a distance.

And so it is with great joy and relief when our bags finally appear on the conveyor belt and we stand poised, ready to swiftly grab them as they approach. Sometimes it involves grabbing onto a handle and then running with the suitcase as it continues travelling along the belt. I am always so impressed to see that there are still men who are willing to help someone as they battle to lift their heavy suitcase. The general sense of relief and joy at being reunited with our belongings is noticeable and gets me thinking.

What is it about the common suitcase (not the Louis Vuitton of course) that has this effect on us all? I have come to realise that they embody who we are and literally and figuratively encapsulate our lives. They hold all that we hold dear and a lot of what we consider important. In a ridiculously small space, we manage (some more successfully than others) to select and arrange a collection of personal items necessary for peace of mind and general well-being and with which we will face the world. Suitcases are faithful travelling companions, they reflect our character, they hold our essence, our hopes and dreams, our desires and all that we need to feel safe and worthy in a sometimes strange and unfamiliar world. Never again will I treat my suitcase without the respect it so dearly deserves. Faithful travelling companion, survival kit and keeper of hopes and dreams – I salute you!

** “I’ll tell you what I love doing more than anything: trying to pack myself in a small suitcase. I can hardly contain myself.” – Tim Vine


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