Twelve years ago I was pregnant and traveling all over Europe doing research. I had three outfits and one carry-on-sized suitcase. I had been travelling for weeks and had acquired some souvenirs and a couple of additional pieces of clothing. My suitcase was bursting. I walked into a German department store and bought an inexpensive black roll away.
I still have that bag. The pull-out handle is broken on one side, but the zipper is solid and its black sides look much like they did the day I rolled it out of that department store. It has some scuffs, but they’re war wounds that make me love it even more. Every time I have to jam the broken side of the handle back in or people look at me sideways for using this bag with a broken handle, I glance at my little black piece of luggage protectively. Is this weird?
I realized today that I love this little piece of luggage. I will be sad when it finally has had one bounce too many onto a conveyor belt or has been zipped over too-full contents one too many times. How can a person fall in love with a fairly non-descript piece of luggage?
Because every time I get it out, I can see that department store with its glass walls and hear its German customers rattling to each other back when I could follow the pace of real German dialogue. I can smell the crisp autumn air in central Germany and see the pollarded trees bereft of their leaves. I can feel my much younger belly taut over my firstborn and feel all of the promise that adulthood spread out before me. I had just travelled, pregnant, young, and female, across Europe with a vague plan, a suitcase, a backpack, and letters of introduction. I had spoken (sometimes mangled) three different languages and maneuvered all types of public transportation systems and cultural traditions. I had slept in places I would never have thought possible, both because they were alley traps and luxurious resorts. I had seen six-hundred-year-old manuscripts and handled four-hundred-year-old printed books that had only been viewed by a handful of people since Europe had its first World War. It had been a hell of a trip and that little black bag became a talisman, a relic, something more than a memento. Because it did not go on a shelf or a wall. It continues to travel, to have experiences of the foreign at my side.
And it cost less than $100. That’s a lot of bang for the buck. Love ya, little black piece of luggage, even if the flight attendants and hotel lobby clerks look down their noses at us. Looks don’t make the luggage.