I am sitting in the terminal munching a five-dollar soft pretzel and watching a financial broadcast I cannot understand when a woman with long dark hair and freckled skin asks me to watch her bags. Without waiting for an answer, she sets her matching cloth suitcases next to my duffel and makes a grimace signifying extreme discomfort.
“Can’t hold it,” says the woman, and smiles the smile of women who are used to getting what they want.
She gets what she wants.
I watch the woman breeze away, focusing first on the wonderful fit of her designer jeans and then on the sway of her coal black hair as she disappears into the parade of travelers. There’s a sign for the men’s restroom across the way, but nothing for women. I assume it is farther down.
I look down at the bags, which are red and black plaid, and wonder if I have just committed a crime. Or is it more a rule of thumb? The bags are stenciled with the initials AJR and smell of perfume. I wonder how many freckled terrorists are planting bombs in monogrammed bags these days. I decide on the spot that we have gone too far as a society and that I will apply a modicum of reason to the present situation.
“You’re not supposed to watch other people’s suitcases.”
The speaker is a stick-limbed Asian boy of 10 or 11 sitting catty-corner from me. A handheld video game rests in his lap and his parents appear to be in the adjacent aisle, with their backs to us.
“She just has to pee,” I say.
“Doesn’t matter. You could go to jail.”
“I don’t think so. It’s more of a rule of thumb.”
The Asian boy squints at me. “I’m not talking about your thumb, mister. There could be improvised explosive devices in those suitcases.”
“I doubt it. They smell so nice. Do you want to smell them?”
He squints at me some more. “I’m telling the cops.”
With this, the boy’s mother turns, smiles at us and turns back around. I get the sense she does not speak English but did recognize the word “cop.”
“There’s no need for that,” I tell the boy. “She’s my wife.”
“Is not. You don’t even know her.”
“Sometimes it feels that way,” I say, and wink.
“She wouldn’t marry a guy like you.”
I force a smile. “Sometimes we get lucky, kid.”
“Then where’s your wedding ring?”
“Don’t wear it when I travel. Good way to lose it.”
“You’re lying,” says the boy.
“Pretzel?” I say, holding out the half-eaten snack.
“I’m telling the cops.” He stuffs the video game in a backpack and begins to rise from his seat.
“No, no,” I say, unzipping one of the cloth suitcases. I reach in and pull out a handful of undergarments. I can’t help but notice a black lacy thong, thin as a pencil. “Uh, see? No bombs.”
The woman is back. “What the hell are you doing?” she says, and hits me in the face with her handbag. It’s a large handbag, with hard objects inside. She swipes at the undergarments while continuing her assault.
I relinquish the undergarments and bury my head in my arms. From this position I can see the boy and his mother nodding.
“Married for sure,” says the mother, in perfect English.
Suddenly two airport police officers are separating us and asking in authoritative tones as to what, exactly, is going on here.
“This man—” says the woman, then stops and looks at me. I see the recognition in her lovely face that she may have violated the law, or at least a rule of thumb. I fold my arms and cock an eyebrow, waiting, as a husband would do, for an explanation.
“This man is incorrigible,” she says, throwing up her arms. “John, you’re absolutely incorrigible. How dare you say those things about my mother.”
“If the shoe fits,” I say, and the woman hurls a thong. A nice touch. I remove it from my face, recognizing the lavender scent.
The officer in charge, an older man with stripes on his collar, jabs a finger at me.
“Make this right and get this mess cleaned up,” he says. “Unless you want your day to go from bad to worse.”
I go to the woman, showing the officer that I can, in fact, be the bigger person.
“Sorry, babe,” I say, and reach out and take her by the shoulders. They are dainty shoulders, and within them I feel tension. I lean in. The woman is shaking her head ever so slightly, lips pursed in warning, but the truth is we have to sell this thing, and deep down I think she knows it.
So I lean the rest of the way in and press my lips to hers, lingering, as a husband would do, and wait for the tension to ease.
Andy Henion’s fiction has appeared, online and in print, in Hobart, Word Riot, Thieves Jargon, Ink Pot, Spork, Monkeybicycle and many other pubs. He lives in Michigan and flies occasionally out of Detroit Metro Airport. He will not watch your bags.
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