Baggage Claim by Tanisha Gill

Walter sat stiffly in a long black trench coat with a Yankees cap pulled low over his square face. All he could see were the legs of straphangers crowded on the 6 train in front of him. He liked it that way.

“Excuse me,” a woman said, pushing a small girl with striped leggings into the space between Walter and a pink dog carrier.

He shifted closer towards the steel bars at the end of the bench, trying to avoid feeling suffocated. The moist doughy flesh on his hands fluctuated from pink to white as he nervously squeezed his hands around his bag strap.

Ding. “The next stop is 86th avenue,” the conductor announced.

He noticed the striped leggings again and carelessly followed them from the knee to the thigh up to the girl’s blank face. Walter’s glance retreated across the aisle, meeting the disapproving gaze of an old man. He didn’t mean to look at the girl, but she startled him and he felt vulnerable. Her leggings reminded him of Clara.

Walter met Clara through a coworker named Johnson. She was a tiny black woman just under 5 feet with baby doll limbs. Clara asked a lot of questions. He remembered her being unbearable and desirable all at once.

Ding. “The next stop is 77th street.”

Walter smiled for a second, but it quickly dissipated. He missed her and he wished she missed him too; she just wanted to have fun all the time and his quirks just irked her. You’re just no fun, Walter; her voice rang in his head.

“Next stop 59th street,” announced the conductor.

All Walter had left now was the duffle bag; he was surprised that his whole life could fit in one 34-inch duffel bag. The bag was a good choice. He purchased the large 34-inch drop bottom duffle last August for weekend getaways with Clara. After he spent weeks searching and doing comparison pricing, she told him to just buy the damn bag already. He had liked that she didn’t take all day to make up her mind.

He dried his tears with his sleeve, knocking his hat off.

“Excuse me, sir.” Walter reached forward and grabbed the hat.

“No! There is no excuse for you! You hit me with your hat!” The old man snapped.

Putting on the hat, Walter crossed his arms and wished he were invisible.

“Give me your seat. I’m old!  Show some fucking respect!” The old man turned quickly; his scabrous lips curled up in a snarl.

Walter couldn’t get up for a lot of reasons. “I can’t.”

“You can’t? Do you hear this? He can’t.” The man shouted to other passengers.

New Yorkers are rarely impressed with the rantings of deranged subway passengers. The old man threw his toothpick, making sure it hit Walter’s leg.

Walter’s face grew molten.

“This is Grand Central Station,” the speaker announced. The doors flung open and more people shuffled in, shoving each other about like lobsters in a tank.

“Are you going to sit there?” A West-Indian woman across the aisle shouted. “ Give him your seat. Don’t be rude, man!”

Walter ran his hands down his thighs while exhaling. He didn’t want a confrontation.

He accidentally looked to his right again and saw the girl looking at him with soul-stealing eyes. She startled him into motion for fear that she was reading every one of his thoughts. Walter leapt from the seat bumping the old man into another passenger. Walter regained his balance and reached over to lift the old man.

“Just have it already!” Walter snapped.

The old man snatched his jacket from Walter’s gripping hands. “Get off me!” He wobbled over to the seat satisfied, spreading his legs out as if he were on a throne.

“Next stop is 33rd st.”

“Woooo weeee this warm seat feels fine,” the old man hissed.

Walter wasn’t able to breathe between the stifling stale subway air, the aggressive old man, and the creepy child trying to steal his thoughts. He reached down for the strap.

“Hey! You can’t go grabbing between no man’s legs like that!“ The large man in a tracksuit bellowed. His black beady beard looked like taco meat sparsely scattered across his cratered face.

“Young folks today are soooooooooo disrespectful.” The old man nodded to the tracksuit man, who nodded back.

“Move so I can get my bag.” Walter sneered.

“Next stop 23rd st.”

“Don’t make me hurt you, pervert! ” scowled the old man, puffing up his chest. “The bag is MINE!”

Walter knew the men had set him up; he decided to leave the bag.

It was the best way to make up for a bad situation, he thought. He leaned against the train car door, extended his arms and inspected his fingers; his hands were shaking a lot less and he felt less tense.

The rest of the ride, Walter ignored the satisfied gazes of the two men. They grinned tugging at their treasure as Walter stepped backwards onto the platform at the Brooklyn Bridge station.

Tracksuit jerked the bag onto his shoulder, the weight of which swung and hit his hip causing him to stumble forward. He looked puzzled and unzipped the bag.  Inside they found all the things that Walter loved best; her soft severed hands rested against her frozen face. The hot pink polish contrasted her milky white eyes. Her entire form tucked inside the bag as if it were custom made for her. Clara was right; it was the perfect bag.

The screams that took flight from their frightened forms raced up the staircase and spilled onto the street. Walter stood at the staircase entrance laughing manically.

That was better than I planned, he thought. Clara would find it funny, if she was able to get past the fact that it was her body parts found by thieves. Walter smiled slyly at the thought that he knew how to have a little fun after all.

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