I am always super paranoid about my luggage. When I ride a cross-country bus, I pick a seat above the baggage hold, so at every stop I can see that no one is taking it; I don’t go to the loo on a train without taking my bags with me; I repack my day bag on travel day to have all my travel documents and all currency, regardless of use in that country, on me.
One time. All it takes is letting your guard down one time for your bag to disappear.
Now, keep in mind that I’m not talking just about some clothes. When you live out of a suitcase, your bag is literally home. Imagine arriving to where your house should be, and it’s just gone. That was the feeling that washed over me at that luggage rack.
I had minimized on this trip – I’d borrowed a smaller suitcase from my boyfriend because I was flying with an airline for the first time that is notoriously tight with their restrictions, so they can charge extra fees. I had been brutal in the decisions as to what was going to make it in to that bag as well – only my most favourite pieces of clothes; only my most vital of travel ‘essentials’. And they are all gone.
The organizer bags that I had personally stitched from upcycled HowAh Ya Jazz Fest shirts, in alligator, red beans and rice, and shrimp patterns; my wee vespa that I bought in Canterbury on my first scooter road trip, that is my stand in for the real thing at all the big landmarks; my hostel padlock I bought in that tiny village in Denmark, and the le Krewe d’Etat keyring. It feels like at my one year mark, the last connections to New Orleans and home were ripped away from me, and I am super sad.
I went to get my bag, and was just in disbelief that it was not there. I looked behind other bags, as if somehow there was room for it to be tucked away. I stared wide-eyed at the guys in the next seats, who I could not communicate with, so they just stared back. I rushed through the length of the train as it slowed into the station, hoping upon hope that somehow this was going down right now, and not sometime in the past three hours, and I could still prevent my home from disappearing. But no.
As I told the conductor, he told me “I will wait” and I checked the train again. I rushed through, but unsurprisingly, it had not miraculously reappeared where it was supposed to be. Then he said, “I have to go”. The train had to stay on schedule. And off it went, and I was left standing on a decrepit platform in Bratislava, in shock.
Policia. There’s a sign down at the end of a platform, and maybe even a station. I head down, but it’s 8:30pm on Easter Sunday, and I am in Slovakia, so of course it’s dark and locked.
Into the terminal, where window after window is rolled down, locked up… no one about. I finally find someone working. I ask “english?” She responds yes. Then I say my luggage was stolen. “I am closed! Go down there!” As she literally pulls the blinds down in my face. It is 20:35. Her window is clearly marked to be open until 20:50.
The next window, and I finally find someone who seems to even remotely react in a way that makes me feel that anyone at all cares. He sends me to the police. I tell him I tried that and it is closed. He insists I go around the corner to where the door to the police is. He takes me down there… to show me where to go and pawn me off on the police, or to actually help and maybe translate, I don’t know his motivation, but it is him that is keeping me from falling apart. He is just as surprised as me that there are no police at the station.
Heading back across the platform, we run into some sort of railway staff (I can tell from their bright orange safety gear) and he talks to them. They seem to have concern. The police are walking by! He tells what has happened. They say “Well, that could have happened in Hungary or Slovakia. There is no way to know,” and they keep on walking. I am officially defeated.
I wish I had got the name of the ticket guy at the train station. He was kind and helpful, and saved me that night. He took my name and phone number, but there seemed to be no formal way to log this sort of incident, because he wrote it on a wee slip of paper, but at least he tried.
My hostel was directly across the street from the entrance to the train station, so I had only a short walk to some sort of safe place. The front desk guy looked into what shops might possibly be open on Easter Monday, because in Eastern Europe that is still a thing and a major holiday where no work or banking or school happens. I slept in those clothes that night. And roommates who were complete strangers the night before helped me with some shampoo and toothpaste and a comb so I could shower and face the day feeling better.
It was like a slap in the face when on Monday my Facebook feed shows me the US Dept of State posts about #crimevictimsabroad and how they are there to help. Ha! The night before I called, and got Trey from Missouri on the phone who, once he confirms I am safe and have a place to sleep, says “Good luck and try us gain on Tuesday when the holiday is over”.
My “Day in Bratislava” was spent at a shopping mall and making calls, finding a toothbrush, some underwear, and a clean shirt. Not exactly the sightseeing whistle stop that I was planning on.
On a strange rock ‘n roll whim the week previously, I had made plans to fly from Prague to Amsterdam Wednesday for a brief stopover to see a concert with my boyfriend, when his friend had to back out of their long-planned trip. He saved the day with the bright idea to go get my actual suitcase with the clothes I had left behind in Edinburgh, and bring them to me in the Netherlands. It was so lovely to see a smiling face and get a comforting hug, and even lovelier to have clean socks after three days on the same pair. I now have a change of jeans, pajamas, and several shirts. It’s still less than most people take for a week-long holiday, but it’ll work.
That wee 24 hours in Amsterdam flipped the script, and separated me from the bad just enough to make me able to sit here and write this up. I know it’s just ‘stuff’, it’s just that it was ALL my ‘stuff’; I had gotten rid of everything else before I left New Orleans