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The Bag

A story about obsession and loneliness

By Wilkie StewartPublished 3 years ago Updated 3 years ago 4 min read

The number 39 bus trundled into town. The traffic was slower than normal, and the windows steamed up with the frustration of the passengers looking at the time on their phones and watches.

Maria sat in the middle back seat. It was the only one free when she got on but it made her uncomfortable. The aisle stretched in front of her and anyone getting on, or getting off and looking back, looked at her directly as if she were part of the fixtures. She clutched the bag on her lap. It was a large bag in white leather, with two handles and an open top. The faux buckle was shiny, and gold and red lozenge shapes followed the lines of stitching.

A woman got on at the next stop and seemed to tut at Maria with frustration before climbing to the upstairs deck. Maria glanced again into the bag and smiled.

As the bus approached the town centre she stood up and made her way to the front. A man allowed her to pass before standing behind her while they waited for the bus to reach the stop. "If you don't mind me asking, what's in the bag? Something nice?"

Maria could feel the alarm in her face. "Every day I see you looking in the bag and smiling," he said.

The bus stopped and they both got off. The man was still looking at her. "Leave me alone," she said. She walked to her office clutching the bag tightly.

When she got to her desk, she placed the bag to one side so she could easily reach it. The man had made her feel anxious. She wondered who else wanted to look in her bag. Did they all think she was hiding something? As her laptop was firing up, she emptied some folders from the large drawer in her desk unit. She pushed the bag into the space. It was a tight squeeze and she worried if she did this every day, it would spoil the bag's shape. She rolled the drawer shut, locked it and put the key in her pocket.

Her first call went well enough, she took the caller through various options, helped them select a choice and emailed an offer for confirmation. The second caller was abrupt and angry. "I cancelled that order," he said, although the account clearly showed he hadn't, "I shouldn't have to pay to return it." She soothed him by offering a reduction on the carriage and marked his account as undesirable for future transactions.

As she answered the third call she glanced at the space where her bag should be. She wondered if she could get the key and open the drawer. The caller repeated his query and when she didn't reply he said, "Are you even listening?"

"Of course, I'm listening," she said. "That's all I do, every day."

"I don't think you should talk to me in that tone, miss," the man said but she cut him off. They had his number on file. "I need to call you back," she said. She dropped the call and stood, fetching the key from her pocket. She opened the drawer and as she pulled the bag out, she felt a stud pop around one of the handles. She opened the bag and gazed inside. It was still there. She put the bag where it usually sat.

She called back the man. "I'm terribly sorry," she said. "I was very rude, but I had a sudden need for the restroom. Let me offer you a discount..."

"Too much information," the man said, but not unkindly. She completed the sale.

When Maria finished the last call of the day and logged off the laptop, she inspected the handle on the bag. It should be an easy fix. Her mother loved to mend and make do, and Maria had the skills, but not the desire to do the same. Still, she loved this bag. It had special memories.

She should never have run for the bus. She had already missed it and when she tripped over a loose slab on the pavement, she fell, skinning her knee and scattering the contents of her bag. She crawled on the wet concrete in panic trying to find her darling. A woman was bending to pick it up. Its eyes were wet with rain. "Leave it," she shouted, and the woman sprang back in alarm. Maria gathered it up and put in the bag. Now she could breathe.

She walked away from the bus stop to the next one. Her heart was thudding, and she had to stop every few minutes to check the bag. When she got on the bus the only available seat was beside the woman who had tried to help. She sat down and they ignored each other.

At home she dressed the cut on her knee, made her dinner for one and sat watching her favourite soap while she ate it. The characters were like old friends and occasionally she would speak directly to the screen, especially when someone was being foolish or neglectful, and in jeopardy of disrupting a love affair, or putting their child in danger.

She carried her bag up to the bedroom. She changed into her pyjamas, brushed her teeth, and combed her hair. She climbed into bed. She didn't feel like reading tonight. She lifted her darling out of the bag and lay it on the empty pillow beside her. When she turned out the light, she watched as it turned its delicate face towards her. Even in the darkness she could feel its smile.

Short Story

About the Creator

Wilkie Stewart

Writer of strange little tales living in Glasgow, Scotland. A former IT professional who loves literary fiction, poetry, Eurovision, art-house film, post-crossing, and comics. Walks daily with his camera when he can. @werewegian1 on Twitter

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