I had made sure my coins, masks, wallet, and all were in my backpack, leaving “nothing but air” in my pockets, as the TSA agent commanded.

Soon my backpack came out of the scanner, and I thought: Those are my goodies, outside of the machine. I’m glad I’m not one of those fools who sends contraband through the x-ray.

A TSA dude moved it to the side.

“What? There’s nothing in—Oh, no! The pocketknife!”

That morning, I had rifled through my bags, looking for the pocketknife from Mammoth Cave I’d bought the day before. Finally, I found it. I was relieved and replaced it—secure in the knowledge it was packed away.

I replaced it. Replaced it! Put it right back in the pocket of the backpack I planned to carry on the plane! WTF? What am I, clueless? Every moron knows you can’t have a pocketknife on a plane!

Not this moron, apparently.

Looking at the x-ray, Mr. TSA said, “It looks like a corkscrew. Do you know where it is?”

The corkscrew—one of the pocketknife doohickies.

“Yes,” I pointed. “It’s in that pocket, in an envelope.”

He said, “Oh, my! I’d never have imagined it’d be in there.” A lack of imagination, clearly.

“Nice knife! You can give it to someone who’s not flying, or check it, or pitch it.”

“Can I find another person going to Des Moines?”

“Up to you.”

As we did a quick perp walk back out to registration, I avoided the eyes of everyone in line. What would they be thinking? Oooo, there goes a deviant. Or: I wonder what they pervert did to get marched out of here like a criminal. Actually, more than one of them was thinking, Yeah, that’s happened to me before. Sucks to be him.

On the other side, Ms. Check-in informed me it’d be $50 to check the backpack because they couldn’t bring my bag back up. I imagined the baggage handlers: “What? Some passenger wants us to find one bag? No way!”

“What if I give it to someone else who is on the flight?”

“Up to you.” The exact wording as Mr. TSA.

The search was on.

Two ladies approached. “Excuse me. Are you flying to Des Moines?”

“Yes,” said one apprehensively. My heart leapt.

“See, I checked my suitcase, but at security they found this pocketknife. I thought I might give it to you to put in your bag and I’ll find you in Des Moines and…” Before I finished the woman pulled her head back into her shell and shook her head violently like I was smuggling migrant children.

I should have said, “I’ll see you at baggage claim.”      

“I’ll find you in Des Moines,” sounds like we were going to set up a clandestine rendezvous under I-235 with secret passwords and encrypted messages.

I sat on the floor. I still had three hours before my flight.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw an airport cop approach me. “What’s going on here?”

“Well,” I said humbly, “I checked my bag, but forgot a pocketknife. If someone will take the knife for me, I’ll meet them in Des Moines.” I wanted my body language to show I knew my proposal was a bit kookie.

I could almost see the words going through his mind. Pocketknife. Stranger. Someone else’s bag.

“You aren’t asking for money?

“Oh, no.”

“Ok, well, we had a report.”

He was looking for some weird guy asking for money. I was a weird guy not asking for money, so I was okay. If someone had reported a weird guy trying to stash a pocketknife in someone’s bag, I’d have been in trouble. 

Yes, it was a beauty. Corkscrew, Phillips screwdriver, scissors, can opener, bottle opener, two saws, girlfriend’s monogram, metal bar with a hole near the end of it—even a knife!  

Twelve dollars? Of course! Fifty dollars? No question about it. Even at $62.50, it’s worth it! Then my inner penny-pincher raised its ugly head. What a colossal waste of money, James!

Back at check-in: “Excuse me, do you happen to be going to Des Moines today?”

“Yeah, we are,” a thirty-something woman answered brightly.

“Well—I checked my suitcase, but I forgot about a pocketknife in my backpack here. I wonder if you might take my knife, and I’ll meet you at baggage claim and retrieve it.”

“Well, no,” she answered with a voice loud enough to alert the fire brigade, “because that’s illegal, isn’t it?”

“No, the officials don’t have a problem with it.”

“I won’t do it. Maybe someone else will. Sorry.”

Sorry? If she’d been truly sorry, she’d have taken the knife.

Thinking I’d have to fork over the extra $50, I went to the back of the line. After my standard schpeel, a woman said, “Oh, so that’s how they do it?” apparently thinking there’s a handbook for transporting pocketknives into Des Moines, Iowa.

“I don’t know if anyone else does it this way, but I’ve asked the TSA guy and the check-in ladies, and—”

“Give it to me.” It was the woman in front of them. She had her hand outstretched. “I’ve lost too much stuff that way.”

“Thanks a lot,” I said with a gee-wilikers expression. Was she really going to Des Moines? I didn’t know. But I didn’t have to throw it away, and I might get the knife back.

What’s more, she wasn’t the type of person I expected would take it. I had been looking for single, unhurried people. She was traveling with her three-year-old daughter. I figured people with kids wouldn’t have time to be futzing around with some weird guy who was trying to save a $12 pocketknife.

Ten minutes after the plane dropped smoothly into Des Moines, I caught sight of my savior, she dropped the knife into my palm, and walked out the door.



James Robertovich is a teacher who moved out of Ukraine when the war started and wound up in Malta. He’s volunteering at an English school teaching other refugees (mostly from Africa) English.

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