Threat Level Orange

It was only my second flight, and I hadn’t yet mastered the grace that inevitably comes to the seasoned traveler. The subtle removal of shoes, the flick of the wrist that empties pockets, hands somehow free of purses and luggage and able to procure your ticket, your i.d., your passport, all while grinning like a good monkey for the TSA. No, I was the nervous Nellie at the back of the line trying to get her shit under control without running screaming back to safety.

The airport in San Juan, Puerto Rico, was crawling with holiday travelers with grim faces that spoke of a return to the fifty-hour work week, of unanswered emails and voicemails, of catastrophes that surely would dominate their waking hours when their planes touched down on whatever wretched soil they called home.

I, always the straggler, trailed my travelling companions. “I’m coming, I’m coming,” I said as I dug around in my purse.

It was then that I noticed it. A nondescript black bag sitting in the middle of the terminal like some abandoned child’s toy. No apparent owner stood near the bag, and the terminal carried on around it without noticing its presence.

But I saw it. My companions had long since left me behind, but I waited and watched the bag.

Surely someone will be along in a minute. Probably just set it down and forgot it was there, I thought, and I honestly believed myself for a moment, but when five, then eight minutes had passed, my brain kicked into scary movie mode, and I was standing in what most certainly was a bomber’s wet dream.

Sweat inched down my back and gathered in the elastic of my underwear. This was it. The final adios, if you will. That small, black bag would be the last thing I saw before meeting my maker.

In my peripheral I spotted a white and navy uniform, the bright flash of something that I hoped was a badge. “Senora? Senora? Habla ingles?”

“Si. I mean, yes.”

The security guard was short and squat, her dark hair pulled into a low bun. A pair of gold hoop earrings grazed the tops of her shoulders, and her lips were lined in a frosted pink that reminded me of a cupcake.

Pointing at the bag that sealed our doom, I said, “That bag. It’s just been sitting there for the past ten minutes. I’ve been watching it, and no one has come to claim it.”

She regarded me slowly before bringing an acrylic fingernail to the walkie-talkie on her shoulder and speaking into it with alarming quickness.

“I’ve been watching it,” I repeated like a child who wanted a pat on the head and an atta’girl.

“I’m going to need you to step back,” she said as three other uniformed guards trotted towards her. They circled the bag slowly, like an animal circles something it would very much like to kill and eat.

The security guards began to clear the area, re-directing innocent travelers who hardly noticed, continued on their selected trajectories, jabbering away on their cell phones.

I wanted to drag the travelers back, force them to look, shout at them. “Look! It’s a fucking bag. And it’s just SITTING there! I’ve watched it for fifteen minutes now! I bet it’s a fucking BOMB!”

The guards were standing back from the bag, each of them talking into their shoulders or with each other when a boy who couldn’t have been more than eleven or twelve strolled up to the bag, yanked his stained, white t-shirt down to cover the small pouch of a browned belly, and picked it up.

My first thought was that this kid must have a death wish, but as the guards swarmed around him, his face crumpled as if he was on the verge of bursting into tears because he’d been caught doing something naughty, and I realized. It was his bag.

Dumbfounded, I watched a guard lead the boy back to his parents, her hand resting atop a shock of black, greasy hair.

As she spoke with them, I watched the boy pick his nose and fidget. His parents stared at the guard with bovine-like stupidity and nodded. When the guard walked away, they shooed the boy towards a bench that he was clearly meant to sit on. It was all over in less than three minutes. 

Without the impending threat of explosion, my heart gradually slowed its hammering, but fury was slowly replacing my fear. No sooner had the boy seated himself on the bench, did his parents turn away, their dull eyes now fixed on some other unimportant item that took precedence over their dim-witted son.

Didn’t they know, didn’t they understand the danger of an unattended bag in an airport? Not to mention the danger, the utter idiocy often imposed upon unsuspecting strangers? Surely at his age he knew better. Surely his parents knew better!

I wanted to pinch him in that soft, fleshy belly of his, wanted to grab him by the ear and haul him around the terminal while forcing him to apologize to every traveler in the place with perfect elocution and delivery. “Please forgive me, sir, for my poor, moronic actions,” he said in my fantasy.

But more than anything I wanted to grind his parents’ faces in a large patch of dirt and make them admit that they should have kept a better eye on their son.

Instead I gathered my things, being sure that all of my bags were secured, and hurried on to meet my friends. As I walked past the boy, I hissed loud enough for both him and his parents to hear the one word I’d managed to pick up during my trip to Puerto Rico.

Pinche pendejo.”


Kristi DeMeester lives, writes, and teaches in Atlanta, Georgia. Her works have appeared in DecomP magazine, Free Inquiry, and Sam Quinones' Tell Your True Tales project. Kristi blogs at One Perfect Word.

Categories: Airports, Security, Death

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