“Committee regulations,” she said. “I’m terribly sorry, but I can’t store your bag.”
I was meandering my way back from the Mornington Peninsula town of Rye – home of both my friend D and my Gran. It was going to be a leisurely trip back – listening to podcasts on my phone while someone else navigated the way home. The plan was to hop off at seaside towns along the way, having a pot of tea here and a beach stroll there.
I had taken my little red suitcase with me, with glided on wheels behind me. It was not suitable for beach walks, but I was sure I would have no trouble finding it some temporary lodging.
First stop was Dromana, to check out the heritage gardens where the Diggers Club runs its operations. “Do you think I could walk from here to here?” I asked the boy in the hoodie sitting next to me, showing him a bit of green on the map on my smart phone. He shrugged. “Guess so. There’s probably a track you could walk through.” I clutched my little red suitcase as we rounded a bend, BBC podcast drowning out the sounds of the heaving bus.
When we approached my destination, I realised that what had looked like a pleasant walk in a park was a sheer cliff face. The map is not the terrain, the words of my husband echoed in my head. No matter, I thought. Skip Dromana – I’ll get off that boat-and-ice-cream town of Mornington instead.
I pressed the button and the blue light came on with a ping. Lugging my little red suitcase onto the sidewalk, I made my way towards the Information building. I really really needed to go to the loo, but I also needed to get rid of this bag.
“Excuse me, do you think it’s possible to store this bag for me for a few hours?”
The information woman’s forehead creased and furrowed. “Well, not really, no, we don’t really normally do that, do we?” She turned to a talk, short-haired woman who looked equally perplexed.
“Yes well, maybe…what do you think?”
“Well, it’s just that we don’t like to make a habit of this…what do you intend to do, in Mornington?”
“You know,” I said, “eat some lunch, look at the boats, that sort of thing.”
“Ah, I see,” the first woman said, as if this was a surprising way to spend a few hours in Mornington. She looked at the second woman again, wanting someone else to make a decision, but it was obvious from the raised eyebrows on the tall woman’s face that she alone would have to make a call. “Ok, look, here’s what we’ll do,” she said with sudden decisiveness. “Do you have some ID? A drivers licence? Yes, good. Give me that, and I’ll look after your bag.”
“But the thing is, there’s a shift change in half an hour. You’ll have to come back then and just confirm with the person taking over that she is comfortable with this situation.”
It was as though I was asking her to look after my pet python. “No worries,” I said.
“I mean, I think it’s only fair – don’t you?”
“Sure,” I said. I really needed to get out of there and find a toilet.
The in-charge woman nudged my bag under a bench in another room. She came out, still looking worried. “You really must come back in half an hour. I really think it’s only the right thing to do.”
She pushed some brochures into my hand about the history of Mornington, and jotted a suggested walking route on tourist map.
“Thank you,” I said, “I’m very grateful.” And I was. Then I rushed out at the politest possible moment to locate a toilet.
As promised, I returned in exactly 30 minutes. This time, the next-shift woman was there.
“Now,” she said, “about this bag.”
“I’m afraid we simply cannot look after it.”
I looked at the woman from the first shift. She was doing a weird half-smile, with just her bottom teeth showing.
“The committee has made a very clear decision not to look after bags. We have had problems, you see.”
“And just this moment, a committee member was in here! We all could have got into serious trouble.”
“Oh, I’m sorry.”
“No, I’m sorry,” said the now guilty-looking woman from the first shift. “It’s just that I’ve been away, and I didn’t know about the changes.”
“That’s ok, you can’t be expected to know everything,” I said, summoning up all the grace I could muster. I felt a bit sorry for her really, because she now not only felt awful for giving me the run-around, but was also in trouble with someone who clearly pulled rank, and also, quite possibly, the committee.
“Here’s your bag,” said the first-shift woman. My driver’s licence was sticky-taped to the top. She had been so vigilant about it all. “Do you want any more information?”
“No, I’ll be fine thanks,” and I swung the door open, letting it close loudly behind me. I headed to the bus stop again, and started my way back to Melbourne.
I arrived back in the city in a foul mood. A half-empty milky drink lay on the footpath, and I kicked it hard with my foot. People are such pigs! I thought.
I was pissed off because this was a precious day in my Easter break, and it had been wasted talking to self-important, rule-bound Information women, and winding around the back streets of the Mornington Peninsula while busting to go to the loo. I was pissed off that I didn’t just fork out the money and hire a car, and that I didn’t take a freakin’ smaller bag. My little red suitcase was feeling pretty heavy, as I dragged it, jolting and protesting, through the bluestone-paved alleyway near my apartment.
My wonderful husband made me a pot of tea and listened to me bitch and moan for some time. Once I calmed down I decided to think more philosophically about the bag situation.
My feeling of dependence – on these women for their generosity – felt familiar. I realised it reminded me of the times people in Credo asked me if I don’t mind holding onto their stuff for a while. I have a desk, a little secure place to call mine – a thing that you take for granted if you have it, but it cripples you if you don’t. A place to dump your stuff – I had never thought of that as a thing of privilege, but it really is.
I had been offered a thing that determined whether I would have a restful or a frustrating day. Then it was just as quickly retracted. I felt upset at my powerlessness, and angry that those who held the power couldn’t bend a little.
Today, I couldn’t control my day, and it turned out badly. I went a bit agro about it, and I’m a bit ashamed at my childish reaction. But I can see more clearly now why other people crack it when they are told ‘no’, and how much strength it can take to hold your composure.
Especially when it’s not just a day, but a whole life –
of waiting to see whether people will bend a tad,
make just a little bit of space,