This little story was inspired by a vintage suitcase we had in our home growing up. I’ve always been fascinated by objects like this, filled to the brim with immense history and stories… How many hands had it been passed from and to? Where had it been and why? What had it seen and overheard? How did it land up here?
Take a read and enjoy. Maybe it will inspire you to pick an object with an interesting history and write your own story around it?
The sweet smell of old leather fills the air. It’s so familiar, so comforting.
A suitcase stands forlorn in a corner. Its brass buckles have lost their spring, the stitching is coming undone and the inlay of cardboard is curling with the moisture in the air. But you look on with a sigh and a smile at the gracefully maturing companion that has gathered up the sights and sounds of many new worlds with you. It shares a corner of this home with a sleek black briefcase and a colourful carry-on case with wheels and a retractable handle. Next to such innovation, it’s motley colour and fraying ends boxes it as shy… sad… dated. But strangely, you think to yourself, this quiet soul stands its ground. It sifts something into the air that the two ‘new-kids-on-the-block’ don’t have – presence and warmth. The weatherworn exterior is not its fragility. It’s the mark of character and experience.
You can’t resist. You walk over and sit on the suitcase almost tipping yourself to the ground. Brushing your hand against the side, you remember the time when you were five and decided it was time to move out. Tossing a teddy bear, a pair of socks, a jersey and a marie biscuit into the suitcase, you struggled down the road with your friendly-burden. After much pushing and pulling, a change of destination seemed appropriate… The stop-street just 100m from your house. And after your exhausting journey, you opened your ‘treasure-chest,’ put on your socks and jersey, held the teddy close and cuddled into a corner of the suitcase where you munched on the biscuit to comfort your anxious, little soul. When mom arrived, a whole 30 minutes later, you were asleep in the shallow square shelter.
Then there was the mad adventure to the coast for your matric holiday. Everyone laughed at the outdated case you took along. It was squashed between tog-bags and suntan lotion and cokes and boogie-boards in the back of your tiny car, where it heard crazy stories never to be repeated. It was kissed by sea-air and scratched by miniature pebbles called sand and bumped around to the beat of disco music in a messy lounge.
Of course, there was the time your old buddy watched as you collected the last few items from your mother’s house that was almost falling apart. You gently placed a picture frame, a trinket snuggled in newspaper, balls of wool, a pair of spectacles and a few other odds and ends in the suitcase, clicked the latches shut and walked out on a chapter in your life.
The sweetness traces its way up again.
You stand up and open the suitcase. It’s emptiness brims over with memories.
How many different hands held tight to that handle on its journey from the polite shores of England to the rhythmic oceans of southern Africa? How many lands and ways of doing things, all diverse and beautiful, had it seen? What of the different moods of the weather? A sunny Sunday picnic, a wind-whipped storm on a trip to the Highveld, a snowy breeze at the train-station in a small European town. And the seasons of the souls that carried it? Light and languid, delighted and desperate, silly and sublime, all packed neatly into its life experience. And what of the lives it carried, all contained in journals and clothes and photographs and hairbrushes and cards and cheap things of inexplicable value? Some squeezing in too much, others wishing they had more to fill it up with. It’d seen fashions and crazes come and go, like the people who dragged it around. You chuckle. It’s all in the journey, isn’t it? That’s where the treasure lies.
You close the suitcase and smile. In all its dusty-browness, it shines much brighter than the new suitcases beside it that know nothing of life. You walk to the mirror and trace your finger carefully from the folds of your eye, down to your cheek. Suddenly those wrinkles don’t seem so bad anymore.
Photograph by Norman Hanna