The Bag

I noticed the bag across the street from Mrs. Chow’s house, by the hedge.  It was a brown fabric bag. Crossed my mind that could be garbage left in the street. I delivered the mail for Mrs. Chow and as I was coming down the stairs, my eyes went back to the bag.  Curiosity made me cross the street. Could it be “The hidden camera?” I made sure nobody was watching.

In my business being observant is a good skill to have and I’ve developed over the years.  I picked the bag up and noticed that it was heavy, maybe books I thought. 
The bag had long leather handles, the fabric was brown with flowers, not new, old fashion. It was like an old lady’s bag. I put it back on the ground and pushed on to my back the bag with the mail. I crouched to open the bag.  I slide the zipper slow, my eyes froze at the sight of the bundles of money.  Stacks of 100 dollar bills! Wow!
Blood rushed to my head and a shiver ran through my body, still crouched I looked one more time from one side of the street to the other.   What in the hell is a bag full of money doing in the street? Nobody around? I stood up, and walked towards my car.
Shaughnessy is an affluent neighbourhood in the city.  With large homes, characteristic of the area, nicely painted in yellows, greys, and a few browns with black trim.  Very seldom you see people in the streets. Few old ladies walk their dogs, I knew them all by first name.  That day was overcast grey.  It was spring, I felt the fresh air in my face with the sweet smell of Jasmine.  The lawns were meticulously mowed and there was no sign of anything out of place in the perfectly landscaped yards.

When I reached the car, I opened the trunk.  I felt excited and confused.  I turned to think what the sensible thing was to do.   My memories sled through every event I remembered involving people finding a bag of cash. I deposited the bag in the trunk, closed it as I looked around one more time for somebody following or watching me.
I leaned my back on the driver’s side door.  I wanted to smoke, have a drink or take a leak.  My heart didn’t want to slow down, I felt sweat in my forehead.  I knew I had to act calm and easy, as usual.  I thought about what to do with the still half full bag of mail to deliver.   Should I deliver? Should I run…?
I finished my day, it gave me time to relax and think.  I walked back to the street where I had found the bag and finished delivering the mail at the same pace as every day.  As usual, I didn’t see anybody. I returned to the car, stuffed my jacket and empty mail bag in the back seat and drove home.
As I turned south onto Oak Street, a policeman flagged me down to stop.           
  “License and registration,” he said looking at my eyes.  
I handed him the papers without saying a word.  He walked slowly to the back of my car, and then got into his car that was parked at the corner.
  “What the hell is this policeman is doing here,” I said to myself,
  “Does he know that I have a bag with money in my trunk?  Should I say something about it?”
The thought that I don’t have to be afraid, I have done nothing wrong.  That brought me some relief… “Besides the policeman is doing his job, following his routine, calm down Elliot,” I said to myself.  My palms got clammy, my throat dry, It seemed forever, finally the policeman returned to the car, handed me the papers and said,
  “Thank you, have a good day sir.” I put the registration away in the glove compartment resisting my instinct to fly away quickly.  I took my time, my hands shook, I started the car and drove away slowly.  I passed this one, I reassured myself.  Nobody knows about that money…. My body felt wet, like being in the tropics at noon.
Once at home, I couldn’t wait to see how much money was in the bag.  I dumped the money on my bed, cleaned the night table and counted the bundles one on top of the other.  There was 2.5 million dollars and the bills looked real to me.
I went to the kitchen to make myself some tea.  My dog Harley followed me around as usual. I was too excited, I haven’t paid any attention to Harley when I came in. I knelt down to pet him.  He looked at me wagged his tail. 
  “Today is our lucky day….I have found a bag full of money,” I said.    
  “Our life is about to change.”
I had been a mail man since I was 20.  I chose this job for many reasons, one of them being that I would have lots of time to myself, nobody checking on me and I would get to walk outside. During these 18 years in the job I have had time to think.  Lots of thinking! In my free time I like to stay home, enjoy Harley’s company, drink tea, read and occasionally watch TV. 
My house is small but comfortable, I had been renting it since I started delivering mail.

That night I started planning my retirement.  I packed the money back in the bag and tucked it in the attic. I couldn’t read that night. I was hungry so I cooked a pot of rice with extra veggies and I grilled a chicken breast. I opened a bottle of wine to quietly celebrate my finding.  I will work until I get my holidays in August and then go down to Mexico to live, but how would I bring the money?
During dinner, I made up my mind that I was going to take a direct flight to Mazatlan to avoid entering the US.  There was a risk of being caught with the cash, they could presume it was drug money.  Whose money was it actually? I didn’t want to go there.  I was busy planning my escape.  Once in Mexico it would be easy to live like I have here, low profile.  I didn’t have any luxurious dreams apart from being by the water, fishing and perhaps sailing…why not.
The days went by fast. I gave notice to Mrs. Jones.  She was surprised that I was leaving.  I told her that a distant relative in the East needed my company.  I gave notice at work.  I told them the same story.  I told the few friends I had the same.  Everybody seemed quite surprised. From time to time I checked on the bag, just to make sure everything was fine.
I booked the tickets for that Wednesday in August. I picked Mazatlan because it was a tourist destination 20 years ago it used to be most popular Mexican place to go and now, not very many people go there. Perfect, I thought. I sold most of my furniture and packed my books and the things I wanted to keep in storage, I threw away lots of junk that I’d collect over the years.
As the day approached my stomach began to feel tight, I felt light and afraid. The summer was hot and finally my last day of work came. My colleagues gave me a small party at the office, hugs and the traditional good wishes and keep in touch requests.  Nobody knew that I was going to Mexico.
Two days before taking off I return the house to Mrs. Jones.  She was sad.  I thanked her for everything she had done for me, and say “By the way I have paid for your house!”  All of these years paying rent, covered her mortgage payments.  I moved to a small hotel nearby where I stayed watching my bag.  Everywhere I went I brought the bag with me.  I was afraid that somebody would steal it.
On the morning of my departure I called a cab and drove to the airport, I was taking a suitcase, Harley’s kennel and the brown bag.  At the airport everything went well.  I was asked to put the brown bag with the cargo.  I thanked them but said, 
  “I would rather bring it with me.”
I had rehearsed my face going through security for weeks and what I would say if they asked me what was in the bag.
I got my boarding pass, thanked the attendant and headed to security.  I felt my bloods leaving my face, my palms were sweaty and my belly was tight like a drum.  I walked straight to the officer with my boarding pass in hand, carrying the brown bag and Harley’s kennel.  The security person checked my boarding pass and took a look at Harley, who was curious but quiet.  She noticed that my hands were sweating. 
  “I’m afraid of planes,” I said quietly staring at my hands.
I placed Harley’s kennel where she pointed out and the brown bag on the belt for the X-Ray scanner.  I put my shoes, belt, watch, pen and the loose change I had in my pocket in the tray, behind I put the brown bag and pushed them into the machine.  I waited for the security person to let me go under the arch.  I needed the bathroom, I was sweating cold!  She indicated me where to go, I did.  Nothing happened.  I just turned to the belt to pick up my things, the security person behind the X-Ray machine called me as I was grabbing the brown bag.
  “What is in here,” she asked.
  “Books,” I said.
  “I am going to have to open it,” she pulled the zipper and opened the bag.  I was frozen! I couldn’t look directly at her, I was about to faint.

   “Are you feeling alright?” she asked me.
  “No…not really,” I said. 
  “I am really afraid…the planes…I need to go to the bathroom,” I blabbed quietly.
  “Nothing to worry about sir,” she said,
  “Planes are quite safe nowadays, nothing to worry!” She looked into the bag, put her gloved hands into it and lifted her head and smile.
  “You are good to go… have a good trip and relax…enjoy your holidays”.
My body felt like it was about to explode, I smiled back, said thanks.  I picked up the brown bag and Harley’s kennel.  As I walked out of the room I could feel the drops of water running down my back.  Picking up the pace, I looked for the nearest bathroom.  I was through, next stop Mexico. I checked on Harley, he was fine, he was my company.
In the bathroom, I thought,
  “One more hoop and we are done…The Mexican authorities.  Once I cross that I am done.”  I felt hungry and thirsty, I stopped for a sandwich and pop at Tim Horton’s, and I got a bottle of water for Harley.  We were set for the plane.  I bought two seats one for me and the other for Harley.  In the plane the friendly attendants from Westjet were cracking jokes.
I placed the brown bag underneath the seat.  I got a seat by the window, I wanted to watch the scenery.  As the plane started rolling down the tarmac, my stomach contracted one more time. I didn’t pay much attention to what the attendant was saying into the microphone. I was magnetized looking out the window.  The pilot put full throttle and the plane began its frenetic run until it got smooth and the nose pointed up, we took off.  The ground began to change, the view was different, new.  At times the plane would shake, like if we had gone from a very smooth road to a dirt one with bumps and then very smooth again.
During the flight I reviewed my life, I wondered about the choices I had made, leaving my parents house at age 16, choosing to be a mail man, not having a partner or having the freedom of not having one, the absence of kids, somebody to teach what I’ve learned. My walks, the people I met during the 18 years delivering their mail, how their kids grew, the new people in the neighbourhood I worked, the ones that move out, the house renovations, the new cars, the seasons, all that I knew was already behind. My house, my yard, my seat.  All that I had was in the bag and Harley’s kennel beside me.
Five and one half hours later we were landed in Mazatlan. It was noticeably hotter than Vancouver. The faces were foreign to me, the colors much more intense, the noise much more loud and the smell of humidity.  I walked to the immigration booth, the officer asked me how long was I coming for and I said,
  “Long sir, long.”  He look at me and stamped my passport.  Next stop customs.  This time I felt more relaxed.  I handed my declaration to the officer and he checked Harley’s kennel, my suitcase and my brown bag.
  “What do you have in here sir?” He asked.
  “Books,” I said. “Books.”  I went through.  It was hot, the big brown tiles of the floor, the high ceilings and the numerous people around me, all shouting at the same time, and it was home, my new home.
Days later I rented a little house in “Barras de Piaxtla”, a small fishing village of few hundreds of people one hour north of Mazatlan.  Although they had electricity and running water, the people live much as they have done for hundreds of years, fishing and ranching.  Many of the houses are still made from small sticks cut from the local woods and woven into walls.

Once in my little house I unpacked the few things I brought, took out the books I had in my brown bag, and carefully place them in the shelves in the living room.  Carved inside of them, was the money.  I had reflected that the best way to pass my treasure through customs was inside the books.  I sighed and I headed to the beach.  I was going fishing, it was my new job.

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