AIDA AUSTIN: "I like my bag the way it is, I consider, stuffed full of hopes and expectations"

SUNDAY, 11pm. Home, in bed.
“You keep staring into space,” my husband says, rustling the sports pages.
“It’s unnerving. Where’s your book?” 

“On the floor,” I say. 

“Why aren’t you reading it? I thought you said that book felt like it was going to be a brilliant read.”

“It is,” I say, “that’s the problem.” 

“Why’s that…” 

“Shh,” I say, “I’m thinking.” 

“In fact, now I come to think of it,” he says, rustling the sports pages again, “you were staring into space last night too but I didn’t say anything.”

I get out of bed, pick up my book from the floor and place it in a large canvas bag on the long washstand facing the bottom of our bed. 

“There,” I say, “I’m putting Sunjeev Sahota in and taking Eliot out. I can’t see myself reading Daniel Deronda on a boat.” 

“You know it can get quite busy on a sailing boat,” my husband says. 

“For the sailors,” I say. 

“It can get quite hairy,” he says. 

“That’s a good decision I’ve made on Deronda,” I say, for I have determined that any such talk must be ignored.

I climb into bed. “I’m going to save Sunjeev Sahota for the boat,” I say, “so that means I can start Daniel Deronda now. I want to test it out before it makes it into my holiday bag.”

Monday, 11.30pm. 

“You’re staring into space again,” my husband says, getting into bed. 

“Shh,” I say, “I’m not staring into space, I’m looking at my bag.” 

“What bag?” 

“My holiday bag,” I say, pointing. 

“I thought you’d sorted your holiday reading out,” he says. 

“I have,” I say, “I’m just waiting to put the Cairo Trilogy in and then I’m done. I ordered it last week, it should be in the shop tomorrow.” 

“That bag looks stuffed,” he says, “Surely you haven’t packed already? We’re not going for two weeks.” 

“That holiday bag is an emblem,” I say. 

“Of what?” he says. 

“In fact it’s more than an emblem,” I say, “It’s a totem. It’s gaining spiritual significance day by day. That bag contains all my hopes and expectations for Greece. Every time I look at it, I start dreaming. I’m not staring, you see, I’m dreaming.”

“You do know sailing is like camping...” he says. 

“I know nothing of the sort,” I interrupt, for such talk, as I say, must be ignored. 

“...only at sea.” 

“Drifting along at sea,” I say, “with boiling sunshine, tomatoes that taste of tomatoes and a beach towel on the prow…” 

“And you know Stephen and Lou’s track- record with skippering is exactly like their track- record with driving.” 

“...drifting along in a bikini,” I say, “with Naguib Mahfouz.” 

“Naguib Mahfouz?” he says, “who the hell is Naguib Mahfouz?” 

“The man who wrote the Cairo trilogy,” I say, “and when Mahfouz goes into that holiday bag tomorrow, I’m fully-equipped for three weeks of bliss.” 

“For what it’s worth,” my husband says, “it’s bow, not prow.”

11pm. Stephen calls my husband on his mobile. I look at my bag. And dream. 

“Put him on loud speaker,” I say, “I want to hear all about the boat.” 

“Sorry to call so late,” he says, “It’s just I need both your passport numbers.” 

“Two weeks until we all set sail,” I shout, “I can’t wait. Mind the boom!” 

“Mind the boom?” he says. 

“Isn’t that what people shout on a boat?” I ask. 

“Seriously, I can see it all now.” “What can you see?” he says, “just out of interest.” 

“Me, flung out on the bow…” 

“Bow,” he says, “I’m impressed. 

“What’s the other end of the boat called?” 

“Gimme a clue,” I say, “gimme the first letter or something.” 

“It begins with the letter S,” he says. 

“Second letter,” I say. 

“Means the same as forbidding,” he says, “or serious.” 

“One more clue,” I say. 

“Stern,” he sighs, “the back of a boat is called the stern.” 

“Anyway,” my husband says, “what do you need the passport numbers for?” 

“I need to register the passengers,” Stephen says. 

“That’s me,” I shout, “me and Mahfouz.” 

I resume staring at my holiday bag. If it gets too breezy on the bow, I consider, Mahfouz and I can always saunter down to the stern. 

“Never mind who Mahfouz is,” my husband says, “and no, she definitely doesn’t know what tacking is.”

“Put him off loudspeaker,” I say, gazing at my holiday bag. 

I like my bag the way it is, I consider, stuffed full of hopes and expectations. There is no room for tacking in my bag. Or... aiming off starboard, whatever that is. 

“Get him off loudspeaker,” I say, “before he tells me what tacking is.” 

“I’m not registering you as passengers,” Stephen says. 

“Get him off,” I say. 

“I’m registering you both as crew.”


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