Have you ever noticed that certain places have portals through which lost items pass, disappearing without a trace on their way to some parallel universe? School and holiday destinations come to mind, but the portal that confounds all attempts to pursue an object’s trajectory out of this world is found in aeroplanes, generally in the seat pocket. Have you ever left anything on a plane and recovered it? I have not. I’ve lost many things, a loved merino sweater, expensive headphones, spectacles and books, and a most precious fountain pen.
The fountain pen was the one that did me in. It was a teeny German Montblanc that worked diligently over many years whenever it wasn’t snuggled up in its little Montblanc wallet. I went to trouble to pursue it. I rang lost property at Brisbane – there’s never anyone there but you can leave a message. I found out the plane went next to Adelaide and checked their lost property. I followed its journey for the rest of that day, leaving messages at every airport, hoping my pen stayed with the plane, only to find it hadn’t; it had vanished. Its little wallet sat in my pen drawer gaping open for months until I threw it out, unable to bear its lack of pen any longer.
After the pen, of no value to anyone but me – nibs bend over time to the writer’s hand – I developed a view of airline staff. Someone told me they pinch lost property or sell it at auction. Had someone pocketed my pocket pen? Had it been auctioned by the airline to improve the balance sheet? I dipt my soul in the ink of bitterness. And then I encountered Malcolm Martin.
I was due to fly to Sydney for a meeting one morning. We passengers were boarded and settled in when we learned that the flight was delayed because of bad weather. The delay would make my already short trip impractical, so after telling the flight attendant, I disembarked without checking the seat pocket, called the client and went to the lounge to reschedule the flight for the next day. With that done, I left the lounge to head for the car. As I was crossing the road I heard my name. I turned around to see the Qantas staff member who’d assisted me in the lounge, Malcolm Martin. He had my very expensive laptop under his arm. I’d left it in the lounge when I was looking up the client’s number. Malcolm had chased me all the way out of the terminal to give it back to me.
Malcolm could easily have had a new laptop instead of chasing me – I’d never have remembered quite where I left it – but he wouldn’t even accept money by way of thank you. It taught me that you can see the world through unkind glasses if you want, but while things get lost, most humans have good hearts. And in that parallel universe, perhaps there’s a writer right now creating something extraordinary.