We had almost reached the door of our apartment when the strap broke. (It was, as she called it, her workday bag. She had (so help me God) seventeen different bags, for different occasions, to go with different dresses with different moods. I remember them all so vividly. After all I had spent hours with her, in countless markets all over the damn world, helping her search for them. There was a traveling bag, a casual party bag, a formal party one, a regular workday bag, a special workday bag. (For when she had something special happening at work) one for weddings - a different one for day weddings, even (cross my heart and hope to die if I lie), one for funeral). And diverse as they all were - in colour, shape, size, material and design, there was one thing that all these bags had in common.
'Annie, your ruddy bags are always stuffed to the gills. Just what is it that you women do carry in them…'
She would just give me that child-like smile of hers.)
Anyway, we had just returned from this real late party and were exhausted. The steps were being navigated and conquered by the last dregs of alcohol-induced energy when the bloody strap broke. There was a flurry of plastic, paper, metal, wood and God-knows-what-all as the contents erupted forth. There was a plethora of odds and ends all over the staircase. Address books, lipsticks, eyeliners, tampons, sanitary napkins, pens, pencils, hairpins, powder compacts, coins, tea bags, scissors, tweezers, currency notes, keys, driving licenses, credit cards, tissue papers, lip salve, needle and thread, combs, hair brushes, safety pins, buttons, photographs and papers jostled with each other for space.
'Bloody hell, Annie. Is this what women carry in their bags?'
I grumbled as I stumbled hither and thither, collecting stuff.
'Christ! That's almost half a ruddy woman you've got in here.'
Suddenly I realised that she was sitting on the top stair, with some odds and ends clutched desolately in her hand, staring at this paper she had picked up and she was crying, silently, but steadily.
'Hey, its cool, Annie. Don't worry about it. I'll help you gather it all up. Just open the door and get a big bag. A real big bag, if you don't mind. A sack might be better. Or even a bucket if you can't find anything else.'
She didn't budge. Just sat there, crying. I don't think she even heard what I said. But she had heard the sound of my voice. She didn't even look up. Just shook the paper at me and kept on crying. I took it from her and unfolding it, squinted at it in the dim staircase light.
It was a photocopy of a divorce decree, her divorce decree. It was over three years old. Amazement and bewilderment flooded through me.
'Why are you carrying this in your bag? Has something happened that you've not told me about?'
She just shook her head.
I put my arm around her and stroked her hair as I tried to calm her down. She didn't say a word till I'd gathered up all the contents of her bag and gotten her inside the apartment.
'I always carry it with me.' She said it very softly. 'I've always carried it with me.'
'But why? Why would anyone want to carry a three-year-old divorce decree in her bag? Why?'
'I don't know… I always do… It's a part of my life… I don't take it out… or read it… Or anything… but I always have it in my bag.'
There was an inexplicable simplicity and honesty in the way she spoke. Hey! Christ! I was stumped! I simply took her in my arms and held her till the tears were gone and she had drifted away to sleep. As sleep overtook me, one thought emerged with total clarity in my mind.
A woman's mind is as cluttered as her handbag.