“Months and days are eternal travellers,” said the woman behind the desk.
Bob leaned closer to read her name badge. “That may be true up to a point, Hannah. Or at least for a few billion years until the sun swallows the earth. Which is to say that it’s not true at all because something is either eternal or it is finite. But let’s not get sidetracked. Whether the journey of months and days is eternal or not, I am talking to you because I would like the journey of my luggage to be rendered finite as soon as humanly possible.”
Hannah blinked at him. “You what?”
“I was trying to phrase my request in the same poetic style as your unhelpful platitude,” said Bob. “My mistake. Let’s try this: where is my suitcase?”
“Not here,” said Hannah.
Bob closed his eyes and took a deep breath.
“I know that.” Bob looked as if he was making a physical effort to draw back his cheeks, forming something that might have been a smile. “I wouldn’t be asking you if it was here, because the sign above your desk reads ‘lost luggage’. If my suitcase was here, it would not be lost so I would have no reason to seek out the angel of efficient service who dwells beneath the aforesaid sign. As I am here, at this desk, a moment’s celestial contemplation would lead to the conclusion that my suitcase is not. Or to put it simply: where is it?”
Hannah looked blank.
“Can the heavenly computer on the desk in front of you tell us where it is?” asked Bob.
Hannah scowled and tapped the keyboard. “It’s in a plane to Dubai.”
“And we are where?”
“Heathrow. It’s near High Wycombe.”
“Good. That’s good. I am now reassured that you at least know where you are. Now. How are you going to get my suitcase to Heathrow, near High Wycombe, from Dubai, near the Persian Gulf?”
“Near the what gulf?”
“Near the…never mind. When will my suitcase get here.”
Bob closed his eyes and took a deep breath. “Hannah, I have a question for you. A moment ago, you quoted Bashō. A poet of sublime elegance, but not one very well known anywhere near High Wycombe. Where did you hear those words?”
Hannah shrugged. “Customer service training. They told us to remember those words when we feel ourselves getting annoyed. Said it would stop us losing our rags.”
“I had no idea that management training courses imbibed the serenity of Japanese poetry. Did they tell you to say it to your customers?”
Hannah furrowed her brow. “No, I don’t think they did, now you mention it. But you looked like you was getting pissed off – I mean, getting annoyed so I said it. Did it help?”
Bob moved his lips moved as he repeated the line silently. Months and days are eternal travellers.
He opened his eyes and looked at Hannah. “Yes, thank you, it did. Now, shall we talk about getting my suitcase back from Dubai.”
“Of course not. May one ask why?”
“It ain’t in Dubai. It’s on its way to Dubai. Can’t get it back from there till it gets there, can I?”
“Would you please repeat that line again? Three times, if you’d be so kind.”