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Never judge a man by his suitcase


We found a Stayok hostel on the edge of Apeldoorn. What other tourists do in this small Dutch town is beyond me, but local authorities decided their area had enough attractions to warrant a tourist office. It is a spacious room at the edge of the pedestrianized centre made to feel even roomier by its empty desks and unfingered brochures.

They placed us in a dorm for 23 euros where a large suitcase with Iberian airline stickers lay on a small table. Just as we were familiarizing ourselves with the surroundings and enjoying some salami and cheese on the suitcase a short 67-year-old entered with a can of cheap Dutch lager beer in one hand and a US army parachute towed by the other.
“Well boys I’m Jim, it is a pleasure to meet you. I’ll take this bed if that’s okay with you of course.”

His swagger evaporated at the site of a suitcase.

“Say what sort of suitcase is that. You don’t think they’ll put a woman in here do you? I mean I know I’m supposed to like them all but I’m sick of them now. Take that whatever way you will boys.”

I glanced at my friend who stayed close to the suitcase.

“You know. I was in a hostel in err Nijmegen which is a town in Flanders, that’s in Holland and I walk into my dorm and I see this suitcase lying there. And I step back, woh it’s a woman’s suitcase in my room. So I go to reception and say, ‘you know there’s a woman’s suitcase in my dorm. Am I sharing a room with a woman?’ And the hostel receptionist says I am, so I say, ‘Well may I have a new room? I can’t share a room with a woman.’ Where I’m from that’s just not what we do, and I was in the military for twenty years. Now this suitcase lying here – a man doesn’t use that kind of thing, at least not where I am from.”

He took a swig from the can, before answering our question as to his purpose in Apeldoorn.

“Well you know next week is the 65th anniversary of Operation Market Garden, the biggest air drop in history from you guys. There is a big commemoration event so I’ve come along to watch proceedings and try to do some jumps myself. You know that ol’ drill. Now if you’ll excuse me, I just have to go to my vehicle to pick up some supplies.”

Shortly after he left the suitcase’s owner entered.

“David, David, David, Espanyol, holiday?” went his introduction.

My friend quickly wiped down his suitcase and we helped him move it onto a bed.

David doesn’t speak English. He is a young, but large police officer from Seville. We don’t speak Spanish but he expected us to, and chatted in his tongue, before bringing out a book called ‘Operación Market Garden’.

The door opened, and officer Jim came back, with a military hat on, a leather flying jacket, his mess tin in one hand and a litre carton of ‘Dutch’ wine in the other.

“So we found the owner of the girl’s suitcase yet?” He quipped coming round the corner before laying eyes on its proprietor.

“David, David, David. Espanyol, holiday?”

Jim’s small face lit up at the chance to demonstrate his Spanish skills. “Oh Espanyola, que tau, no holiday, Operation Market Garden.”

“Si, si, si,” David shook his book enthusiastically in front of Jim’s face.
“Well look at that boys, now what a coincidence. We’ve got the same book. David we need to talk about this, but for now I’m tired. I drink for the effect. When you get to my age your tastes bud go it doesn’t matter no more what you’re drinking. So let’s synchronize watches, David, what time you got there?”

He grabbed the policeman’s hand. “Now let’s set them for 06:45, seize quarto cinq, okay 0645, correcto?”

Shortly after 08:24 I stirred from my sleeping bag. It was perfectly light outside and the day was impatient to begin. Officer Jim and David slept soundly and silently. I rose and rustled around the room.

“Goddam, dam, dam it, my alarm must have not gone OFF! Well thanks for getting me up boys.”

David times three Espanyol also stirred and after Jim had enjoyed a twenty second shower we walked along the hostel’s corridor to have breakfast together.

David ate his croissant with his knife and fork, whilst officer Jim tried to interest him in his map.

We became silent onlookers munching on hostel rolls as two enthusiasts of the biggest military airdrop in history, who had managed to find each other in a hostel in a town where the drop did not even occur, breached the language barricade. They spent the morning exchanging notes and following each others fingers along a map of the routes they were planning on taking and memorials they intended to see. Together. Their suitcases packed.

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