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The carousel, now nearly empty, grinds to a halt. A luggage handler arrives, removes the unclaimed suitcases and places them in a corner.
A few weary travelers - who have been waiting impatiently for over an hour, with necks strained and eyes stinging - watch him move methodically, ignoring their presence and their plight as he hoists and drops each remaining bag. This, coupled with the overhead sign's switching to a new flight number, causes panic among them.
"What do we do now?" they murmur to one another, strangers suddenly bonded through lost baggage.
Golan Alon, who has been on his cell phone throughout most of this ordeal, takes charge. This is not unusual for the former IDF officer and current CEO of Israchip, an up-and-coming hi-tech firm he has just returned from promoting abroad.
Leading the way to the information desk, a copy of Globes lodged in his armpit, he assures the others that he will see to it that the whole thing is taken care of. He has much experience in these matters, he announces, partly to reassure himself and partly to let it be known that he is as frequent a flyer as they come. It is a fact of his nature that no matter how many years' worth of accomplishments continue to distance him from his working-class background, he still feels like an impostor. Which makes him a bit of a braggart with a penchant for name-dropping. And in a state of constant competition with the father and brother of his silver spoonfed wife, who married him against their wishes.
The others neither notice nor care about his cocky stance. They are merely relieved to be following someone who appears to know what he's doing. If they are disappointed that this knowledge turns out to consist of asking where to obtain the right forms to fill out, they do not show it. Or, rather, their expressions are so low by now anyway that there's not much room left for nuance.
ALON GOLAN tries to distinguish himself from this group - of which he has become an unwitting member by virtue of this mishap - in a different way entirely. Trying to employ techniques he has just spent three weeks refining and updating for his seminars, he smiles, drumming on his leg with a copy of the glossy spiritual digest, Haim Aherim, as though happily welcoming the adventure.
"Embracing every event is the only true path to happiness," he says to himself, deciding this will be the opening line of his upcoming workshop. "There is no such thing as 'good' or 'bad' where experiences are concerned. The universe is neutral. We attach 'positive' and 'negative' labels to everything and then worship our own definitions."
But, as he leaves the airport without his suitcase, his gait is heavy, as is his heart. Well-versed in the art of visualization, he imagines the contents of his bag and flinches. This could be a major set-back in his career.
In spite of himself, he prays to God - something he hasn't done since he finished religious high school and kissed his kippa goodbye, much to the dismay of his parents.
NOTICE FROM El Al that the missing luggage has been located and will be delivered by courier to their homes, is a source of the greatest relief to each of our protagonists. Golan Alon chalks this news up to his having nipped the problem in the bud, as he is so skilled at doing. Alon Golan attributes it to his having held on to his faith in the influence of the internal forces-that-be.
Imagine their added delight, then, when they discover that their bags - albeit vacuum-packed in plastic wrap (possibly a security measure, though neither can figure out what it is meant to protect against) - are waiting for them when they arrive at their respective abodes.
Their individual and collective complacence is cut short, however, when each unravels his parcel, and realizes that the bag is not his. Had either bothered to look at the attached name tag before getting huffy, each would have understood the basis for the error.
Instead, both open the cases in search of clues as to the identity of their counterparts. A phone number, perhaps. Or a document.
"Just call the airline," their wives say simultaneously, unbeknownst to each other.
But neither husband heeds.
GOLAN ALON begins his quest by going through the papers he finds scattered among the other contents of the suitcase. Brochures titled "Change the course of your history," lying in the fold of a pair of faded jeans, catch his eye. Putting one aside, he comes upon a Swiss army knife and fondles it lovingly, toying with its gadgets before returning it to its place. He's always wanted one of these, but never really had reason to get one, other than to keep on his desk for the purpose of picking at his manicure.
Then there is a stack of shirts, with no buttons - or at least with none that go all the way down. Attire you simply slip on. No fuss, no bother. He can't remember the last time he allowed himself that particular luxury. Smoothing them back down, he sees an envelope. In it are photos of a man with a woman and young girl on some kind of camping trip or outdoor festival. They are tan and unkempt. And they are laughing and holding on to one another - his fantasy of a perfect family. How wonderful it must feel not to care for a change about climbing that laborious ladder that has no peak. And gives you no break.
Resolving to take his wife's advice and call El Al after first freshening up, he takes the reading material into the bathroom, wondering if a single copy would really be missed by its owner - in this case, its author.
ALON GOLAN flips open the top half of the suitcase with the stainless-steel buckles, and removes a pigskin case in which there are hundreds of business cards. His mouth waters. These are the presidents of companies whose personnel directors he is lucky to reach just to offer their staff his "Well-Being at the Workplace" retreats. And here at his fingertips are the details of all the head honchos - contact info worth its weight in gold for someone whose dream it is to become rich and famous. The Israeli Deepak Chopra.
Underneath this treasure he glimpses a glisten of finely polished leather shoes, eyeing their sleek sheen with envy - an emotion he was sure he had licked through transcendence.
The sensation prepares him well for the matching belt and set of silk ties he encounters, along with crisp-collared tailored shirts and a box which turns out to have a set of cufflinks, with English initials carved onto their matte surface.
And then there is the small framed photo of the man with a thin, glamorous blonde on his arm, at what must be a gala dinner at a hotel. Or maybe on a yacht. This the type of woman he had thought would be his after shedding his Orthodoxy, serving in a combat unit and moving to Tel Aviv.
He comes upon the name of the owner of this valise on an invitation - to a business conference in Tel Aviv that Deepak Chopra will be addressing.
This must be a sign, he thinks, determined to deliver the goods and make the suitcase switch all by himself.
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