The Lost Backpack

It should be a simple affair, really. When a lost backpack is found, you give it to the police post and problem solved. But things just had to be all heavy and bloody.
Rated: PG13
Category: Suspense
Length: 8 pages
Image Credit: Dương Nhân

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Ramdan placed the backpack carefully on his dining table. It laid limp with its thin straps hanging off the edge. Tough green canvas, heavily used but still in good shape. He didn’t steal it. It was found on a park bench on his way home. Could've been a bomb, and he'd exploded there and then, not that it mattered. No one was around.

“So finders keepers, huh?” He declared.

When only silence was his reply, he rummaged through the backpack. Hardly anything inside. Not even a wallet. Only a pack of baby wipes, some game pamphlets, a sandwich wrapper. As he turned it around, a small keychain dangled out from its handle. A black square metal embossed with the word ‘Makkah’. His thumb slid across it carefully.

“Fine, you're going to the police post.” He announced. This was a burden he didn't want after all.

With a loud grunt, Ramdan pushed himself off his chair, slinging the backpack over his shoulders. He nearly lost his balance as it suddenly weighed him down. He paused but quickly, dismissed it as fatigue from work. Then with heavy steps, he headed out, closing his door on his ringing telephone. The one that was shoved in his drawer with the rest of his medications.

And the backpack grew in its weight.

“What the hell?” He grumbled.

1


By the time he reached the park bench, it felt as if he was carrying his entire life burdens onto his shoulders. The backpack fell onto the bench with a loud thud. He was left panting hard, weak in the knees and badly needed to sit down. Wiping off the sweat from his wide forehead, he opened the backpack again. The same junk inside. Why so heavy -

A bicycle screeched to a stop before him. Its cyclist, a small chubby boy scowled as if he’d been asked the rude question. However, Ramdan merely continued breathing deeply. His round belly jiggled up and down as he leaned back onto the bench, letting the evening air cool him off.

“Hey, mister, whatcha doing with Nasir’s backpack? Did you steal it? It’s a sin to steal, you know. How did you steal it?” asked the boy, still glaring.

Well, this was faster than he’d expected. Still, he wasn’t ready for the chatter. Several more deep breaths before he replied, “I found it here. You know its owner? Nasir, was it?”

The frown vanished into a huge grin.

“Oh, man, who doesn’t know the guy? He helps me with my homework. The other time he even bought me a game for passing my exams - ”

Ramdan shoved the backpack to him. Good, mystery solved. Now, he could return to his empty flat or treat his diabetes to a big glass of cold cola. Wait, did he bring his wallet? He heaved himself off the bench. But the boy pulled him by his sleeve. Ramdan turned to him with a grimace, making him let go instantly.

“See here, mister,” he said, meekly. “Nasir's a backpacker. He moves around the neighbourhood so I don’t know where he’s staying. I can't return it to him. You take it back.”

“Look - ” Ramdan waited for a name.

“Burhan,” offered the boy readily.

2


“Burhan, I’m not taking this burden. If you don’t take it, I’ll throw it away.” He shoved it back.

And something white fell between them. A crumpled handkerchief stained in dark red.

“It could be juice,” assured Ramdan, seeing the boy’s horror.

“No way, mister! I hurt myself badly once and I know how blood smells. You know any red juice that smells metallic?”

“Bad juice.”

Gingerly, Ramdan picked the cloth by its clean ends, returning it to the backpack. It was really nothing. Or else, he would have seen something on the bag or on the bench. But little Burhan was gripping his arm tight, eyes now wide with fear.

“Maybe Nasir is badly injured, mister. You said you found his backpack here. He’s never without it, see. Maybe he was robbed and they stabbed him and - ”

A shrilling sound nearly made his heart stop. Ramdan hugged the backpack in time.

“Oh, phone, phone.” Burhan struggled as it shrieked further. With trembling hands, he answered it quickly but only to end it with a panic look.

“What’s wrong, boy?”

“Come on, Aunt Kamila is in that block! She's seen Nasir!” The boy sped off, leaving him behind once more with the lost backpack.

With a heavy sigh, Ramdan slung it onto his shoulders. Once again, the weight grew as he struggled to keep up. By time the lift shut behind him, his chest felt too tight, forcing him to bend over to catch his breath. And when it opened next, he had to force himself straight, looking up to a distressed elderly woman. She embraced the boy immediately.

3


"So where's this Nasir? I got his backpack," said Ramdan quickly. He really needed to get rid of the burden.

“I - I lost him when I reached this floor.” The old woman flushed in shame. "But we must hurry. I saw him with this big scary man. He was yelling at Nasir and - ”

“He must’ve grabbed him into his flat, hurt him and throw his bag away!” added Burhan eagerly.

“You think so too! That young man is just too helpful sometimes. Now the worst has happened! I don't even know where he was taken,” She exclaimed, turning to the long corridor of closed doors.

The blood on the handkerchief. And now, a possible kidnapping?

“I’ll go knock on every door, Aunty!” cried Burhan, already rushing ahead, already opening doors to irritated neighbours. Aunt Kamila hurried after him.

Ramdan hurried past them. This would take forever. If someone wanted to hurt the young man, he wouldn't answer to their desperate knocks. There should be something to find him with. Maybe blood on the floor? Nothing. Maybe, something that was stained? Still nothing. Until he spotted a faded prayer rug of Makkah hanging outside a window. It was worth a try. He knocked the door hard.

It gave way to him easily.

“What the - ”

4


He stopped short, surprised to have entered his own flat. From the dining table to the pillows and blanket on the sofa set, everything was as he left it. That didn't make sense. Wait, was it him? Did he hurt the poor man but didn't remember anything like those psycho-shits on TV? He inhaled trying to steady himself. But the heavy burden on his back wasn't helping.

“Over here.” A soft voice by the table.

He rushed over, seeing someone on the floor. The backpack owner. But he didn't look injured, no blood or bruises on him. Instead with a soft smile, the man sat up, holding out his arms as if awaiting an embrace.

“I'm glad you found me in time.” He said.

In time? What was he rambling about -

A hot searing pain tore into Ramdan then, forcing him to grab his chest. He couldn’t breathe. His vision blurred as the pain grew. Then a sudden numbness seized his entire body. He collapsed into the embrace, hearing only a kind whisper from the backpack owner.

“That's enough, Mr Ramdan. You can take it easy now.”

Ramdan woke up, squinting to the bright sun, back on a park bench with steaming cup noodles on his lap. Was it lunch break now? A rustling noise made him glanced over to the next bench. Oh yeah, he forgot there was always that young man with his backpack, each time eating a convenient store’s sandwich. And recently, he had found only the backpack. He frowned, knowing who it was.

“Feeling better?” asked Nasir.

“Why am I here? Am I dead?”

“No, no, you've very much alive.” He chuckled. Then with a sly smile, he added, “I’m sorry for deceiving you. All of that chaos earlier was just a little trick to save you.”

“What are you talking about?”

5


The young man finished his sandwich, throwing the wrapper into his backpack. Then, he dug deeper into the limp bag, producing one white box after another. Like a magic portal, his backpack led him to the medications Ramdan had hidden in a drawer back in his flat. He piled them up neatly into a small pyramid on his bench.

“Let's see here, a full four-month supply yet to be opened by someone with a fatal heart disease. You’re trying to kill yourself,” stated Nasir simply.

Ramdan scowled fiercely.

“Who are you? Al Mawt? Trying to give me a second chance to life?”

“I’m not the bringer of death. But you shouldn’t take him lightly when he does come for you. By then, there are no chances.” The backpack owner was grim. But seeing the fear in the older man, he softened.

“Before she passed away, your late wife asked me to look after you. She said you get lonely very easily. So you'd be needing a friend when she's gone.”

“You could’ve just say it to my face. No need for all this drama.”

“I did try. I sat here while you ate that soggy cup noodles at every lunch. I greeted you by your corridor every morning. You yelled pretty well at me. You didn't like my meddling, you said.”

“So the kid and woman on it too?” Ramdan grumbled.

“Burhan has such a great imagination, doesn't he? And poor Aunt Kamila sometimes thinks last week was just hours ago. I merely guided them to my advantage. I needed a more fun strategy.” Nasir smiled.

Silence was his reply. Silence was his companion since his wife disappeared into the earth months ago. Silence was what became of him now. What was there to care when his only love was gone?

6


“But you did care. You cared when this backpack was found, you cared when little Burhan and Aunt Kamila needed your help. A part of you still wants to care. Please listen to it.”

“So what now? You saved me. Now I’m going to be all happy ever after?”

“No, you can be sad but please don’t despair. Don't give up so easily. You have the right to keep living. Burhan and Aunt Kamila have the right to get to know you too.”

With that, Nasir stood up, shifted his backpack to his shoulders. A bright light emanated from it, giving the young man an ethereal persona.

“You’re not human.”

The young man chuckled.

“You’re heavily sedated. That’s why you’re seeing many, many things. Please sleep now. We'll talk more later.”

Later was several weeks after when Ramdan sat on the bench again. His chest felt lighter now. The air never smelled sweeter after a rainfall. He leaned back into his seat. The sadness still lingered within him but at least he was acknowledging it. Still, he wasn't going to acknowledge waiting for another half an hour for that little energy ball -

“Over here, Uncle Ramdan. Nasir's here too! ” cried Burhan in time, waving eagerly a distance ahead.

With a small wave in reply, Ramdan approached them. When he arrived, he finally saw the true tall figure of the backpack owner. Nasir towered over him as he nodded, a sly smile on his pale slim features. There was nothing otherworldly about him now. He looked like a western tourist with his brown hair and backpack tight on his shoulders.

“Makan time, Uncle! Aunt Kamila’s waiting with her delish dishes! Don't worry, I reminded her to keep them healthy, see. So you got no worries.” Burhan rattled on, already walking briskly ahead.

7


“With his radiant personality, you can't tell, can you?” remarked Nasir quietly. “Little Burhan lost his father a week ago. And Aunt Kamila, her husband is bedridden and paralysed. And, yes, they're still living just like you.”

Nasir stopped and gave his hand.

“I won't be joining you. Please send my salams to Aunt Kamila.”

But Ramdan refused to let him go just yet.

“Hey, that backpack, is it magical? It was really heavy when I carried it. Look at it now. It looks full but I'm sure there's nothing inside, right?”

“No, there's something. I've filled it with memories of your once tired heart,” replied Nasir, giving him a deadly stare.

Ramdan let go of his hand instantly. This person wasn't human after all.

Nasir laughed.

“I merely took all of your cup noodles. So it's best you start eating healthy now. Really, I'm just a meddling backpacker. Someone who travels too much, helping people along the way. Very much human, I'm afraid.”

And with that, Ramdan finally let him leave, the full backpack on his shoulders, its Makkah keychain dangling loosely behind.

The End

8


Ana Says
IHonestly, this one exhausted me that I nearly gave up. I was aiming for a mysterious trickster vibe but… I don’t know. Just couldn’t grasp it well. After several drafts, close to ten, I’ve posted it as it is. Sometimes, a story must be stopped. It’s a learning lesson for me. Gotta have lots of Sabr with writing.

What do you think of this story? Did you have the patience to read until the end?

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