Lost Property by Sharif Gemie

Steph's habit of losing things forces some introspection; by Sharif Gemie.

'Please remember to take all personal belongings with you,' said the voice over the loud-speaker as the train reached the station.

Steph stood up, adjusted her jacket, picked up her handbag, and walked off the train, leaving her overnight bag on the luggage rack above her seat.

Outside the station, she thought about catching a bus, but decided that she'd been sitting down for too long, and so she walked home. Steph enjoyed the walk, feeling curiously light. She arrived home at three. It would be at least a couple of hours before Tom came back. What could she do? She made a cup of tea, and she remembered an interesting article in the paper that she'd half-read while waiting for the train. Now, where had she left the paper? It was in the outside pocket of overnight bag. And where was her overnight bag? Oh. It hit her.

'I've done it again.'

Her first thought was how awkward it would be telling Tom that she'd lost something else. What would he say?

Steph ran through what was and what wasn't in her overnight case. She hadn't taken her laptop, thank goodness. Her make-up? She'd left the hotel in a rush, and she'd stuffed her make-up bag into her handbag. She'd worn the same pair of shoes for the three days she'd been away. Her e-book was also in her handbag. In the overnight bag there was some underwear, a blouse, the charger for her mobile phone, the thick folder of papers from the Communications Workshop and her red dress. The case itself didn't really matter: her mother had given it to her. It was an old one; it looked okay, but the extendable handle was beginning to stick, and one of the wheels wobbled. She'd planned to replace it next month. So nothing really valuable, except that dress. The one that Tom liked, the one he called her 'smart but sexy' dress. She'd taken it for the dinner last night. Steph had been with Tom when she'd bought it at John Lewis last month: it had cost over £100, and that was in a sale.

Were the missing papers going to be a big problem? Steph had to report back to her office in a couple of days, and the papers could have helped. But the whole event had been such a waste of time: all that HR rubbish about 'communicationability'. Frankly, she could stand up and tell the rest of the office that she had learnt nothing of any value. When they'd first proposed her for this workshop, Steph had been flattered that they'd chosen the new girl. Now she felt irritated. She'd been thinking about this on the train, and that's why she'd forgotten her case.

But there was the dress.

Steph opened her laptop, and searched for the number for lost property. There was an e-form to fill in, which she completed, and then there were several phone numbers: one for the station, and several for the different rail companies. She tried the first of these, waited to get past the automated messages, and finally got through to a friendly woman who told her that they'd know nothing for at least two days.

She put the phone down, momentarily thinking that she'd achieved something. Would she ever see her case again? On the one hand, someone could have decided that they liked the look of it. On the other hand, that train was only going one more stop, to the central station. Maybe the cleaners would have found it. She decided to say nothing to Tom.

The next day, Steph expected that there'd be extra work for her at the office: she'd have to make up for the days she missed. Instead, she found that her colleagues had covered for her. No one asked her about the training day, confirming her suspicions that they all had expected that it would have been a waste of time. In some spare moments, she drew up a list of points about communication; some had been mentioned at the training event, and some were just common sense. This would be enough for her presentation: there was no need to say how worthless the training day had been but - equally - there was no need to take it too seriously.

Steph was able to leave work early. She went to the central station. After a couple of questions to the station staff, she learnt that the lost property office for the whole city was not at the central station, but in her local station. She took another train back to her local station, but the lost property office was closed by the time she got there. On the walk back home, she dropped into a pound shop and picked up a cheap phone charger.

Now, all that was left was that dress. She had always thought it was beautifully made: the soft fabric, the jersey neck. It clung to her, without being tight. But she couldn't see why Tom made such a fuss about it. Sometimes when Steph put it on and looked at herself in the mirror, she wondered who was that woman staring back at her. Left to herself, she'd never have chosen that dress for the training-day dinner.

The next day was the office meeting. As she'd guessed, no one expected much from her report back, and her short, anodyne summary of good practice seemed to go by without raising any eyebrows. At the end of it Steph felt angrier than ever: angry that she'd been chosen for such a worthless event, angry that she'd left her best dress on the train, angry with Tom for making such a fuss about the dress, angry with herself for not being able to tell him about her forgetfulness.

She called in at the lost property office on the way home, thirty minutes before it closed. She met a chatty blonde woman there. Steph gave her the details of her journey and a description of her case. The woman explained to Steph that it would still be two more days before her case might be sent over to the office. Steph asked if she would see her case again. The woman laughed, and told Steph that the back room was stuffed, floor to ceiling, with lost cases.

'People just keep leaving things on trains,' she said, as if it was a joke.

Steph smiled in response, and left feeling happier.

Two days later, Steph returned to the lost property office. This would be the make-or-break day, she thought. The chatty blonde woman was there: she seemed to recognise Steph.

'Ah, it's you,' she said.

With a smile on her face, she reached under the desk and produced a smart, brown leather carry-all, about twice as big as Steph's case. It had a little brass tag on it, bearing the name of an expensive designer. Steph laughed. 'No, that's not mine.' She went through the description of her case again, while the woman listened carefully. Then she went into the back room, and came back with a filthy, battered, black canvas bag. This time, Steph didn't feel like laughing. Wasn't this woman listening to anything she said? For a third time, Steph described her case. The woman thought for a moment, and said she'd check the latest delivery of lost property. She returned to the back room.

Steph was left alone for a few minutes. All this for that bloody dress! Next time HR organised an away day, she'd refuse to go. She had better things to do with her time than waste a day and two nights. And next time they visited John Lewis, she wouldn't let Tom persuade her to buy something that didn't really suit her, even if it was in a sale.

The lost property woman finally returned. Cautiously, she produced Steph's case.

'This is it, isn't it?'

Steph looked at the case.

'Yes, thank you.'

Now she wouldn't have to conceal anything from Tom. She reached over to pick it up, and then stopped. If she'd been more determined, she wouldn't have had to go through any of this.

'You know what?' she told the lost property woman. 'You can keep it. I don't want it anymore.'

And she walked out.


  1. A pithy story with wry undertones. Thank you,

  2. a very interesting story, how what we do is sometimes influenced by seemingly unrelated incidents.

    Mike McC

  3. A pity we let other people influence the decisions we make. A thought-provoking, well written story.

  4. I like when the writer captures emotions and states of being that we are all familiar with, like the paragraph about her anger at others and herself, and when she "momentarily thinks she achieved something." Great twist at the end!

  5. Sounds like things between Steph and Tom are about to change.