Book extract: The Baggage Carousel

The first chapter of Humberside-based author David Olner's debut novel

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Dan Roberts has a troubled past, anger management problems and a backpack named after an abducted heiress. A chance encounter with Amber, a free-spirited Australian girl, seems to give his solitary, nomadic life a new sense of direction. But when she doesn’t respond to his emails, the only direction he’s heading is down. Roberts’s debut, The Baggage Carousel (Obliterati Press, £8.99 paperback, £3.99 Kindle) is a travelogue of a novel about life’s great let-downs: family, work and love. You can read his Off The Shelf column about non-fiction travel books in the 9 April edition of Big Issue North.

Dan: Live From Heathrow

All the people on the way to paradise are angry because the check-in has opened late. I myself am calm for the first time in seven months, all my former rage now compartmentalised in a black box stored next to my sternum. The fifty-five minute delay was caused by a potentially extremist bag left in the vicinity of the desk. A robot was dispatched to remove it and now a cyborg is handling mine. This one wears too much foundation, but seems like a nice bloke. He clips a tag onto an appendage of my backpack as though it is a moorhen, whose migratory pattern he will study. Together, like bashful parents, we watch it shuffle through the curtain, readying for flight.

“May I see your hand luggage, sir?” he asks.

I hold it up.

“Any liquids in there, sir? Are you carrying anything sharp?”

Am I carrying anything sharp?

Only the bloodied shards of a fragmented heart that I will press to the carotid artery of the girl who smashed it. I should’ve put those in the big bag, really. It’s always a rush job, packing for these suicide missions. I would imagine. This is my first.

It still worked out cheaper to buy a return ticket, though.

“No,” I say.

He’s flustered because the family who were at the desk before me had become abusive. Even the kids had a tokenistic stab, the youngest blowing spit bubbles malevolently and hurling a Tommee Tippee cup in the man’s vague direction. I noted this and determined to use it my advantage.

“No need for that, is there?” I say, motioning over my shoulder at the troglodytes retreating to their Wetherspoons base camp. “Not like the plane’s going to leave without us…”

“Exactly sir,” he replies, momentarily taken aback by the deviation from our script. “I’m afraid not everyone’s as patient as you.”

He’s got that right. I see a mote of humanity contaminate his clear eye as he considers my words and as he looks back up at me I feel that maybe I’ve done just enough to…

“I’m moving you forward a bit in the plane, sir,” he says. “A little more legroom for the long flight.”

“Thank you,” I reply. “I wasn’t expecting that at all.”

I was weak and kind like him once. Not anymore. Look where it’s got me. Even something as simple as an open front gate can be a come-on to a prospective burglar.

The gate opens and we steal aboard. Now I’m seated in the buffer zone between First Class and Economy. I wonder if I’ll be forced to intervene in the event of an in-flight coup. It’s a lot of responsibility, like when they put you in that seat next to the emergency hatch and part of your remit may include marshalling people towards the rubber slide of death.

It’s not vastly different from economy. There are cut flowers in a glass vase in the bathroom – what a sad fate that is for any living thing. A little more legroom, as promised, video games on the seat-back screen, a dwarf bottle of wine marginally less acrid than the filth they serve in steerage. All around me, businessmen are perusing portfolios and pulling up projections as I play Tetris, everything tumbling into place for me finally.

I tap the screen to see the flight-plan. There are eighteen more hours to Sydney.

And Tommy.

And Amber.

Last, and foremost, Amber.

If she won’t play with me, then I’ll tear her Wendy House down.

I’m going to fuck her up, like she did me.

The creased suit next to me has put aside his documents and pulled a new book out of a WHSmith bag. While he reads the first few pages, he shuffles awkwardly in his seat, as though the words are nipping at him. A seasoned traveller, I have assumed dominance of the dividing armrest early – but during a tussle with the text, his elbow dashes against mine, almost creating sparks in the static air of the cabin.

“Sorry,” he says, sighing and putting the book down over his leg, breaking its tender spine like a promise. “I just hate it when they don’t start at the beginning.”

“I know exactly what you mean,” I say, hitting the video screen again to bring up an option marked playback.

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