Last night, I was happy to be home. Ecstatic. After a long day of travel, a four-hour layover, and the roughest turbulence I have ever experienced—passengers were crying and I felt like I was riding the Texas Giant circa 1998—I was glad to be on the ground and walking toward baggage claim.
Following the line of people marching toward the exit, I stepped onto the final escalator to get to the magic machine that spits out luggage like chocolates on a conveyor belt. I’m Lucy. My dog is Ethel.
At the bottom of the escalator stood a short man, his mousey hair curly like a doll’s synthetic tufts after years of overuse. He wore an oversized blue jacket and extremely baggy pants but his most notable feature was the crazy in his eyes. Heaps of it. Spinning like ceiling fans.
He looked into his phone and then up at the people coming down the escalator, checking our faces against whatever he was looking at on his screen. He was pale to the point of almost appearing grey and squatty like Penguin in Batman Returns. He wore a scowl like Tyra wears a smize.
His gaze intensified as he stared at me, stepping forward and closer to the base of the moving metal stairs. I couldn’t help but look at him, if for no other reason than to be aware of my surroundings. It was midnight in a near-empty airport. I’ve lived in New York for too long to not pay attention to the people around me. He also stood out in that he wasn’t wearing a mask whereas the rest of us were.
When I was a few steps from the bottom, he began abrasively speaking to me.
“Are you Matthew Thomas?”
His voice was pinched and sharp and extremely loud.
No, I’m not.
“Yes you are! You’re Matthew Thomas!”
No, I’m not.
“You are! You look just like him! You’re the same height and build!”
I’m sorry, I don’t know what you’re talking about.
“Yes you do! You’re lying!”
I shook my head and did what we in New York know to do when the crazy becomes too much: I began to walk away.
The man swung around in front of me, blocking my path to the baggage claim. People around baggage claim began to look at him, at us, at whatever this was that he was doing.
“What did you do with Michelle?!” he scowled, his voice raised almost to a shout and his lips snarled like the dog from the Sandlot.
I remained calm, trying to will him back into whatever bad Nicholas Cage movie he came from.
I don’t know who Michelle is.
“Yes you do!”
He stepped closer to me, forcing me to step back. I’d had enough.
I don’t know what you’re talking about but I do know you need to step back. Now.
“You’re him! What did you do with Michelle!?”
I am not him. I don’t know who “him” is!
My voice was raised at that point, an internal panic rising within me on basis of not being able to see what he concealed within his giant blue coat. He had enough crazy spinning in his eyes that it wouldn’t be outside the realm of possibility he’d come to kill Matthew Thomas. He was as angry as a hornet, and continued to put himself in my way, preventing me from ignoring him and going about my business.
I looked around, searching for some form of security in the baggage claim and found none. Other passengers from our bumpy flight stared as the man continued to badger me about Michelle, someone I don’t know but was beginning to feel bad for.
“You’re him! You’re Matthew!”
I am not. I am Chris.
Chris is my middle name. Well, Christopher. It’s the name I give when I don’t really want to give my actual name. It’s not quite a lie, it is my name, just not what I go by.
“Prove it! Show me your ID!”
I will not show you anything. I am not who you think I am. You need to back off or I will call the cops.
“You’re him! You live in Brooklyn?”
No. I do not live in Brooklyn. Please stop.
I walked over to stand in the middle of a group of people waiting by the luggage carousel.
He followed me.
With my hand on my phone, ready to call 911, he did a complete circle around me, taking pictures with his phone as he scampered around. He was convinced I was Matthew Thomas. He was convinced I had something to do with the alleged disappearance of a woman named Michelle. His eyes were bulbous and bugged out, his pants drug on the floor like mine did in middle school, and after he took his paparazzi photos in an attempt to confirm I was someone I was not, he quickly waddled away.
I took a breath. He was a deranged cartoon character if there ever was one and I watched as he scampered back to the base of the escalator to wait for the actual Matthew Thomas. His attention shifted between the people coming down the escalator and back to me waiting for my luggage.
I looked around for anywhere I could go if he decided to start messing with me again and settled on the office where passengers claim their oversized luggage. The door was propped open and I imagined walking in, closing the door and asking them to call the cops.
Our luggage began appearing like chocolates and when mine slid down onto the carousel, I quickly grabbed it. It’s grey and orange, easy to spot. My luggage tag also looks like a cassette tape because I’m old enough to have listened to cassettes.
I joined the line of tired people waiting for cabs outside, looking over my shoulder every few seconds. I spotted the man once, looking for Matthew Thomas, or me, but I also saw cops beginning to do laps around baggage claim. Perhaps I hadn’t been the only faux-Matthew Thomas he’d harassed or perhaps someone saw me being accosted and called the cops on my behalf.
I saw him once more, standing in the back of the cab line. I worried he might try to do something when I was getting into my cab so I kept watch out of the corner of my eye. I herded my dog into the cab first and then jumped in like a bandit on the run. I locked the doors on both sides and though I didn’t shout, “Go! Go! Go!” to the driver, I thought it.
I didn’t turn to look back at the man. I’d had enough.
Welcome to New York. I hope Michelle is alright.