Friday, June 6, 2008

My Umbrella

Last month I was reading Shade and Sweetwater, and came across this post and this one about her lost umbrella. It brought to mind a story from my past (cue Wayne's World transition, doodly doodly doodly as the scene fades. . .)

* * *

I used to have an umbrella.

Not just any umbrella, but an umbrella I loved. It made me happy any time I popped it open on a grey, wet day. There were a few things that made this umbrella so special. First of all, it was big. No tiny, folding, purse-sized excuse for shelter was this. Oh, no: when you popped that baby open, it expanded like a parachute and there was no need to prioritize which part of me should stay dry. It sheltered all of me and my ridiculously overpacked college bookbag, as well. Secondly, the umbrella was long, straight and sturdy, with a strong metal tip and a classic curved handle that was carved to look like bamboo. This umbrella doubled gracefully as a walking stick (which I used often) and a self-defense weapon (which I never had to try, thank goodness). I can be very hard on things- shoes, umbrellas, jeans, cameras, bookbags, you name it- and other than a slightly loose shaft (easily shored up with clear packing tape) and a scratched-up metal tip, the umbrella remained as good as new. Finally, it was whimsical. Rather than a typical umbrella-shaped canopy, it blossomed into a bright sunny roof of tropical leaves, translucent to let the light shine through. It was like popping open a little bit of paradise to shield me from a wet Georgia winter.

I loved that umbrella.

My umbrella served me very well marching here, there and yonder from class to class on a large campus. Unfortunately I can be a forgetful person: more than one umbrella has fallen victim to my distraction, being left lonely and forgotten somewhere in my daily wake. Luckily this umbrella was large and useful enough that I kept track of it for a long time. Despite a couple close calls, I always managed to collect my umbrella and bring it home ready for another rainy day.

Until one fateful afternoon.

After a long class (I just realized a little joke: if I remember correctly, it was a Meteorology course. HA!) I gathered my things and wandered outside. I’d left my umbrella by the door when I’d arrived, so that it would not drip all over the place. By the time I left, the weather had cleared up nicely and my wonderful umbrella slipped my mind. I had to hurry to catch the bus if I was going to make it to my next class on time. My lovely, loyal umbrella was left propped in a corner, unnoticed and alone.

Well, it wasn’t long before I figured out what had happened. My schedule was packed however, and I had to rush from class to work and then home before it got dark. (My cheap little apartment was fine for what it was, but I didn’t have a car and I had to walk through some chancy neighborhoods before I’d reach my front door. I never walked home at night.) Retrieving my umbrella would have to wait until tomorrow.

Tomorrow arrived, and during my brief lunch I rushed over to the Environmental Sciences building for the reunion. When I reached the classroom corner however, it was empty. I looked all around, and asked anyone I saw if they had seen it. I checked the building’s lobby. I asked the janitor. No luck anywhere. I was beginning to think the worst: someone else had seen it’s value, and picked it up for their own! I was very upset. I couldn’t believe that after all that time, I’d simply left the poor thing behind to be picked up by a random stranger. I know it sounds silly, but darn if I didn’t love that umbrella! The store where I’d bought it had closed a few years earlier. I tried to find a new one on the internet, but it was nowhere to be seen. I was simply out of luck.

So, fast-forward a few weeks. I was walking through another part of campus, on my way to work for the afternoon. It was a grey day, lightly raining on my hunched shoulders and bowed head. (I’d still not gotten around to replacing my umbrella.) Suddenly a cheerful flash of green catches the corner of my eye. Looking up, I spot MY UMBRELLA! Held aloft by a tall woman, it was making it’s way across campus right toward me. I could hardly believe my luck! To think we’d be reunited after all! I was delighted.

The woman noticed my obvious happy interest, and she stopped with a guarded, questioning glance. Almost laughing, I exclaim “That’s my umbrella!”

Upon hearing that something about her face just slammed shut, like a cold metal door. Slowly, she began to shake her head. I couldn’t believe my eyes, and persisted hopefully, “I left it in the Environmental Sciences building weeks ago! I was so upset, I love it and . . . I’ve had it . . . for a long time. . .” My words were faltering as she continued to shake her head.

“No it cannot be yours”, she told me firmly, and moved as if to walk away.

“No really, that’s my umbrella that I lost!” I stepped in front of her again and ducked my head to look at the umbrella’s shaft, where my telltale repair of clear packing tape could be seen. “See where I fixed the shaft! It was loose and I used packing . . . tape. . .” She was shaking her head again, more firmly this time.

“No, this was a gift from a friend.” She looked uncomfortable, like she couldn’t wait to be rid of me. Maybe it’s my overactive and self-righteous imagination, but I thought she looked guilty. “It is not yours.”

“Well maybe they found. . .” I started, but she shook her head one more time and shouldered past me to continue on her way. I was left staring after her, dejected and bewildered. It’s one thing to keep a lost item you find, but it’s another thing entirely to refuse to return it to it’s rightful owner, if said person shows up and proves ownership. She could have at least taken my number, if the “gift” story were true. But, no. I watched her walk away, my shining tropical shelter aloft, fading into the grey foggy afternoon.

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