He kept old passports tucked away at the bottom of a drawer. It was usually when he sorted out his socks they surfaced. Each with the bottom right-hand corner cut off to invalidated them before being returned with a new issue. He had five and not sure what to do with them.
When his mother applied all those years ago for him to have his own, none of his friends had one. None had travelled abroad. They all wanted to see it but his mother wouldn’t let him take it to school.
“They’ll get their sticky hands all over it. Those boys you hang around with all have germs.”
He just wished on his first application his mother hadn’t insisted on the bow tie for the photographic session. No photo booths then. A proper studio and a thin man with a goatee beard and lank hair.
“They never wash,” remarked the boy’s mother.
“Like that young man. Nice enough. Mrs Birch said he was a good photographer. Still if I’d known.”
“He was a hippy. It’ll have to do.”
“What’ll have to do?”
“Your photograph. Your father said you never know what they are taking.”
“Taking, taking what?”
“You’re far too young to know.”
The elasticated bow tie was too tight. He pulled at his collar and when his mother straightened the tie he caught the photographer smirking. Afterwards he’d found where his mother hid it. On the way to school he’d thrown it over a hedge. The ploy failed. At Christmas time his mother produced another for the annual visit to Auntie Violet.
“Can’t have you looking like a waif.”
“The tie stays. Auntie Violet has certain standards.”
On that first overseas trip he thought officials deliberated over the contents of his passport far too long, frowning when they reached the photograph, looking at it several times then staring at him. Thankfully as the decades passed and successive passports were renewed he thought the photographs improved or was it the officials weren‘t as fastidious?
He’d always wondered what people did with old passports, wondering how many were found in attics when people moved house or died. He realised after a while why he held on to his. On each page were destinations indelibly stamped. Paris, Nicosia, Stuttgart, Chicago. Las Palmas. They covered the decades of his life. In the scheme of things that bow tie had been just a slight inconvenience and in a strange way he was grateful for his mother‘s insistence that he wore it.
Jules A. Riley is an Anglo-Belgian writer living in Musselburgh, Scotland and published in various literary magazines in the British Isles, the USA and Mexico. He has also contributed journalist feature articles for the Scotsman publications and medico-technical journals.