a close up of a backpack strap

My Backpack by Hunter Hughes

It isn’t my backpack. Not if you go by the label. Still though, Samuel’s undersized camouflaged backpack has served me for years. He took care of it well, and of all the used backpacks only his smelled like books. The crossed-out name under Samuel’s looks like it might say Jacob. Was that his older brother’s name? Did they go to the same school? Whose teacher was Mrs. Kokes? What about Mrs. Kern? Who wrote the names on it? Why did they let their letters drift back and forth between capital and lowercase?

Sometimes when I’m running out the door to class, I forget the handle is too small for me. The kids in K/2 or /3 were probably comfortable with it. While the frayed remains of what I can only assume was a bigger handle that their tiny hands never needed, mock me. There’s a special pocket for everything a student needs: pens, pencils, planners, erasers, Walkmans, and water bottles. There is even a secret pocket held with mesh between the fannypack on the end and backpack proper. It buckles shut, and I still can’t figure out why. A pouch on the strap is made of the same artificial mesh that cushioned my shoulders before it went flat. It holds all that I have left of the guard that used to keep my pants out of the gears on my bike. As I walk with it, I hear all the plastic woven together shifting and scratching. The zippers make a small little clink when I set the backpack down. The books thud as I set it down no matter how gently I move.

I always drift back to that label though. Not the raised rubber one bearing the “PLC All-Season tech system,” but the one on the inside. The one that repeats their proud “All-Season” credentials between the names of strangers. The one that proves my backpack isn’t mine.