By Andrew Wilson
As an officer rifled through my belongings, I watched the red feather skid across the beige tile of LAX’s main terminal.
It was my lucky feather, and air currents supplied by the airport’s ventilation system propelled it across the floor. Restricted to a chair, I could do nothing.
Detainment crystallizes memories, and watching the little red feather drift reminded me of Africa.
The dusty wildebeest herds, the PH sneaking me through tall grass, then deploying shooting sticks, while the tracker on one knee, his head poking from the yellow stalks, searched for trophy horns through beat-up binoculars.
“Look at that bull walking to the left; there, you see him?” The PH whispered.
“Yeah, I think so.” Standing on the balls of my feet, I strained to see through my riflescope; the sticks were too high. I lost sight of the animal in my shot’s recoil, but the tracker’s wide grin gave me confidence. Then he dropped his head, staggered backward, and swung his arms. Without the gift of English, the old African dramatized the animal’s death through body movements. My heart thundering, I walked toward the carcass; and could see its black hulk through the dry grass.
“Oh my god, you shot a cow!” The PH exclaimed.
“Wha? No!” I stammered.
“Ha ha ha! I’m just fucking with ya, my man!” The PH laughed and lifted the animal’s leg to show me its balls. Next, he dipped his finger in the bullet hole and swatted my cheeks with blood; the good ol’ tracker chuckled happily and shook my hand. “Good shot!” The PH slapped my back, trying to release the tension of my first big game kill.
Removing my hat, I wiped the sweat from my forehead. I could see my lucky red feather in the hat band. The kill shot certainly was lucky; between the shooting sticks being too high and my flinch, I was glad to have my feather.
My flight will depart soon, and the officers were photographing my papers. They shoved me into the chair and told me not to move while they went through my stuff. My back against a great expanse of wall and a vast field of institutionalized tile at my feet. I felt small, like a scolded child.
For long minutes I watched my lucky red feather scoot further away until it reached the stream of passenger foot traffic exiting the TSA checkpoint. My hat, which had been ripped from my head at the initiation of my detention, lay in front of my feet. It must have been when the first cop tossed my hat that the feather fell from the band.
The second officer stiffly marched from the TSA station to stand above me. He opened his palm into my face and revealed the reason behind my predicament.
“We found these in your carry-on,” he growled. Three accusatory high-powered rifle rounds were there for me to see before he snapped his fist shut and pulled them away.
“Oh shit! Listen, I use that bag for hunting, and I’m on my way to Montana to hunt, and I must have left them in there.” Explanations poured out of me. The officer was disinterested.
The last time I used that damn backpack, I shot my first buck. The bullets the officer found were from years ago, and I had completely forgotten about them. But I’ll never forget the excitement of getting ready for my first deer hunt.
New to the sport, I needed gear, boots, a camo jacket, and lastly, a hat. There had been three on the rack that fit, only one with a little red feather in its band.
“That’s a lucky feather,” the salesperson said in his authoritative British accent.
“Oh yeah?” Seeing the red feather lying on top of the all-weather felt, I thought, hell, maybe he’s right and bought the hat. Since then, whenever putting my hat on, I’d run my thumb across the feather’s vane for luck.
A third LAPD officer carrying a clipboard stacked with papers crossed the foyer directly for me. I felt like a bobcat stuck in a trap. Was it my imagination? Did he just step on my feather? Did he really give his tactical boot a twist on purpose, making sure to grind it to bits?
The third officer nodded at the other two officers, then looked down at me.
“It’s your lucky day,” he said. “Get the fuck outta here and don’t do it again.”