There are some things I never leave home without. Mobile phone, house keys, my wallet. But there’s one item that few others find as crucial as I do. You see, I am always accompanied by a lady called Shella. Perhaps some of you might have your own Shella but those who don’t are surely lacking. She’s been unbelievably useful to me. When it rains, she helps keep me dry. Up steep hills she helps me climb up. She’s taller than I am and helps me reach objects beyond my grasp. She helps defend me against anyone who would try to mug me. Shella is one of those loyal, endearing presences that would make any life all the richer.
I’m of course, referring to my umbrella.
Before I came to Japan I carried an umbrella everyday and everywhere. The weather forecast isn’t the most reliable in the UK and it’s sometimes difficult to judge when you look out the window how the rest of the day will turn out. Especially in Sheffield (it really does have its own unique climate. We once got snow while the rest of Yorkshire was left untouched). So I got into the habit of always being prepared. For convenience, I tied a rope from one end to the other with a little slack so that I could carry one over my shoulder. It was ingenious I tell you! A full length umbrella and the ability to use both hands! But Sheffield is a particularly windy city, areas are even barred off by the police as they’re deemed to be too dangerous to walk during strong winds. This meant that regrettably, many of my umbrellas were subject to severe injury or even death. I had to bury their mangled corpses in public bins on my way home. The gales would simply hit you out of nowhere and vanish just as quickly, so no amount of caution would help.
When I left for Japan I couldn’t bring my umbrella with me; I couldn’t afford the extra luggage charge. So on my first day in Japan, I got my priorities straight. 1. Get to Yokohama and meet my guide. 2. Drop off my suitcase and sort out accommodation. 3. Find a decent umbrella. I accomplished them all within the first day. I’m sure you can imagine just how fateful this day was. I’d signed my housing contract, left my suitcase in my new room and had to go out to get a mobile phone (courtesy of soft bank. The world leader in inflexible products and talking dogs). But as I locked my door for the first time, I saw it. Stretching down the corridor from my door, hanging from every window sill were umbrellas. The poor things were left out in the cold, forgotten and unloved. Most were commoners; cheap umbrellas who started their lives in convenience stores. But there was one who stood out. Sheer black fabric, an elegant curved handle, and shining steel point. A beauty for the ages. You could say I rescued her from whoever owned her before. She was just left hanging like the other peasant umbrellas, exposed to the elements. There was no doubt that I’d take better care of her.
I tied my rope to her like I did in Sheffield and took her everywhere I went. Weather in Yokohama was not nearly as windy as Sheffield, but even when it was, this umbrella proved to be tougher than she looked. She really was a girl made of steel. She was sturdy enough to rest my weight on and I got used to using her as a cane. We took long walks together at sunset through Yamashita park, and kept each other company on Book-Off expeditions. My friends started to notice our companionship but nobody could understand the necessity of having an umbrella with you at all times! (It’s unbelievable, I know. But there are just some people out there who don’t understand that it could rain at any moment without warning). Instead they joked that there was a romance at place. They joked! Ha. Nobody laughs except me when it starts raining. Elodie took this suggestion further and announced that I was having an affair with my umbrella; like a girlfriend she was always at my side wherever I went and that she deserved a name. So Elodie christened her ‘Shella’. (You might ask why this name but I have no idea. Maybe because of the rhyme, Shella the umbrella. But honestly, I would say it’s dangerous to search for logic in any mad mind, especially with her head. You could be looking for a long time).
I went on many adventures with Shella. We scaled mount Fuji together and when it rained she was kind enough to provide shelter on the mountain side (Kara provided a full apology for previously mocking me for bringing her along with us). We wandered through Shikoku together. When I injured my knee and couldn’t walk properly, she was there to support me, graciously helping me back home. She was there every single day at university, a comforting presence during work. She was there with me at the beach, parasol to the sun and landmark from afar while I swam. Nobody could ask for a more loyal and helpful companion. The Gumyoji gang even sang in her honour at karaoke (courtesy of Rhianna. “Under my umbrella – Shella, Shella, hey hey…”).
We had our missteps though. Outside of Yamashita park, Shella’s point got caught in a grating as we walked, wedged in place while I continued walking. So mid conversation between Elodie and Louise, I was suddenly flung backwards as my walking stick held me down (as usual Elodie was very sympathetic with yet another of my accidents and decided the best way to console me, was to throw her head back in mock imitation). Shella however was not left unscathed either. Her point, having been lodged in the grate, had suffered a severe dent into the metal, forever scarring her. Some months later in a gale, her spokes were rattled before I could close it inside. More than two had been dislocated at the hinges and one had even been torn away from the fabric itself! After some intense 20 minutes of surgery, she pulled through and once again became rain-worthy. But injuries like this stay with you; you never work just as you used to. Sheila grew older. Her spokes creaked, the handle chipped and the very fabric itself became worn. But I loved her all the more. Age nor injury could ever extinguish our love for each other.
I am afraid to say, there is no happy ending to this story. By the end of the year I was due to return home and my flight wouldn’t allow umbrellas of her size with me. Maybe I could have worked something out, or even mailed her after me but she deserved something better. Besides, she was Japanese; I couldn’t tear her away from her home country. So I left her in Tamu’s care. I put my trust in him. Absolute trust. Shella was precious to me and I wanted her to be treated properly while I was gone. I couldn’t bear to give her the long goodbye at the airport, so we parted ways by Tamu’s room. Hanging elegantly just as I’d found her one year earlier.
Years passed and my thoughts of Shella never vanished. I’m certain she thought of me too. Occasionally I’d question Tamu, make sure he was taking her out every day, making sure he treated her to a nice dinner every now and then. Not cooped up like a bird in a cage. My shella was gloriously wild; she needed the fresh air. All I heard was good news. Yes she’s fine, don’t worry. It’s all good. All good. So nearly 4 years later when I returned to Japan I was expecting the grand reunion. Poncho and Shella together again. The partnership that crossed the length of Japan in their travels. So when Tamu arrived empty handed, something sinister crept into my fears.
“Poncho. I have something to tell you..” Tamu gently started.
This sentence might well be the most foreboding phrase that exists. Nothing good can come of it. And nothing had. Tamu had left Shella outside in the umbrella rack before entering a shop. He left Shella out in the cold! Like some peasant umbrella to be forgotten about! And when he got back, somebody had taken her. Yes. Shella has been kidnapped. For those of you that are reading this, please contact me if you have any information on her whereabouts. You will be rewarded. As for the kidnappers, I am willing to pay the ransom, please just don’t hurt her!
But as for you, Tamu. You lost Shella. How could you Tamu!? I can’t believe you let this happen. She’s out there held captive, probably scared and alone. Just think about that. Damn you Tamu! You better help me get her back!