Pack Mule

Over the course of a year in Yokohama I had collected a fair amount of stuff. I was suffering a book-off addition, not to mention all the cinema memorabilia, the video games, the music cds (yes, music cds. I don’t know why but for some reason I have to confirm that with most of you), yukatas for my family and a host of other things. But books mostly. So when I had to leave Japan, I had a bit of a problem with transport. Naturally I posted as much of it as I could home, but I still had plenty I needed to carry onto the plane. More than I’ve ever carried onto a plane before.


I had too much left, even after all my posting, I still had a problem with getting my suitcase closed. Even with two suitcases it would have been tight. So I decided to do one of the most painful things imaginable…abandon some of my books. (I know you’re gasping. I did too when I realised this was the only way). I picked out the less worthy of my collection; the cheapest and most easily found and wrapped them in my poncho, as would befit the funeral of any great thing. I carried them solemnly in my arms to the dormitory library, to lay them at rest upon the dusty shelves in hope that one day, somewhere deep in the future, that they might be read by someone else. That someone else might come to love them as I had. But with their loss I would have a chance to get home, so with a heavy heart I conducted the ceremony late one evening a week before my flight. It was a quiet affair, and the other books cried of course. I said some kind words after they were in place on the shelf (together of course, so they wouldn’t be lonely). But then, a different book on the other end of the shelf batted its eyelashes at me. It was a nice book. Bright yellow cover, petite size, bold personality in the font. It was a Japanese-English dictionary, pocket edition, and it was very alluring. I still feel guilty, for having such impure thoughts at such a sad occasion. It was a betrayal of sorts. But I’m not a one-book-man. So with everlasting shame, I took the dictionary back to my room. I had gone to the library to drop off books and returned with different ones in my hands. But still less!


There’s a strict weight limit on luggage with the airline I was using. 20kg for the suitcase, 10kg for hand luggage, and you were allowed to take one extra piece such as a laptop bag. So I carefully filled up my suitcase and rucksack, placing them upon the scales over and over until I matched the weight requirement by the dot. Here is the clever part. Although there was a limit on the two pieces of luggage, there wasn’t a limit on the laptop bag or myself. So technically, anything I got in either my pockets or my laptop bag would not be weighed. So I got to work. After the laptop, I stuffed as many books as I could into the bag until the zip was bulging. Then in all the little gaps in-between I put smaller things like stationary, folded up papers, playstation cables, novelty soft bank mugs (there’s a dog on it, but the ears are printed inside, so you only see the whole image just as you tip the mug to drink. It’s cool, I promise) and other things. As for on my person, the more I looked, the more storage I found. Normally I just carry my wallet and phone in my pockets but now I know; so much more is possible. My jean pockets were ample enough to fit a wallet, a phone and a book on either side. My winter coat could fit 2 to 3 books in the side pockets, 2 more in the inside pocket. I managed to fit some video games in the chest pockets, some smaller, thinner books inside of my shoes while I walked. That good looking yellow dictionary was very snug in my shirt pockets under my coat. When I was done, my laptop bag was heavier than my rucksack and I had magically gained way over 5 stone without eating a single bite.


Everyone else had their funny moments travelling home. Xunlyn had no less than 3 suitcases, one with broken wheels, making the trek to the airport interesting to say the least. Elodie didn’t consider what she’d wear on the plane and wore whatever was left outside of her packing; as a result she went home dressed as a cowgirl (ridiculous boots included). Tee was in utter panic on his leaving day as he rushed about cleaning his room. Now it was my turn, and I left my room looking out of proportion; with a normal sized head and a very round bulging body where all my luggage had been stored. Kara, who was one of the last to leave, agreed to see me off and met me in the foyer where as usual her jaw dropped when she saw me (I seem to have this effect on many of my friends and I can’t fathom why).


With so much weight on me, not to mention the suitcase, rucksack and laptop bag, I was forced to walk like an old fashioned deep sea diver, taking huge heavy stomps wherever I went. Everyone I walked by seemed to flutter in comparison. This also happened to be in the height of the humid Japanese summer, and I was wearing no less than four different layers of clothes and a winter coat, all of which had extra book-insulation (the best kind of insulation). So even before I got out the door, I was already coated in sweat. By the time we reached the station I’d lost more than a pound in water (me at my sexiest as you can see). Kara watched in disbelief as I lugged myself to the bus bound for the airport, declaring at every moment how they would never let me onboard like this. At the very least they’ll be a charge she said. I would have crossed my fingers for luck but they were too occupied carrying luggage for that. Kara told me that she would normally cry when seeing off a friend, but with me the situation was far too ridiculous to do anything but laugh (made me feel oh so special).


Under normal circumstances I would have accepted the weight for moving, having done this process twice before in Sheffield (minus the plane). I was used to carrying the total of my belongings on my back, and had enough energy to lug it across the UK back home. But in Japan I was unfortunately very ill. I’m not sure what caused it, but my stomach decided that it was a good time to make trouble for me and carrying that weight was aggravating it. So as soon as I reached the terminal, I calmly stacked my bags (and coat) onto a trolley and walked to the nearest bathroom, where I proceeded to throw up multiple times. (This is how the Poncho leaves Japan; not with a flourish, but with a fever. Hehe see. I can do more than just cinema references).


At check in they weighed my suitcase and rucksack, and just as I had measured it, it met the maximum limit to the dot. The laptop bag stayed firmly in my hand and I didn’t remove my coat lest a book tumbled out of me (if men cannot give birth to children, to other endeavours and possibilities they shall strive!). By a miracle nobody questioned me or spoke to me about my coat or laptop bag, and slightly bewildered I walked through (uncertain if this was the result of unnatural good luck or hallucinations brought on by fever and dehydration).


When at last I was on the plane, I could finally stow away my bags, and remove my coat. I dropped it onto the floor by my feet and it landed with a great thud. The Japanese girl sitting next to me looked at the coat and then me repeatedly, unsure what it could be inside to cause the weight. She was friendly though and started up conversation with me, telling me how she was about to begin her year abroad in Moscow in order to study Russian language. I explained how I had just ended mine in Japan, and the cute situation revived me somewhat. Perhaps this was a good way to remember my leaving Japan, in a lucky kind of way. Shortly afterwards when we we were in the air, lunch was being given out (one that I couldn’t even think about eating at that time). The stewardess pulled out the tray from the trolley and lifted over my head to pass to me when her hand slipped and the entire thing collapsed onto me. Tin foiled pasta and tomato sauce, plastic cup of water, wrapped peanuts and muffin, and something else that has yet to be identified with an adjective other than ‘gooey’, all landed on my head. With it all slowly dripping off my hair onto my face, I considered that maybe I should have learnt by now not to jinx my fortune. But rest assured, I will remember this more than just the time I became a pack mule; it’s the day I became a Pack Poncho. More special and magical than any other variety of heavy lifting because I got through customs!

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