This weekend I took a trip back home to my parents’ house in Hampshire and, while I am still working on transcribing the intricacies and transient deliciousness of Japanese food, I’m also contemplating lugging a suitcase back to London this afternoon on the train.
Image: michael pollak
I always seem to leave my childhood house with more than I came down with. There’s always a photograph, a forgotten box of clothes or stack of scribblings hidden in an old drawer that I can’t seem to part with. My room is like a Tardis, it’s a trick of the eye or a paranormal vortex, because no matter how much ‘stuff’ I cart backwards and forwards to my teeny box room in London – to be later wedged like a complicated Russian doll set in something else that’s stacked on top of another pile in turn…like award-winning Tetris, if they gave medals for packing – my old room is still heaving with possessions.
Later I’ve got the slow muscle burn to look forward to in that moment that you realise you can’t actually lift your case but, incapable of admitting weakness or defeat, you create a kind of back stretching pendulum movement to swing it on board a train, praying that it doesn’t throw your body forwards into those unapprovingly commuters. Those very same commuters, in fact, who clocked you and your case and frowned at your space-hogging, luggage-toting audacity before you shuffled into their carriage. But then again, I would do the same if I was on the other side, superior in my unencumbered, luggage-less state.
Actually, it put me in the mind of a diary entry on travellers with luggage where I had a similar moment of ‘rather them than me.’ That quiet moment of relief when you realise your bags are safe and locked in a room that you’ve claimed as yours and you can stop and breathe for the next few days before you repeat the tired trauma of pack, travel, search, stay again.
“Travellers. Freshly arrived. They are like tortoises.
Sort of pale. Blinking in the sun or squinting in the dark. Huge packs like shells drag them down, necks craning forwards under the pressure. The Rucksack, the traveller’s portable home. Your life is in your pack: your medicine, your toiletries, your clothes and your protective gear. Without it we’d like to think we would survive, but we would feel stranded. Lost. Disconnected from ourselves and what we were and are. So we cling on for dear life, lugging our possessions like a burden, like a treasure.”
“You feel pity. Empathy. I feel their fatigue, that slow, hungry panic eating through when night falls. Where will we stay? How much will it be? We have to find somewhere. And the dogged tiredness, the heavy-eyed, heavy-footed trudge. The people around you so sure, so aware of where they are and what they are doing. They arrived years ago and have been there aeons.
I feel this because I have lived it and will continue to do so for the next four months of constant, bone-aching moving.
Yet a sneaky voice bubbles up, whispering illicitly through my saintly sympathy. ‘Thank god’ it creeps, ‘thank god it’s them and not us tonight.’”