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Do you carry too much luggage with you when you travel? I do. The award for carrying around the most extra baggage goes to me. On many occasions I have found myself waiting nervously in line at the airport knowing that I am overweight. Arguments with staff at the check-in counter and hefty fines are the usual outcome. It happened when I was returning from a business trip recently …

I arrive at the airport in a taxi surrounded by a haze of diesel fumes. The electric doors of the airport entrance open with the flow of pedestrian traffic and I'm confronted by lots of gadgety game-show sounds. The airport echoes with announcements. They are prompted by annoying doorbell chimes which have the persistence of Avon Calling. I heave my suitcases out of the taxi and onto a trolley. It’s stacked precariously high like a circus balancing act. I'm late.

The doorbell sounds continue, louder, as I walk through the airport. There are announcements in several languages politely demanding that a missing passenger with a name consisting of at least 14 syllables present themselves at a departure gate immediately. My trolley squeaks. Flights to places that I will never go to are announced as 'cancelled' in the meantime. Do I detect a malignant delight in the tone of the announcer? What she's really saying through a spitless grin is this: "You're not going anywhere today." I pass by people sleeping between soft, carry-on, lumpy luggage as I hurry to the check-in counter. A small child with a face like a Kewpie doll is playing Nintendo on what looks like a picnic blanket outside the duty free shop. Someone – perhaps a parent – is sleeping beside her in an awkward Houdini contortionist's position. I wonder how long they have been there and how many times their flight has been cancelled.

At the check-in counter there are about 40 passengers inching toward three check-in staff, like cows winding their way through cattle grids.

"Gosh that person has a lot of luggage," I hear someone further down the line say loudly, pointing. People glance over plane tickets discretely in my direction. Outside the airport it is very windy and I am worried that the flight might be cancelled. I imagine myself wheeling my trolley back to the picnic blanket and asking if there's room for one more. My phone rings. It's the event manager working with me on the company summer party that I am helping to arrange. She is getting stressed out because we don't have everything planned perfectly. "Don't forget to order the pig on a spit for the party!" Mary hisses down the line. We’ve drifted apart since the lunchtime lick discussion. I think I can actually hear spit hitting the phone receiver as she wraps her mouth around the syllables. I want to say "isn't it a bit early to arrange that?" but I'm saving my Argument Energy for the check-in. Mary repeats the words “pig on a spit” urgently and hangs up. We've rented a castle and ordered the candelabra for the medieval entrance. My job is to arrange the transport and do as I am told.

"Where could he possibly be going with all of that stuff?" a lady with a 'Who The Hell Is Britney’ t-shirt says in Chinese to her travelling companion, frowning and pointing at my carry-on. I speak Chinese, hear her words and blush. There is a curse to being multilingual – you absorb insults in other languages.

The line has moved again and I feel a trolley wheel nibbling at my ankle. I pirouette awkwardly in a narrow arc and find myself colliding with a backpack the size of a Tibetan sherpa's. "Keep moving!" I'm told by a girl in a tie-dye poncho with a heavy Eastern European accent, arms folded across her chest. I can smell Big Mac on her breath. It delivers her words in rancid and meaty chunks. They are practically tangible. I am going through a vegetarian phase, and feel sorry for the poor cow. I glance at the netball that her very short travelling companion is carrying. She clutches it close to her protectively like a baby, leers at me and moves away to say something to her friend. The friend nods as she angles her head and cups her ear. She shakes her head and whispers something back. Big Mac Poncho Girl flinches, glances at me and pulls an expression as if she has just sipped vinegar. I move my trolley forward the 10 inches necessary to fill the gap between myself and the person in front of me. Angry Netball Girl regales with her own chess move, moving 10 inches closer to me. I crave personal space and feel sad. Suddenly I’m worrying about whether or not my neighbour Alice has remembered to drop by and water my plants.

The overweight luggage fees these days are extraordinary. I do my best to stay below the limit. The award for last-minute, impulse binge packing goes to me, though. I have a terrible habit of putting lots of heavy and useless stuff in my bag at the very last minute. How many books do you really need on a short trip away? Why did I decide to bring scented candles? Don’t most hotels now have irons and blow dryers? What was I thinking while I was packing?

In the meantime the people in front of me have taken out their digital camera to discuss their happy snaps. I overhear someone saying, "Sherry is in a kennel and Margaret may or may not be epileptic now but she's OK otherwise”. I wonder if Margaret is a person or an animal and desperately want to ask them. My neighbour Alice’s dog Kimmy is epileptic. I resist the desire to pry.

I reach the front of the line and am met by a check-in representative called Kayleen. Her look says I've Seen Your Type Before. I smile and put my bags onto the weightometer. It groans under the stress of the load and I realise that I am drenched in sweat. Red numbers flash. It's just inside the limit. The check-in staff mumbles something about unions and searches for the 'heavy luggage' stickers in the lowest drawer, doesn't find them, sighs and rummages elsewhere until she finds them. I’m OK.

My Mum has learnt how to send text messages. She's enjoying the freedom of writing random things to me at all hours of the day and night.  She sends me one before the trip. I remember it when I see a post box in a news agency entrance while walking towards the bar to have a drink before boarding. It says:

A postcard would be nice for Aunt Leslie.

I've bought the card and bought the stamp but I haven't written on it yet. My brain has the texture of runny honey and I can't think what to write. I peruse the bar’s drinks menu. All I can see is poor Aunt Leslie with her toe recently amputated and a case of mild disorientation owing to a urinary tract infection inching her way towards the letterbox with her Zimmer frame. I imagine her face lighting up as she checks her mail, thanks to a tiny bit of thoughtfulness in between the bills. I'm running out of time and there’s an announcement to board and I have to write something fast before the plane takes off. I decide to raid the bar's wine list for adjectives. My postcard is peppered with words used to describe a Chablis, a Chardonnay and a Merlot. My trip has been ‘well-orchestrated’, ‘precise’, ‘beautifully balanced’ and there’s a ‘wonderful freshness’ about it that has left me with an ‘extremely long aftertaste’. I find a post box and send it just before boarding.

I sit in my seat and check out the films they are showing on the flight. There is a movie about a plane that crashes and people end up eating each other to survive. The description states: "This film contains aircraft incidents and violence that passengers may find objectionable."

“Aircraft incidents.” Hello? The plane crashes. It strikes me as being the euphemism of the decade. I wonder if the people with the digital camera will watch it. Or maybe it’s more up Mary’s alley – although she is more of a train wreck than a plane crash, if the truth be told. 

I ask for a pen from the stewardess and write ‘Pig on spit’ on the palm of my hand before I forget.

Copyright © 2008 Richard Cannane Publishing
03. Mai 2013