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 …
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.
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
check-in counter there are about 40 passengers inching toward three check-in
staff, like cows winding their way through cattle grids.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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:
postcard would be nice for Aunt Leslie.
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."
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