Lost and Found

The next day, after our restaurant visit I received a WeChat message – Surprise! – it said.
My suitcase was on its way, and due to arrive that day!

Would it be mine?

As often seems to happen – that morning I had awoken and my lost suitcase just did not seem to matter anymore. I had just gone through eight days of wearing other people’s clothing, and now, just when it felt alright, the suitcase was on its way.

At around 5 o’clock L and I were told to go outside. There we were to wait at the school gates, for the arrival of my suitcase.

We leapt up, cautiously excited, and, as we thought all was about to happen quite quickly, we threw on jackets and shoes (L forgot to put on socks, he slipped his feet into crocs!) and we went out.

IMG_4617At the gate, to the Main Road, we waited. The cold (-16º) penetrated our clothing quickly. We clutched our passports and our plane tickets and boarding passes in freezing fingers.

Our Chinese speaking Romanian friend just happened by with his lovely Chinese wife. They insisted on waiting with us, putting their bag of groceries down on the snowy path.
The sweet wife and I took shelter in the foyer, behind the glass, in a nearby building. L and our friend waited.

I could just see them out on the street, but the workers were leaving the building I was sheltering in, and they were blocking my view.

Later L told me what happened.

They were waiting on the pavement, L’s feet were beginning to freeze in his crocs, and his cheeks were turning numb, and our contact told him via WeChat that the suitcase was on its way.

Where was it coming from? Who was bringing it? L and our friend were peering into every passing car.

Then, suddenly, our friend spotted a woman pushing a large black suitcase along the pavement quite far away.
– Is that your suitcase?-
– Yes, it is –
Attached to the handle of the suitcase L could just make out a large red ribbon. He had tied it there.

Our young friend sprinted off and stopped the woman who was pushing our suitcase. L caught up with him and shoved our passports, our tickets and our boarding passes towards the lady and my suitcase. Our friend translated and the woman looked at all the documents L was waving at her, and then she took some of the paperwork into her keeping.

L took the suitcase.

The woman disappeared.
Where had she come from? Where was she going?

I glimpsed L as he appeared amongst the crowd, pushing the suitcase through the snow.
I ran out. I really could hardly believe it.

IMG_4613Back in the flat we heaved the suitcase onto the bed and opened it. It had been unpacked and repacked. Inside was an official letter to say that it had been randomly selected at Oliver Tambo Airport to be opened and searched.
It gave details of how it would have been unpacked in the presence of some officials. What did they think of my worthless possessions?

IMG_4686My sketchbook of sketches (now stuck to our bedroom wall), my sons 2nd year etchings( one of Ganesh – the remover of obstacles), the little ceramic bear saying ‘I LOVE MUM’ (a gift from a very little daughter), my favourite big old jersey from England, the Papagayo shawl from my very best friend, the small red scarf from a sweet old lady, the Pakistani shawl that once belonged to a beautiful but tragic young girl, the Zimbabwean cloth, a bright and happy gift, the two tatty Kikoys, still salty with many trips to sunny beaches, the red soled veldskoens from my dearest L…

I brought them all along because they all bring me joy, especially as they are now, draped over the furniture in our flat. They bring colour and happy memories of home. Of cause, my suitcase also contained pairs of jeans, L’s reading glasses, shirts, jerseys, pyjamas, spare contact lenses, precious moleskins and other essentials.

No contraband was in that case. There was nothing of value to anyone but me.

As I unpacked and handled the contents of my case I thought how worn and shabby they all were, and then I put on the 2nd hand, black, German (I think) coat I bought from SAM’S shop in Knysna and I felt warm, both inside and out – and ready for a walk back out into the snow of extraordinary China.

The journey continues…

China is celebrating three days of public holiday. It is New Year.

We left home five days ago and have travelled for three. We have been in the school for two days only, and we are already on holiday!
We have not, however, been doing nothing!

The journey from our home in Knysna to Lanzhou was long and extremely exhausting.

We started with a drive from Knysna, then a plane from George to Joburg, followed by a plane to Beijing and another to Lanzhou.

IMG_4466As with all journeys time become irrelevant, the lights inside the Air China aeroplane during the Joburg Beijing leg changing from pale pink to pale blue to pale lemon. Our dozing was interspersed with meals served by a number of beautiful Chinese people, with the ‘sort of scary if you think about it’ sound of the engines, punctuated by South African voices asking for Bloody Mary cocktails (greeted with a confused Chinese frown) and raucous laughter from another group of 4 from SA who all wore t-shirts saying ‘The 4 Musketeers’
Oh, how we are going to miss you all…

IMG_4464-sLex and I joined a very elderly smiling Chinese man at the back of the plane occasionally. He was doing a kind of Tai Chi, having stepped over the sleeping young man in his aisle seat with extreme agility, by making use of the armrests of the seats.
Our stretches were not nearly as good as his, but he smiled at us never the less and beckoned to us once to show us a small beautiful island through the back window. I missed it – how fast the plane flies- but Lex glimpsed it. I imagined a little green jewel in a wide blue sea, seen through some wispy white clouds.

Later we changed planes, and the red-eye from Beijing was filled with Chinese businessmen. It was early morning, but I was past all that, having gained 6 hours somewhere en route.

chinese winter fashionAt baggage collection in Beijing, I was vague and dreamy. It did not help that, whilst waiting there, I seemed to be surrounded by a cloud of the most entrancing creatures that I had ever seen. All Chinese – they were a host of beings, some in long pink coats with pink fur encircling faces fringed with glossy black hair, and others in very long puffy black jackets and platform trainers, and there were those with Miss Kitty rucksacks worn over extraordinary camo jackets and others wearing round spectacles and all of them were topped with shiny sleek black hair. Some of these wonderful beings had little creatures in tow, with the sweetest faces and sticking out ponytails and little high voices calling out.

I needed sleep.
Badly.

And my suitcase never arrived in Beijing. And Lex’s suitcase never arrived in Lanzhou. We were clothes-less!

I had done my best to find my case in Beijing. Lex stood in a queue(!) to get our bags through customs for our next flight, while I ran, yes ran, between him and the hopeless carousel with someones’ unclaimed pink metallic case slowly and sadly circling. Mine never appeared!

I tried again later, passing each time past a very tired (eventually he was actually slumped over and sleeping) guard guy until I gave up.

Lex’s bag arrived yesterday at the school. I still await mine. I wear his clothes. Perhaps it’s for the best. He might not have so easily worn mine.