Thursday, January 6, 2011
On the kindness of strangers
Somewhere between Sydney and Guangzhou in October I lost my faux leather rock-chick jacket.
Good riddance, some might say: what on earth is a woman of a certain age doing in a garment like this?
Having fun, since you ask. I'd never owned nor worn such a jacket in my life before and I picked up this one for peanuts in Melbourne's St Kilda a year ago. It immediately became my default option. Whatever I wore it over - jeans, an office-y outfit, an OTT tango frock - I felt great. Note (and I've made this distinction before, but I intend making it again) I said, I felt great. Not that it necessarily looked great. The most I can say on the aesthetic front is that it never seemed to do me any harm.
I was wearing the jacket the afternoon I flew out of Wellington, I was wearing it next morning in Sydney airport, waiting to board the flight to Kunming. I wasn't wearing or carrying it when I disembarked to change planes in Guangzhou (a city I hadn't been in since a peculiar weekend in mid-1986, when, amongst other things, I sustained the migraine to end all migraines, and sought help from the nice hotel medical staff who, within minutes of a complex pantomine meant to communicate that my head hurt like hell and I needed to lie down for an hour or so on their snowy linen, advanced with a massive hypodermic from which I fled without unnecessary explanation. It was the only time in my life I deliberately overdosed on medication - I swallowed four or five aspirin and was right as rain within the hour).
Where was I?
Oh yes, traipsing down interminable corridors towards the Guangzhou immigration desk and experiencing that sudden sinking of the heart that indicates loss of a loved object (a foreshadowing, as it turned out, of how I'd feel when my daypack, containing camera plus wedding photos, iPod, cash, make-up, a gorgeous silk robe I'd bought only an hour before and lots more besides disappeared down a Hanoi alleyway in the back of a taxi that was never seen again).
So anyway. I turned and ran back down miles of Kafkaesque corridors. I met a party of flight attendants, explained about my jacket and one of them took me back through several locked doors onto the plane. Where what seemed like the hundreds of women cleaners turning it upsidedown turned to stare at the mad foreign woman flinging open lockers and crawling under seats.
No joy. I was retracing my steps to immigration when a tall handsome uniformed young woman with terrific English asked if she could help. She said she was a purser, and asked for my mobile number so she could let me know if the jacket turned up. I knew it was hopeless, especially as my mobile didn't work in China, but I appreciated her kindness.
Three weeks later I was home. Among the messages waiting for me was one that, for a few minutes, had me foxed. Then I realised it was from the helpful woman, who'd called several days after I'd met her to tell me she had my jacket. I tried to call the number she left but couldn't connect. I got hold of J and S in Kunming and asked if they would try. After a couple of weeks and a lot of attempts, they did. My jacket was in Guangzhou ready to be picked up. They asked if it could be sent to Kunming. She wasn't sure if it could, she'd have to put in a special request to have something sent to someone who wasn't the person who lost it. More weeks went by. I kept thinking I should ask S and J to ask the helpful young woman to send them a photo of my alleged jacket so that when it turned out not to be mine I could save everyone a lot of trouble.
Meanwhile I endured every stage of grief for my age-inappropriate jacket: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance. I had even, in Kunming, rushed into the doomed exercise of buying a replacement. But it wasn't a replacement at all. I rejected it. It suffers in silence in the back of the spare room cupboard.
Then J caught me online a week or so ago and promptly skyped. "We've got it!" he called as soon as I picked up, and waved something in front of the camera - my lovely vulgar pretend-leather jacket.
You could, if you were so inclined, interpret this story as a sad illustration of people's attachment to material objects, and of the superficiality of women or of human beings in general. So go on, and see where it gets you.
What I see is a young woman in another country, who works for and probably isn't paid all that much by a frankly rather crummy airline, who took the trouble to listen to what some tourist gabbled at her about something pretty unimportant and follow through on it, at some inconvenience and for absolutey no reward.
Whoever you are, thank you. And here are some flowers as a token of my appreciation.