My lover lives on the other side of the earth.
I slump on a bench at Haneda Airport, Tokyo, leaning against my laptop, strapped over my right shoulder, my small duffel bag at my feet. Ranjini thinks I’m crazy for carrying a duffel when I could use a suitcase with wheels that I wouldn’t have to lug everywhere, charging across airports like a fireman slinging a child out of a burning building. Most other passengers, with advancing technologies of wheeled suitcases, might agree my choice of luggage is mad if they noticed me at all.
I’m not crazy. I’m a creature of habits and rituals, and carrying this duffel bag is one of my rituals.
I close my eyes.
It feels good to rest in sitting position, my laptop supporting me. I’ve found a bench near the trains, behind the elevators to Departures and restaurants and shopping, and protected by those elevators from the flow of pedestrian traffic. No one else sits on these benches, though passengers constantly stream by on their way to the parking lot. Once a young Japanese woman teeters in her spiked heels to the far end of my bench and perches, her wheeled suitcase at her feet. She scans her phone briefly before continuing on her way. Otherwise I am alone in Tokyo.
It’s 10 p.m. on December 28th, 2015. I left Toronto on Sunday morning, December 27th, and, though my flight left the ground less than 24 hours ago, I lost 14 hours of this Monday when I crossed the Dateline over the Pacific a few hours ago. I’ll sleep tonight, though my body will be confused about the time. After landing I found a restaurant and had a bowl of soba noodles and broth with seafood and a large Kirin beer, which has made me tired. That is, the food and beer and the fact I have barely slept in over 24 hours have made me tired.
Soba noodles, made from buckwheat, are part of New Year’s celebrations in Japan. This tradition is apparently related to the length of the noodles, which symbolize a long life, but also relate to them being soft and easy to cut, which symbolizes cutting off the struggles of the old year and beginning again. There is even an interpretation that the tradition relates to Japanese jewelers at year end using soba balls to gather the gold dust that fell on their workbenches and accumulated over the past year: thus soba symbolizes the accumulation of wealth.
A stomach full of gold makes me sleepy. The upper part of the airport, where I ate dinner and killed time strolling about looking at New Year’s wishes posted on blocks of wood (“I wish for a good husband and happy family”), is lined with naked trees lit up by bluish white light, Christmas/New Year’s decorations, but there are none here on the Arrivals floor, where I’ve settled to wait after using the machine to buy our tickets on the Keiyu Line to our hotel near Shinagawa Station. Ranj’s flight from Dubai is due to land soon. The slight elation, endorphin/adrenaline-high, at the anticipation of seeing her has taken over my brain and is perhaps the only thing keeping me awake.
We’ve developed a New Year’s custom of meeting in places that neither of us has visited before.
28 December 2016, Dubai
It is 6:35 am in the morning and the sky is a navy blue, not yet fully light, and the moon is still shining brightly and three-quarters full. I step out of the cab, place my foot on the curb and, at my feet, see a wreath of small white flowers, brown stems and green leaves. I pick it up. The flowers are not real but “fake,” a child’s tiara perhaps. Recently, I have been finding such things on my morning walks on Jumeirah Beach: a tassel of faux pearls, a sand dollar—five-pointed flower on its underside, bleached peach-white, on the sand. Now, I slide the white flowers into the front pocket of my red suitcase, and head into Terminal 3 of Dubai International Airport for my 9-hour Emirates flight to Tokyo.
The stewardess says that there are 300 seats free on this flight—most people who want to be in Tokyo for winter break are already there. I am glad for the rest. I am very tired—the work has felt overwhelming. I am always hurrying and behind. I want to just be. Next year June, I will be leaving Dubai. I welcome these changes but I also fear them—this letting go of the struggles of my past and beginning again.
I turn to Kannon, the Bodhisattva of compassion, for refuge.
I read Marcus Powles’ book on the 33 Tokyo Kannon Pilgrimage and map possible routes. I’m not sure how readily Lee will embark on a 33-temple circuit. But if there is one thing that I know about him, it is his overarching gentleness and generosity, his genuine desire to understand and love me. He sees me. I see him.
I love Lee.
A couple of temples will do.
At Haneda Airport, I step out, and there he is, my Beloved.