I looked up at the signs, trying to decipher which train I needed to take to
Narita Airport. After ten months backpacking through Africa and Asia,
using every form of transport from donkey to rickshaw, I was on the final leg of
my journey, the flight that would take me home to Canada.
I was feeling the weight of my huge pack. Knowing that I would soon be shedding the burden on my back, I finally allowed myself to purchase gifts for my family. The Japanese language was a complete mystery to me, and I stared up at the board, searching for any symbol that appeared familiar. Anything at all.
I must have looked like a lone weary turtle stuck in a pond of suits. Everywhere salary men were rushing to catch their crowded trains. Everybody, everything was moving fast. No Zen here.
And then, out of the mass, a woman stopped and asked, in English, which way I wanted to go. She took me to the station master. She spoke to him in Japanese, found out the platform number, the price of a ticket and the time of departure. I had half an hour.
I thanked her and bid her farewell, but she said she had ten minutes and insisted I join her for a quick tea.
She told me she had been born in Japan, but had spent a year backpacking in New York and knew what it was like to be a woman traveling solo. We excitedly traded stories but soon our brief chat was over. Her train was leaving. She hurriedly paid for both our drinks.
"Save your money," she said and wished me luck. And then, she was gone.
I stood up to go, pulling the load once more onto my back. Suddenly, she reappeared, out of breath, with a square box wrapped in white and red paper.
"You aren't vegetarian are you?" she asked.
"Uh, no..." and she pushed the box into my hands. It was warm.
"For the train. Goodbye." And she was gone, again.
I had seen these specially-prepared boxed meals for sale in the stations. They looked delicious but they were beyond my budget.
As I waited on the platform, my pack didn't feel as heavy. Even though I had been given one more gift to carry, I felt lighteróblessed with the taste of warm food, the dreams of my homecoming and the generosity of a Japanese woman I would know only this once. And I never even caught her name.