It was an empathy test of sorts.1
See, a few hours before, I had gotten really sick on an overnight bus from Osaka.2Reeeaaaally sick. Sick enough to warrant an unplanned stop, several embarrassed bows from me, and our bus conductor pulling out his phone with Google Translate.
We have break now. You need help? it said. (Aww.) I nodded and managed to hobble off the bus before sprinting in the snow in my socks (sans coat).
I can laugh about this now, but I remember being in that moment wanting to die or disappear. And I remember laughing, thinking about how I’d find this all funny in a few months (three months later… yep, but still horrifying!) But at that moment? It was hell. (I exaggerate not: I just caused the entire bus to be 40 minutes late! 40 minutes. In Japan.)
I finally got to my hostel3 in Tokyo a few hours later, so ready to pass out and in need of a warm shower, but was told with a cheery smile that check-in was in five hours. “I just need to sleep,” I said. “We have library upstairs,” they answered.
Well, okay. It was a pretty library, attached to a small kitchen on the topmost floor. I was surprised (and excited) to find their shelves full of indie magazines and travel books, and made a mental note to pick some out to read later. I found a nice spot, flipped through that issue of Brutus about good coffee (yum) and passed out.
Woke up a couple of hours later to find a man on his laptop eyeing me curiously. His gray hair was in a messy ponytail. He looked French.
“… You don’t want to sleep in your bed?” he asked. (Sounded French, too.)
“Oh, no, I’m waiting for check-in.”
“Ohhh dear. Are you okay?”
I told him my story. The look of horror on his face was not of disgust; it was more of, good god, that sounds terrible, and I’m sure glad you’re fine. You can tell when you say something really embarrassing: some people try to stifle a laugh, some look genuinely horrified for you. Thankfully, he was the latter.
“Well you know, they have free instant ramen in the kitchen,” he winked. “That might help your tummy.”
Nahhh, I think I’ll go back to sleep, I smiled. And so I did.
Woke up an hour later to find a couple sitting across me. The girl smiles at me. “Hey, you okay?” she asks. (Aw, I must’ve looked really sick for everyone to ask me that.)
So I tell her my story.
“And so by then, I really wasn’t feeling well…”
She interrupts me. “Oh my god, wait. The same thing happened to me on the flight here!” she says excitedly. “Oh my god. I know how that feels.”
“Like you already know that something’s wrong. Uh-huh. Not good.”
“I know!” I said. “There I was telling myself, Christine, this is not going to happen. Not here. Not now. You’re fine. You’re goooood. Mind over matter, maybe?”
“Yes! And then you think, this is not going to happen… but oh, well, I guess it is, and… oh, look, there it goes. I made quite the mess on the plane,” she said.
We burst out laughing. The man on his laptop was laughing with us, too. Suddenly both our most horrifying, embarrassing moments weren’t so embarrassing anymore.
Sometimes, that’s the best we can do for others, right? Not a “you’ll be fine”, nor a “don’t worry, it was nothing”. A simple me too can make all the difference.
“And now, ugh, all I want is to take a shower and sleep, but I have to wait for check-in,” she says.
You’ll be surprised: maybe 8/10 of my friends gave me that same horrified that’s horrible and I hope you’re okay face. I actually had one guy laugh at me (he was a friend of a friend… and is no longer my friend, ha!) and another remind me of another time I was sick and it was just as gross (…Really? Really??) While I was bracing myself for another lecture from Rolf (aka my bully travel buddy who was off snowboarding with his pals while I went on my Tokyo adventure alone; I thought he’d comment on how my boo-boos build up each time we travel together), he was actually very sympathetic (and he usually isn’t). “My god,” he said, “I wouldn’t know what I’d do if that happened to me.” ↩
Also see: Fun pizza moment with Mona here! At least something fun came out of this trip, aside from all the washi tape hoarding. Four days in Tokyo and one meal, seriously. The only Japanese food I had was the free ramen in the kitchen. Wait, now I need to go back. No more buses this time, though! ↩
Nui Hostel, Tokyo. Proud to say I made the most of this place. (Of course I did; spent two entire days sick and asleep!) Good coffee, awesome vibe, nice people, and oh my, you’ll see the man on his laptop from my story in the hostel’s first and fourth carousel photo (+ ponytail, gray hair, suit). How long has he been there?! ↩
"I'm from Libya," he said. I don't know what to say. It's as if he'd told me he'd just come from his father's funeral.
The first specialty coffee shop in Ikebukuro and Junkudo (bookstore) resonate.
Editing is interpreting.
The Riddle of Steel.
The man stands motionless in a crush of white-shirted salarymen, as they swarm past him, toward the single escalator.
Rêve de centre commercial-piscine
Birthday walk home