|My guitar, my bag and Luce, the ear-licking chihuahua|
This should be the last scanning, since the platform where the train to Suzhou leaves from is right beyond the machine. I can't remember how many of these checkpoints I've gone through so far. In any other place they shouldn't be more than a couple, as I only took one flight. Considering the Chinese authorities paranoia though, and their fondness for this type of technology, it's safe to multiply the aforementioned number by a coefficient ranging between 1.5 and 2.5. Let's say 2: four scanning points is a reliable estimate then, which for just one flight and two subway trips is not bad at all.
Four of these procedures in just a few hours and a considerable number of bags are really testing my absentmindedness to the limit. Normally I manage to keep it under control by means of a set of automatisms that I have acquired over many years of nomadic life, during which I have come to consider my bags as my only belongings. I have a backpack where I store my clothes and other giblets (after many years of drudgeries I finally realized that wheels are actually useful but as I hate traditional trolleys, as well as hard baggage, I bought a hybrid one, soft with back-straps), a shoulder bag where I keep my computer, electronic devices and other not extremely important personal things, an acoustic guitar in a soft case that I still don't know how to play, and a money-bag where I keep my passport, bank cards and other documents that I don't carry in my pockets for convenience and security reasons.
I greet the security staff with a nihao and a smile, both unreciprocated, I put the backpack down, I take the guitar case off my back, then the the money-belt and finally my shoulder ba...WHERE THE HELL IS MY SHOULDER BAG?
Panic. The sort of panic that gets hold of you when you are relaxed and are only waiting for the end of the activity you have been dealing with, your friend's hug, his welcoming smile, his little dog ear-licking session, a warm shower and a soft bed. The type of panic that doesn't reach its peak with a sudden step but increases together with your heartbeat along an exponential trend.
Damned absentmindedness. If I can't find it it's gonna be a mess. The only comforting fact is that losing my money-belt would have been even bigger a drama. Some consolation that is, since of the four components of my moving house this is the second most important one. Besides my laptop, e-book reader and camera there are two online banking code generator devices, my Italian ID card, medicines and a number of other documents and cards.
I start to act in a messy way and I can't quite check my awkwardness (which rhymes with absentmindedness: my natural flaws are in fact written in verses on my chromosomes): my guitar has already gone through the machine, I try to explain the staff what my intentions are but they can't speak English. The little Chinese I haven't forgotten is currently kept as a prisoner by the confusion that is presiding over everything I'm doing or thinking. I leave my backpack unattended, I place my money-belt and mobile phone on a tray and I let them search me as if I were about to board the train, I pick up my guitar and walk back under everyone's puzzled stare.
I walk fast: how big is this station hall? Chinese tend to build enormous structures, out of proportion. I remember thinking about this a few minutes ago but it was a nuisance of a totally different timbre, more carefree and less lethal.
I'm sure the bag was not stolen while it was with me but I can't remember where I left it. I try the ticket counter, where I remember putting my backpack down: the lady is honestly shocked and worried but she doesn't know anything about the bag. I keep following my footprints back and I reach the subway entrance, where nobody understands what I am talking about. I am sent to the ticket counter. A Chinese who can speak English instead of helping me tells me that I should contact the police: the hell with the police! The only thing I need to do now is looking for my bag, the police is the last resource, to be used in case I cannot find it. I must have left it in the train: if it's not there everything becomes much more complicated. The ticket-guy makes a phone call, smiles and tells me to wait a moment. He seems to be confident and that calms me a bit. After ten minutes he talks on the phone again, calls me and informs me that they didn't find it. Besides the disappointment I also feel betrayed by that smile of him: it didn't have any comforting or reassuring connotation, it was just one of the steps of an ice-cold bureaucratic procedure.
I go back to the train ticket counter and talk to a guy who has a badge and a walkie-talkie: he barely listens to me and tells me to contact the police. Again...
The only thing I can do now is taking the subway and go back to the airport. My next try is the X-ray checkpoint between the airport and the subway station. I get there breathless, I get out making a mess with my ticket, they help me to get past the gate without using it, probably thinking that I chose the wrong line or maybe just because they can't understand what I'm saying and they can see death painted on my face. I make myself clear with gestures and the little lady who works at the checkpoint smiles and says something about a bag they found. It seems that she's talking about a pouch, I point out that it's supposed to be a shoulder bad, she smiles again and asks me to wait. Then a police woman comes, she's very kind, friendly and she can speak excellent English. She asks me a few questions and then goes to talk to the station manager. She comes back and takes me to the control booth, where...I can see my bag in a corner! Big relief sigh: it probably smells like fear that upsets the normal body chemical processes. The police woman leaves and one of the employees asks me to wait, which is something I got used to by now. After a few minutes the station manager arrives: very kindly and in perfect English he asks me to describe the bag and its content and once he's happy with my answers he finally hands it to me. When I'm leaving I notice that everybody is waving goodbye. The police woman in particular can't stop smiling. How pretty: if I hadn't been clouded over by anguish I should have probably asked her phone number. Well, actually it might not have been a good idea.
I reach the station. I've already missed my train, and that was the last one to Yuanqu. I'll have to take one to Suzhou Central station. I hand my passport and the money, then I remember the unused ticket and I add that as well, the lady throw back my money at me as if it was radioactive, replaces my ticket with a new one and even gives me some change.
When I tell him the story, an Italian guy who's been living here for many years says that I was very lucky. I think so too, of course. Especially for having left the bag in the place patrolled by the kindest, educated and thoughtful people I've had to deal with.
Maybe I should really have asked her number after all. No, come on. Well, maybe...