The Day I Left

There is a small speck of dust in the pit of my stomach when I wake up. It grows quickly as I go through the motions I planned out so carefully the day before.

Get dressed, throw nightclothes into bag.

The dust becomes the size of a mustard seed.

Fold bedding, place neatly in the corner.

Now it’s becoming more like a pearl of coriander.

Wash face, brush teeth, apply a little makeup. Into a Ziploc bag with all of it when I’m done, carefully stashed in my bag’s last remaining spot. I’m pro at this by now.

It’s a lemon seed size now, and beginning to sting like citrus too.

Zip up my bags, do one last check, hug my friend and host for the last few days since my apartment ceased to be mine. Don my hat and grab my bags as she holds the door. I will not cry. Not yet.

Now it’s as plump as a kumquat.

Life lately has been a series of lasts. I’m thankful my husband is with me for this, the last walk to the train station. We trudge along quickly in case the train is early. It’s never late.


At the train platform, a single friend waits to see us off as the sun is still just rising. Hugs, smiles, words, silence.

It’s a small orange now, the “mikan” my prefecture is famous for, the “Japanese oranges” that my students were greatly amused to learn means the arrival of Christmas to grocery stores in Canada.

The train pulls in to collect its early Monday crowds of commuting workers, students, and today, two foreigners with heavy bags and heavier hearts. The doors close, and our friend waves until we’ve been carried out of sight. I will not cry. Not yet.

It’s an apple, a large, perfectly-shaped one like they sell at my supermarket for something like five dollars apiece. My former supermarket.

The train pulls into its final stop, downtown, and we transfer to the main line. Down a long staircase, up an escalator, I catch a few glimpses of my students in the crowd. My former students.

Suddenly it’s a massive grapefruit. Can it really grow that fast? I will not cry. No! Not yet.

A couple more transfers later, we step off onto the platform at the airport station. We’re on a mission now, focused, and the weight in my stomach holds steady.

Up the stairs, through the station gates, into the airport itself. To the courier counter to collect the luggage we’d shipped ahead to the airport.

From out of nowhere a well-dressed man approaches us. “Are you… Janelle-san?” He apologizes profusely – full 90 degree bow – as with both hands he extends to me an envelope with $100 inside.

(One of the suitcases we’d shipped with his company – Kuroneko Yamato (Black Cat Yamato) – was slightly damaged. The handle on the side broke off. They had offered to repair the suitcase upon our return. I told them not to worry about it, because we would not be returning, and anyways it’s an old suitcase.) This man drove for probably hours to get to the airport in a different prefecture in Monday morning rush hour traffic, simply to make sure we were properly compensated.

This is the country I’m leaving behind.

Winter melon. Like Hokkaido’s delicious winter melon flavoured everything. If only I could simply eat it to make this pressing weight go away.

We check in. Grab Starbucks and as many last minute souvenirs as we can fit in our carry-ons with the yen we have left. I check Streetpass. Airports are the best place for Streetpass.

It’s time to head to security. Then to customs. They punch a hole through my resident’s card so I can keep it as a souvenir. It doesn’t carry any legal value to them anymore. I don’t reside here anymore.

There is a full-on pumpkin in the pit of my stomach now. Should I be going to the hospital or…?

Our flight is a little late so we get a couple extra hours… to wait. If I could’ve chosen how to spend those hours, I would’ve… no. Could’ve should’ve would’ve, it’s beyond my control, no point of that now.

 The plane’s arrived. They’re calling our section. We queue up orderly like civilized people. I’ll miss that. They check my boarding pass. I’m in the boarding tunnel. The flight attendants greet us as we step onto the plane. Step. Step. Luggage above. Small bag below. “Excuse me.” Step. Sit.

The crew moves fast because the plane is late and before the last people to board are even seated, we’re taxiing to the runway to the tune of safety announcements.

The wheels begin to roll. My seatbelt is snug. I grab my husband’s hand and inside myself I say my quick, customary pre-flight prayer. The plane accelerates. Faster. Faster. The front end lifts, and milliseconds later the back end will follow. I savour that final moment before we lose touch with the ground.

So quickly we climb, and as the land below us, the land I’ve called home for the last four years, fades from view, I remind myself to breathe.

The pumpkin in the pit of my stomach begins to shrink at last as the tears begin to flow softly.

Janelle leaving Japan
On the platform as my train arrives: last ride on the Yunoyama Line. 

15 thoughts on “The Day I Left

  1. Oh my gosh, you had my anxiety doing somersaults! Beautiful, beautiful writing… as Ra would say, *thud* Sorry you had to leave a place you so clearly loved. I’ve been in that situation and there is definitely a grieving process. Best wishes love, xoxo

  2. I got so much more out of this than what I’m about to say but…. You call them night clothes too!? I’m not the only one!!

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