It’s rather odd sharing a cabin with a stranger. I don’t mean cohabiting, I mean moving into a space the instant its previous occupant moves out. OK, the sheets are clean, there’s fresh towels and the smell of spray polish hangs in the air but … All the coat-hangers are in use because the guy who just left is intending to come back after his leave and has left all his work gear behind. And two empty tobacco pouches in the top drawer of the desk. And a multi-pack of disposable razors in the bathroom cabinet. I don’t mind this (well, maybe the coat-hangers), I too have left gear in cabins when I’m part of a ship’s regular crew. It saves dragging heavy safety boots and overalls and coats through the airports and train stations of the world. But it does feel odd.
As I write this, I can see two plastic bangles that are clipped around the desk lamp. One is yellow, the other red. Once they were luminous but that’s long since faded and now they’re rather tired and grubby looking. Why are they there? Which of my predecessors put them there? And how long have they been there? I mean is there anyone still working on this ship who remembers what those bangles commemorate?
Am I alone in feeling this way? Is it just me that finds sharing personal space with the cast off, the forgotten or the sidelined belongings of someone else a bit … well … weird? These things, without their owner’s personality to give them meaning are just dusty relics that give off an alien vibe. At least that’s how it feels to me.
But. But, it’s not only the belongings of strangers that weirds me out.
My job takes me away from home for days/weeks/months at a time. Sometimes I get plenty of warning. Sometimes I must drop everything and go within hours. Whatever the case, the Lorraine that packs up her life into a kit bag, tidies up and locks the front door on her way out is not the same Lorraine that comes back through the front door at the end of her trip. It’s the little things – like the shopping list tacked to the kitchen notice board that informs you that a few weeks ago you needed washing up liquid and eggs, or the newspaper that you kept for some reason but cannot now remember why. These things were all done by someone else. A previous me, and although I’m still me, I’m not that me.
I’ve spent my time away wearing a very limited wardrobe because of the restrictions of what I can carry and I’ve largely forgotten what clothing I’ve got at home. It’s a voyage of discovery, opening drawers and cupboards and finding different things to wear. It will take me a couple of days though, before I can bring myself to put them on because I must mentally change gear before I can change my ‘gear’.
I am willing to bet that everyone who regularly travels away from home goes through this feeling of being disjointed, of coming home and meeting manifestations of an earlier self. What I’m not so sure of is whether any of them is as intrigued by it as I am.