The first of my many journeys between Winchester and home was…an adventure. I wrote it all down a while back, and now it’s today’s Saturday Story! Hope you like it.
I arrived in London Heathrow Airport Terminal 3 with a shoulder bag that was way too heavy, a carry-on that was barely under the carry-on limit, and an enormous suitcase. The suitcase was fifteen pounds overweight and as a result, had a piece of tape that wrapped around it announcing how heavy it was for all to see. The arrivals gate was full of people waiting for their loved ones and men in suits with names on boards. There were a few people from universities waiting to pick up international students like me and I expected to see my own university among them, but they weren’t. It was alright though, because I assumed they would show up nearer to the time the bus was supposed to come for us, so I found a seat and waited. And waited. And waited.
Eight hours later, after an airport information helper tried calling the number I had for the university, I followed her directions through a series of complicated underground tunnels to get to a coach station. Once there, I got a ticket to Winchester, trying my best to get used to the foreign accents and read the confusing information sign. In the end, I got on the right coach and spent two hours trying not to fall asleep to the calming buzz of the road passing beneath the vehicle and failing. Every so often, I would wake up with a jolt, sure I had missed my stop and unsure what my stop was supposed to look like. I would check my watch and check my ticket before falling back asleep again. Eventually I jolted awake at the right time, just as the coach pulled up to the coach stop in Winchester, England. My final destination.
Of course, I had only planned this far. Due to a large oversight on my part, I found myself with my overweight luggage alone in the middle of a town I’d never been to before, two hours to midnight. Looking at my surroundings, I took note of three things: One, I was near a large statue of a man who I found out later was King Alfred the Great. Two, there was an abundance of drunk men who were all eyeing me in a worrisome manner. Three, there was a blond young man maybe about nineteen who had gotten off the same coach as me who had a map, a phone, and a University of Winchester brochure—all things I was lacking. I decided to attach myself to this young man who was infinitely more prepared than me and whose presence might deter any drunk who thought it would be a good idea to approach me.
“You’re going to the university, too?” I asked to initiate a beneficial conversation.
“Yeah,” he replied in a Norwegian accent. “You too?”
I nodded. “Do you know which way it is?”
He fumbled for his phone and tried to spread out his map on top of his bigger suitcase. “Erm, no. Not really. I have a map, but…”
He waved his hand at the paper as if it was malfunctioning. I offered a hand and he handed me the map. After staring at it confidently for a few seconds, I realized it would be a lot easier to read the map if I knew where we were in the first place.
“Do you know where we are?” I asked hopefully, eyeing the map he had open on his phone. He saw and showed me the screen.
“No internet.” he said, defeated.
Over his shoulder I saw an older couple coming our way. I approached them with the map while the Norwegian boy watched.
“Excuse me, could you help us? We’re trying to find the university.”
The couple turned the map around and showed us where we were and where the university was. We thanked them and began our trek with our luggage up the hill.
“I’m Ivy, by the way.” I offered, since he didn’t seem like he was about to. “And you are?”
“Kevin.” I repeated to myself. Kevin from Norway was the first University of Winchester student I met.
For a while, we made idle small-talk as we hauled our luggage over the cobblestones. It wasn’t very long before I noticed my giant overweight suitcase was showing some wear-and-tear. I looked it over and kicked a leaf out of the wheel. Right about then we reached a fork in the road.
“Which way now?” I wondered out loud.
We got out the map, but once again we didn’t know where we were. Again, I spotted a couple coming our way—this couple younger than the last—and again, I approached and asked them for help. Then we continued on our way up the cobblestone hill. The more we walked, the more I fell behind. Determined to catch up, I piled my smaller suitcase on top of the bigger, put my head down, and pulled. The smaller suitcase fell off and Kevin began to notice how far behind I was.
“Do you need help?” he asked, but I shook my head.
Translation: I’m using you enough as it is, don’t make me feel bad.
But dragging the heavy suitcase over rough cobblestones on such a steep hill was not helping anything. The wheels of the suitcase were the kind that rolled any direction, and while they may have been useful in an airport over smooth floors, the wheels weren’t doing much rolling anymore. I was basically dragging the suitcase up the hill, scraping the plastic on the bottom and ripping the fabric a bit. At one point I was pulling so hard as I crossed a street that I had failed to notice the traffic light and I was nearly hit by a car—the first of many incidents involving me and vehicles in England.
Soon enough, my hands were starting to get calluses. The handle was just plain hard plastic, there was no rubber grip or anything. By this time, Kevin was easily twenty feet ahead and had resorted to stopping and waiting for me to catch up before going ahead again. Finally, he insisted we switch our bigger suitcases for a while. His was a hard shell in blue with two enormous wheels that didn’t swivel. Within a minute, I was way ahead of Kevin, who had been taken off guard by how heavy my luggage was, despite the warning on the tape. We continued that way for a while, until Kevin’s hands got calluses, too. Then we switched back.
Neither of us knew how to call a taxi. Several went past us during our climb and I would put my hand out like they did in films in New York, but they were all busy and none stopped. We went under an old-looking archway that would have impressed me had I not been exhausted. Later I saw it again in daylight and it was, in fact, impressive.
We passed some lovely little houses and some historical sites that I didn’t know at the time were historical sites. We passed a police station and I half-heartedly suggested we went to them and got a ride to the school. I didn’t know how much farther the school was or even what it looked like. My plan had been to catch the free coach from the airport for international students that would go straight to the university; I didn’t have a plan B. I was improvising.
We passed a prison on our right and on our left was what looked like a house with a sign that said “University of Winchester” with an arrow pointing at the closed wooden door. Kevin and I looked at each other when we noticed it, and without a word, I dropped my suitcase and ran up to knock on the door while Kevin took another look at the brochure.
“It looks nothing like the picture,” he remarked. It didn’t matter anyway: no one answered.
“I hope we don’t have to sleep in front of that door.” Kevin said as we continued on. I looked over at the prison across the street and silently agreed.
When a building that looked like Hogwarts came into sight, I was hopeful that we had finally arrived, but it was a hospital. I thought, at the very least, there will be a warm place open all night if we need it. But as we passed that, we saw another “University of Winchester” sign, bigger this time, and so was the building it pointed to. We lugged our stuff up the driveway, across the parking lot, and up to the front door…which was closed and locked. This was where Kevin began to freak out.
I sat on my smaller suitcase having gladly dropped everything on the ground while Kevin paced with his hands on his head.
“What now?” he said, “Where will we sleep?”
“We could try the security guard.” I suggested.
Kevin looked at me. “What?”
“There was a security guard at the other end of the parking lot.” I told him, “I thought you saw him, too.”
We both looked at the pile of our stuff that neither of us wanted to pick up again.
“I’ll stay here and watch the stuff if you want to go to the guard.” I said.
Kevin agreed and ran to the security office while I waited. Soon, he was back and we both ended up taking all our stuff the the security office anyway. There, the security guard helped us get our keys and then showed Kevin to his room first, since it was closer. Mine was in the opposite direction and down several hills, so when the guard offered to take something for me, I handed him the now-broken overweight suitcase. I felt bad as he grunted and struggled with the suitcase down the stairs—and then up more stairs since the building I was in apparently didn’t have an elevator—but I didn’t feel bad enough to trade with him.
When I finally reached the dorm room I would be staying at for the rest of the school year, I didn’t bother unpacking. I locked my door, made my bed, killed a spider, and went to sleep because it was one in the morning and I hadn’t slept for thirty hours. The rest of my time in Winchester was just as adventurous. I never saw Kevin again.