The things they carry depend on how much they can carry. Rob started the trip with a 15kg backpack, and later on acquired another backpack of 10kg as he picked up new tricks and gears on the road. Gaya’s backpack is more than one third of her bodyweight, making her shoulders stiff and sore all the time. Bran hitchhikes whenever he can, and when he can’t, he walks. He keeps his backpack less than 5kg so that he can walk for days. Jill doesn’t care about how much her backpack weighs. If it’s too heavy, she can always fish out something to throw away: a half-used shampoo bottle, some leftover food, or a jacket with a missing button. Barney left home with a 20kg backpack. He soon found out that he wasn’t that strong a man, and half of those things he never really used. His backpack now clocks at 13kg.
The things they carry are what they think they can use to counter their fear. Rob carries with him two dozens anti-diarrhea pills he bought en-route to India. Gaya has with her a pepper spray that she knows can blind a person on the spot should the spray come into contact with their eyes. Bran hides a folded knife inside his pants. He sweats as his mind chants the old saying: “Those who use knife must be ready to get cut.” Jill wears a hairpin with long sharp nib that she holds onto tightly when she’s walking at night or alone in a taxi, hoping she would be able to shock the attacker to get enough time for an escape. Barney always fills the tiny pocket inside his backpack with a stack of condoms.
The things they carry help them cope with the tedious hours at the airport, on the train or in the middle of nowhere waiting for a kind heart to pick them up. Rob keeps a deck of cards so that he can practice some tricks he has learned from other Argentine street performers he met at the campsite. Gaya never forgets to bring along a book, which she trades with other travelers when she has finished reading. Bran carries with him a harmonica that he has had since he was a kid. Jill’s Kindle has almost a thousand books. Barney carries with him an international roaming 3G SIM card that can get him online anytime, anywhere.
The things they carry are also their bread and butter. Rob has atop his backpack a unicycle and a set of colorful juggling clubs that light up when he presses a button. When street lights turn red, he cycles to the middle of the road, juggles to put the impatient commuters in good mood before asking them for some pennies. Gaya carries with her colorful balls of waxed threads that she uses to make necklaces and bracelets to sell on the side of the road when no policeman is looking. Bran stashes a bundle of $100 notes inside the sole of his left shoe. Jill needs only a Canon 5D Mark II to take decent photos and a laptop to write and send articles to her newspaper back home. Barney carries with him an Amex Gold Card that he makes sure every pretty girl can see it.
The things they carry are mostly clothes. Rob, like most other guys at the campsite, carries with him the standard set of five T-shirts, two pairs of shorts, a pair of jeans, two sweaters, a big jacket, four pairs of boxers and a bunch of mismatched socks. Gaya never tells anyone that she keeps a dress folded neatly on the bottom of her backpack. When alone and sad in a strange city, she would put on her dress and walk into a nice restaurant just to feel pretty. Bran carries with him nothing more than the shirt and the shorts that he’s already wearing, and an extra set in his 5kg backpack to change. He washes his clothes after every shower, and if they don’t dry in time for his next journey, he just puts them on wet, cool and sticky to his skin. The sun and his body heat will dry them in no time. Jill has a big, all-purpose, colorful scarf that she uses either to keep her body warm on an air-conditioned bus, to cover her hair and shoulders when she visits a mosque, to wrap around her body and tie behind her neck as a beach dress, or to act as an emergency towel when she cannot find a real one. Barney has a pair of red leather shoes, tailor made to his taste, which he wears with his slim fit black jacket whenever he hits the biggest party in any town.
The things they carry are what they cannot afford to lose. Rob divides his belongings into two backpacks. All what he deems irreplaceable goes into the small backpack that he carries in the front, and all the rest goes into the big bag that he wears on his back. Gaya puts her passport, money, compact camera and cellphone inside a little pouch around her waist, carefully hides it from ever-scrutinizing eyes underneath her baggy pants. Bran writes down his emergency contacts on a piece of paper, should anything happen to him on the road, and wears it around his neck in a waterproof bag even when he goes swimming. Jill’s most valuable thing is an external hard drive where she keeps all the photos she has taken during the trip. She clothes it in bubble wrap, puts it in a special pocket in her backpack and hopes to convince her editor to give her an exhibition once she gets back. Barney believes that everything is replaceable, as long as you have enough money.
The things they carry are what remind them of what they have decided to leave behind to follow their dreams. Rob has in the side pocket of his wallet a picture of his little sister laughing hysterically until her eyes become two blurry lines. She was only four when he left home, and they never get to meet for more than a few weeks a year. Gaya still has the old student ID at the university from which she dropped out two years ago when she realized what she chose to study at 18 was nothing close to what she wants to do for the rest of her life. Bran needs a picture of his old-self to remind him of what he looks like without this moose hunter’s beard, dreadlock hairdo and dirt stained T-shirt. Jill wears around her wrist the bangle that Daniel gave her for their first Christmas together. Daniel was, and is still, the love of her life. They broke up when she left the country to become a travel writer. Barney keeps his old business card, gold foiled, perfumed, with a title that makes all the gold diggers turn their heads. “This is just an once in a lifetime vacation,” he keeps reminding himself, “I once had a career, and I will again when I get back. If I ever get back.”
Thank you Tim O’Brien for the inspiration. My crappy piece of writing is in no way comparable to yours, but please take my goodwill as a sign of respect for your brilliant “The things they carry”, not an attempt to undermine your legacy.
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