Eleven o'clock Friday night. We're leaving China in the morning. The living room is filled with boxes and suitcases. Fourteen at last count. We've spent most of the afternoon repacking because after borrowing a bathroom scale from a friend we found that all our suitcases were overweight.
And now we've run out of packing tape.
"What should we do?" I say, staring at several repacked boxes, full but still gaping open.
Not to mention that the sofa is covered from one arm to the other two feet deep in clothes and children's books. Yes, clothes and children's books we still need (want) to pack.
One solitary, empty backpack sits in the middle of the living room floor. One solitary, empty backpack that has to fit all these clothes and children's books we still need to pack.
I look at the sofa. I look at the miniscule backpack in the middle of the floor. I look at the boxes, packed full, still unsealed.
"What are we going to do?" I say.
Aaron looks blank.
I sigh. "I guess I'll go out to the Hao Hao store and see if they sell packing tape."
I need a walk; I need a break from this crazy house and all these piles. Hao Hao is the only store in the neighborhood that stays open 24 hours. I have no idea if they sell packing tape.
I walk through the night, cool on my skin. My last night in China. I try not to think about that. I'm still in denial. But my mind won't stop working ... last time down this path ... last time leaving this gate.... Trying to wrap my brain around all of that.
At the store, I check the only non-food aisle. Paper underwear, soap, toothpaste, towels, and toilet paper. No packing tape.
I buy a few snacks for tomorrow's trip, stand in a line that's not really a line; more of a jumble. My mind is humming. "What are we going to do without packing tape?"
Then I see James, one of the guys on our team. I wonder why in the world he's at the Hao Hao store at the eleven o'clock at night. We make small talk. He just came back for the weekend from Beijing where he's taking a master's course.
I tell him my woes: "We're leaving tomorrow for America and we're out of packing tape."
James tells me how sorry he is and then he leaves.
When I finish my purchase and leave the store, I find he's waiting outside.
"You know, I have some packing tape at home you could use," he says.
"Really?" My eyes widen. "That would be awesome."
We walk back towards our housing complex. I find out that James is from Minnesota, that he teaches sixth grade ELAP. I guess I've never really talked to him before. When we reach his building, I wait outside. He's on the first floor. I hear him in the hallway, rummaging through is bag.
"I can't find my keys," he calls.
"I think I must've left my keys in Beijing."
"Great," I think. "There goes my packing tape."
"Well," I say, "you're welcome to crash on our sofa if you need to...." Then I remember our sofa, buried in stuff, and wonder how that invitation is going to work.
"I'll go upstairs and see if Grace is awake," James says. "She has a spare key."
I hear him climb the stairs. Then I hear him pounding on Grace's door. "Grace! Grace!" No answer. I'm beginning to think I may really have to put this guy up on my sofa tonight. How in the world are we going to finish packing with someone trying to sleep on our sofa?
But then, lo and behold, I hear the door creak open and Grace's voice in the stairwell. Grace is home!
James gets his spare keys; I get my hands on that precious packing tape. James gets to sleep in his own bed tonight; I get to keep packing.
With a thankful heart, I head home, climb those six flights of stairs for the last time ... and open my front door.
The first thing I notice is the empty sofa. "Where's all the stuff?"
"In the backpack," Aaron replies.
I look at that itty-bitty backpack. "Are you serious? How'd you get it all in there?"
Aaron looks just as shocked as I feel. "I just packed it and it all went in. I kept thinking, 'There is no way this stuff is all going to fit in here,' but as I put stuff in it just all seemed to disappear."
I smile. Then, I laugh. "You know, I'm not worried about this trip anymore."
"Why?" Aaron asks.
I look down at my packing tape. Such a simple thing, but so important. "Because it's obvious that Someone's looking after us."