Written by Gabriella Munoz
I packed my childhood memories in an old brown leather suitcase. It’s the same one my parents bought for their honeymoon in 1972 and carried on family trips when I was a child. Now it is underneath my bed, a veil of dust and dead cells cling to it, protecting its contents.
Before it became mine, the leather suitcase was taken out once a year. We would fly to the Caribbean island of Cozumel and our party of three stayed for five nights and six days in the white hotel with red terracotta roof and balconies that seemed to stretch all the way to the ocean.
The building smelt of coconut sunscreen, rancid sweat and the remains of room-service club sandwiches and cheeseburgers – dear suitcase, do you remember when I bit on one of those half-eaten sandwiches left on the carpeted corridors and how upset my parents got?
Those holiday nights were restless. The moon and the stars too bright to let a child sleep – how confusing it is to see light outside and be told to doze off when the sand and waves call.
But every morning, my two little feet walked as fast as possible, stopping only, if briefly, to see colibríes, hummingbirds, drink nectar from pink and red hibiscus flowers. The tiny birds flapping their wings so fast – at about 80 flaps per second – that they seem to float. Dear
suitcase, remember the colibrí-kissed hibiscus flowers we stole for good luck and brought home inside a book? I still have them and they are still red but thin, fragile, like my
Dear suitcase, do you remember when I ran to the ocean and fed the fish? In my mind they are white and hungry and I stood there, with them swimming near my toes and between my calves, tickling me with their rugged scales. Someone, my mother, perhaps another child or a fellow traveller, gave me a piece of toast to feed them. I crumbled it and the fish ate happily until a voice that seemed so far away but was next to me said fish don’t eat bread. ‘But they
are eating it’, I said with my inner voice, like children do when they know grownups are wrong but can’t contradict them.
Tristeza. I sat on the brink of the ocean; the waves playing tag with my feet, trying to cheer me up, until I saw him standing next to me, smiling.
I stood up next to him and held his big hand tight, our shadows two giants standing tall behind us, ready to swim. We walked cautiously to not disturb the hungry fish. Father and daughter walking together until the water was too deep for my stubby legs to keep on going, until our shadows disappeared, taking a break from us. ‘Good bye shadow, stay safe here. Build another castle while we swim,’ I said. And he picked me up and carried me on his back and he swam fast, very fast, I remember, but it must have been so slowly, gently, making sure I didn’t fall, letting the waves move us softly from side to side.
It became our tradition, swimming together to the bright orange buoys. Our shadows resting from the walking and talking and building and doing, just still, letting the waves waltz with our bodies.
And our shadows were always waiting for us and we put them on again, and we built more castles and wrote our names and drew colibríes on the sand, and got sunburnt. Until one summer there was just one person facing the ocean.
Dear suitcase, do you remember when I packed the used sunscreen and old swimsuits? Do you remember when I found them years later with all the weight of time attached to them?
Dear suitcase, now that we’ve been together for so long, do you have room to hold one more memory of my father? It doesn’t matter if it gets wrinkled, all memories have wrinkles, if they didn’t, they wouldn’t be blurry and we wouldn’t have to retell them until they got new life.
Dear suitcase, do you remember that last time we went on a trip together? I packed sunscreen, a black hat, my favourite sunglasses, a new notebook and pen, my old passport, a one-way ticket to Sydney, my father’s funeral urn and his death certificate in my carry-on.
Months later, there, at the brink of the ocean, next to the remains of sand castles that fathers and daughters built that morning, I sat down to eat toast with butter while the waves played tag with my feet. My father’s metal urn next to me, basking in the sun, its contents getting ready to be freed. After I finished my toast, I stood up and looked down; I saw white fish eating bread crumbs.
When I picked it up, my father’s urn was warm, just like it was over 20 years ago, when a man in a black suit handed it to me after three hours of cremation. The metal box was warm until we got home and then it got cold, like him when I kissed him goodbye at the hospital and his eyes were already taped shut.
After a few minutes, I opened the urn to let him swim towards the buoys – and from the corner of my eye a little girl in a white swimsuit with tiny green apples, ran behind him, a hibiscus flower in her hand.
Dear suitcase, don’t let these memories go; I’m sure sadness will sit down next to me again and I’ll need them to hold me together.