by Raji Menon Prakash
(New Delhi, India)
The last carton unloaded, the truck sped away. In the fading daylight I found myself sitting cross-legged on the floor, tired and surrounded by stacks of boxes waiting to be opened. I knew the fatigue was not just physical, it was emotional too.
This time, I had disposed of much of what I accumulated over the years. I returned to house I grew up in with just the bare minimum that I felt I needed. I looked around me at the old house. The memories came crowding back - laughter, activity, smells of cooking, the bark of FuzzyLogic the Spaniel, birthdays, a wedding…Except it was tinged with sadness. I shook myself out of the trip down memory lane and went around to meet old friends, sort the garden, get in the wifi and the cable. All the things a new home demanded. I postponed calling my brother and my cousins. I didn’t want to deal with them just yet.
Two weeks later, with the boxes containing items deemed essential for daily life organised and put away, I found I was ready to begin on the cartons labeled ‘family stuff - for later’. There was my nostalgia box, Mom’s sewing kit, a box of knitting pattern books and a box labeled “Minakshi’s school projects”. I decided to start with the box that held my old school projects. Just like Mom, I thought, to hoard my old projects that never won any prizes! I opened it to find instead stacks of family pictures, old letters, trinkets, wedding invitations yellowed with age and miscellaneous boxes of family trinkets. I picked up the most ornate jewellery box and opened it, expecting to find antique gold ear rings or at least a silver brooch. A pair of gold cuff links engraved with the initial “P” stared back at me instead. They were Dad’s and I could feel my eyes misting up. The only thing that I had kept. I couldn’t quite remember what Mom did with the rest of his things.
The cufflinks were ornate, made of gold. Dad wore them only on occasions. I run my fingers across the initial, a capital ‘P’ inside a circle. He had told me how Mom had gifted them to him on the day he set up the factory manufacturing golf carts. Had I really taken them?
I couldn’t clearly remember.
Dad kept very few personal possessions, and my earliest memories were of them being kept in the top drawer of his cupboard. There were his academic medals, coins from all the countries he travelled to, leather ties tipped with silver ends; change kept in an old toffee tin, his Ray Ban aviators in their leather case and some photographs. And the cufflinks.
Memories came rushing back. It was a Friday evening, when I last spoke with Dad. I hadn’t been home for a while. I was struggling with my teaching assignments and a growing family . We exchanged pleasantries over the phone that evening and I remember thinking how fragile and distant strange his voice sounded. And I hung up without saying “I love you.” I don’t know why. Sometimes it’s just hard for me to say those words. The last thing he said was “take care, OK?”. It did strike me as unusual, even as I hung up the phone, because he had never ever said that before. To any of us. Early next morning, my brother called with the news that Dad had passed in his sleep. My Mother died the following winter.
I looked at the stack of photographs. They were of Dad’s family. And some of my Mom’s family too. Yellowed and fading. I remembered him telling me, “We shifted a few times. And the leaky roof of the ancestral home reduced a lot of my possessions to nothing more than these handful of water stained photos. These are the ones that decided to stay.”
I looked at the cufflinks in my hand. I knew what I had to do. I rushed to the phone and called my brother and my cousins. I asked them to bring the little pieces they had from my father’s drawer. And we all got together for a Menon family dinner at my house. Two orphaned adults and a bunch of cousins and children who usually met a couple of times a year, if that.
We took our coffee and the last of the cake to sit under the stars, sharing stories about the photographs that stayed and the ‘pieces from the drawer’. The Menon family seemed to have come together and all it really took were a few old photographs and a pair of cufflinks. ***