Going somewhere?” my uncle remarks as he walks past my bedroom and spots three suitcases standing at attention inside. The leather brown Pullman’s handle sticks out, ready to be wheeled away at a moment’s notice; the handle is broken and won’t slide back in, a constant cause of concern on my recent trip to Iraq, where (luckily) the planes we flew in had big overhead bins and kind airhostesses who helped me make place for it. We are now off to Hyderabad next week on Air India, and I mustn’t be as hopeful.
For a while now, I’ve been packing our borias and bistars days before we actually need them (as part of my mania to be organised, while regularly forgetting the real important stuff like the child’s ID and enough underwear), and, as I fondly cast my eye over the trio, I realise this display does bring a certain joie de vivre to the entire household: the children address each other in kinder tones, and the helps walk with a spring in their steps.
I’ve never been one for taking photos, though I admit it’s one of the markers of a life well lived, especially on holiday, and so I hate that moment when I realise “Oh shit! We didn’t take a picture!” more of out pseudo-guilt (I actually feel guilty about not feeling guilty!) than any real regret. There are other ways to remember that my mind and body know, so they don’t bother me while I’m having a good time.
Which might explain why I can taste a certain place or a certain time in my life. It works like this: one moment I’m a regular Jane, going about my business, picking up after the kids, checking my WhatsApp for the thousandth time that day only to find the thousandth poor joke; the next, my taste buds drag me back 25 years ago to a shopping expedition in a bazaar in Egypt, and I can taste the heat of the desert, the hesitation of being out of my homeland for the first time, the hopes and dreams that I have for the future, the cup of coffee the shopkeeper presses into my hand. The damn thing has a life of its own and can’t be ordered away, of course — I’m talking about the smoky-sweet presence that lingers on my tongue for days after — and while it would only irritate me when I was younger, now I try to find the linkages to the past that might have triggered it; might it be the new job or the child starting a new grade? I don’t know. But I welcome it now, allow it to stay as long as it wants, reliving the moment that I’d otherwise forget forever.
Lists do that too, and I made a very satisfying one on the return flight from Iraq, making small notes on the things absolutely essential to make it out there — a shower cap, for instance, as there are only showers and no buckets, and I hate washing my hair every day. And if your lists have become boring, it simply means you need to find your own Iraq.
Another cue recently announced itself to me: my very long, very detailed, Citibank credit card statement. As I trawl through its contents, it tells me that I’d been eating a beef burger (oops, make that chicken?) on our way home at an airport in Singapore, bought a rather expensive version of Junior Monopoly at Toys R Us as a gift for a naughty niece that turned out to be the best present ever, picked up a tomato-sauce-red Kipling bag as my official work bag for 2017, replacing an old favourite way past its expiry date. The old was bought on a holiday in Orlando when we’d taken the children to Disneyland. The memories pour in, the statement fluttering gently in the morning breeze and I sit on the bed and indulge in some time travel.
Zainab Sulaiman is an author and special educator, who now leads HR at a sports company in Bangalore.