I am grateful for Ahmad Meree, a twenty-eight-year-old refugee from Aleppo, Syria, who found his way to Canada in 2016. He wrote and stars in his play Suitcase. The play ran in Toronto until February 1, 2020, performed in Ahmad’s native language of Arabic with English subtitles screened along the top of the stage. The play portrays the difficulty of fleeing a country being devastated by war and violence, of leaving behind all that is one’s community, all that is home and how does one pack for such a departure, what does one take, what does one need and make room for, how much of our life can we fit into a single suitcase. And it got me thinking.
If I had to flee my life what would I pack in my metaphorical suitcase. I don’t mean my toothbrush and socks, my hiking boots and running shoes, but what would I want to take with me so that I might arrive at the other end of my journey and still be myself.
I would pack sounds, the sound of my dad’s Spanish guitar, his version of Old Black Joe that I tried to play as a youngster, that would have sounded like paint drying, the long pause between chords while my fingers contorted for the next; the sound of the zing of our snowsuits against the aluminum while we slid down the barn roof, free-flying for moments before landing in the snow below; the sound of a winter bonfire, the wood snapping and hissing as it devoured the wood’s moisture; the sound of my daughters’ first words, the jumping into language and their cry at night, the soft whimper as I settled into the rocker in the half light as they purred back to sleep.
I would pack the smell of freshly cut grass and my grandma’s buns rising in the sunshine, tucked like a baby into the blankets on the sofa; the smell of a newborn calf and new born puppies; the smell of the soil coming to life after winter’s retreat; the smell of wild roses and the musty earthy smell of the creek ambling through my childhood farm.
I would pack the taste of Ishgy-Gishgy cake, the secret family recipe from my Grandma Stewart, a recipe Samantha would have me lock inside a vault to keep its secret; the salty taste of kissing away my daughters’ tears, of still being able to heal all their wounds by pulling them on to my knee and hearing their story.
I would pack the sting of my father’s Saturday whiskers across my bare back; the touch of little hands inside mine and my hand inside my father’s, vanishing inside his giant paw; the touch of the boy holding my hand for the first time that left me a little dizzy and breathless.
I would pack the choir of faces I have called friend, the ones who make my heart light up, the ones who know my real self, the friends whose hurts and joys became my own; of seeing my newborn for the first time, her face so utterly perfect and falling in love with her so completely, knowing I would never be the same. I would pack the sight of the Rainy River hurrying by my childhood home and Annie’s arms open wide in welcome as I race across the field to her.
I would pack it all, folded neatly and pressed into the space, tucked securely as I closed the lid of the suitcase, waiting for its lock to click into place. If only.