The Brown Envelope
Aasha Mehreen Amin
Everyone has seen it somewhere but no one really bothers with it. Until of course they realise that it contains some life-altering document in it like a will maybe or graduation certificates or the deed to your only piece of property.
It's funny how when you’re looking for that one brown envelope that you will find dozens of them sticking out their crumpled edges mockingly from assorted piles of papers, files, books etc. that seem to take up sixty percent of your room. Needless to say, you have opened a Pandora's box. That silly brown square could be anywhere and you can drive yourself insane looking for it amongst the debris you have collected for the last twenty odd years or so.
It is while you are covered in ancient dust and your allergic rhinitis has reached fairly unendurable levels that you begin to forget the anxiety and frustration that have become your constant companions since you discovered that the item was lost. Out of the blue, little reminders of your past pop out telling you the story of your life.
On one such search for the precious brown envelope I came across the amazing details of my life that I had shoved back into the most forgotten corners of my memory. Old birthday cards told me what great friends I have always had, that my parents almost always loved me, that colleagues had metamorphised into friends long before I realised it, that profile shots are not flattering if you don't have cheekbones. There are little cards with pictures of newborn nieces and nephews to remind me how many more individuals there are in my life to love and if lucky, to be loved by. Photographs of course, always top the list when it comes to great nostalgic moments. You marvel at how thin you were, how lustrous your hair was, how happy you look in that picture, how young you were. Pictures of your babies, wedding, birthdays and anniversaries, trips to unvisited lands, interesting people who came along your way and most likely will never meet again, a colourful collage that revives so many precious moments.
It was while being transported again and again into the past while sifting through old receipts, bank statements, airline tickets, ID cards and chequebooks thought to be lost several years ago, that I came across a rectangular box with Japanese inscriptions on it. It contained photographs and a form with details of a Japanese woman and her family who had graciously opened their home for me for a day and a half. It must have been about six or seven years ago and the trip was part of a journalism fellowship that took us to many Japanese cities. One of them was Hiroshima, a city that had literally grown from the ashes, being the site of one of the worst nuclear holocausts in history. This is where each of us from the group were invited to by Japanese families so that we could get a taste of how ordinary Japanese lived. For me it was the best part of the trip. When my host, Hiromi Tajeki came to pick me up all we did was look at each other and the next thing I knew, we were laughing and giggling like childhood buddies. I was amazed that thousands of miles away from home, in a culture that had always seemed inscrutable and alien (before I had experienced it firsthand), I had found a kindred spirit. In a span of a day and a half I had visited the mall and park, played ‘teacher-student’ with Hiromi's doll-like daughter Keiko (I was the student of course), gone through wedding albums, eaten a sumptuous feast prepared by Hiromi's mother and even chitchatted with all her family members including their little dog Shizou. As for Hiromi and me, it seemed we couldn't stop talking, or rather laughing, making her husband shake his head in disbelief at having not one but two crazies in the house. But the best flashback as I looked at a photograph of myself with Hiromi and her family in their cosy living room, was six-year-old Keiko quietly entering my room and snuggling up to me, a total stranger and a foreign one at that.
I still haven't found that irritating brown envelope. But looking for it has certainly been worth the aggravation.
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