My small hands clenched the side of his leg and I refused to let go. My mother, a few meters away, was growing impatient as she signaled for me to cross the departure gate. We had spent a few years preparing for this day but I didn’t realize the plan didn’t include him. He wasn’t going to be with us as we embarked on this journey. But I wasn’t finished saying goodbye.
“Are you excited to go to Canada?” they would ask. I was too young to understand the concept of saying goodbye, let alone foresee how I would feel about a foreign country- a country I had yet to step foot in. A country I would later understand as a haven for people like us. People who are forced to leave the only land they’ve known, to seek opportunities their land refuses to provide. A land that for as long as I can remember has been overcome with political turmoil that victimizes the weak and vulnerable. It was our country, but it was our time to say goodbye. It was our time to start a new life in Canada.
He knew it wasn’t going to be easy to pry me off him, but he knew it had to be done. Having nurtured me since the day I was born, I had spent more time with him than anyone else – even my mother. In hindsight, I realize this was more difficult for him than it was for me.
Understanding that the departure time was nearing, he bent over and handed me a black address book. He explained that the book contained a collection of numbers of friends and family and it was important that I safely delivered it to my mom. By mentioning the importance of the task, he knew it was enough to convince me to undertake the mission. Dressed in a tuxedo and bright red bowtie, I was like a small James Bond, delivering a coveted document for the secret services. Like most of the activities attributed to secret organizations, there is always a hidden agenda. This became obvious at the end of my mission.
Anecdotal evidence seems to suggest formal attire was common amongst people fleeing their country. Refugees and immigrants traveling on one-way flights to a land of opportunity, tend to dress in formal attire. This stems from the belief that by wearing such clothes, that of the Western elites, will increase the likelihood of passing through customs and immigration border checkpoints. Primed with the experience of being denied entry in the past, my family decided not to take any chances. We were clothed in the finest linen we could afford.
“Give this book to your mom and then come back. I’ll wait for you,” he whispered in my ear. He was the only person that I listened to without question. So I followed his direction and went off to complete my mission.
Experts within psychology and the fields related to studying the mind would say our memories are not reliable. The three-pound muscle, housed in a protective casing between our ears, tends to fabricate the gaps in our memory. These fabrications are interpolated based on new experiences. Through controlled experiments, such experts have substantiated that our recollection of the same event can range from person to person. That being said, this wasn’t a controlled environment. This was my life. A memory deeply rooted in one of my earliest experiences. I wasn’t going to allow anyone to take it away from me. I am the expert here.
When I was 14, we made our first family trip back to Sri Lanka. As I was going through some old photo albums, my eyes fixated on one picture. A picture of myself, in my tailored tuxedo holding onto the black address book. Standing beside me was my hero, my role model. For those that knew him, would speak about him with the highest regard. He was formally trained in mixed martial arts and practiced yoga for decades. Recruited by different organizations, he trained the highest ranked officers for one-on-one combat. The stories of his street fights are akin to those depicted in South Asian movies. He was a legend.
He was known as a leader within the community, helping those that couldn’t defend themselves, and caring for the weak.
He was my grandfather.
During my second visit back to Sri Lanka, I saw him for one last time. He was nearing the end of his time on this earth – it was clear. Knowing this, I made the effort to rekindle the relationship. Although he found it painful to speak he mustered the strength to tell me a couple stories.
A few months after that visit, he passed away. But, I’m still not finished saying goodbye.