When I was in fourth grade, we were told to bring in donation boxes to distribute around the city before Eid. I had painted my carton a deep maroon and decorated it with cartoon stickers and a blinding amount of glitter. In the spirit of celebration, I pulled out some of my favourite outfits – a navy blue kurta dotted with flowers, a sleeveless white dress with a silk bow, and a long flowy skirt that made all my regal fantasies come true. I folded them in tissue and added a smattering of never-used colouring books and markers, an old board game we never understood, and a pair of my gold sandals. I wrapped the box in a silver ribbon and proudly carried it to school the next day, placing it at the very front of my teacher’s desk.
Three hours into the school day, we heard about the earthquake. A massive disaster that swept through our capital city and knocked buildings to the ground and flung roads into the sky. By break time there were scattered news reports sashaying through our corridors, with death tolls considered as the most fitting opener for an already dark discourse. By the end of the day it was decided that the donations collected should be sent instead to the people who woke up in their own beds but are now forced to sleep buried under cinder and cement.
I often imagined a family struck by an earthquake opening my joke-of-a-box. Finding flimsy rubber sandals and a cheap tule dress. Choking on the glitter while surviving on dust. Setting colouring books on fire to keep warm because the skirts I sent were not nearly long enough. I could never fathom the level of discomfort until I opened my own suitcase in Boston. A suitcase I had packed a week ago for your graduation trip, but hadn’t touched since that night. A suitcase sprawling with skimpy dresses and a sleek jumpsuit and strappy heels so tall, we would have been the same height. A suitcase that belonged to a different girl but somehow ended up with me, the one now in mourning. A suitcase that had no business being in a place that we were crashing, just because it was close to the funeral home. The funeral home where you lay tucked in, wrapped in white, as opposed to a flashy gown to stomp around in with pride.
The sudden disaster sweeps through and scatters all that I knew, but it is no easier trying to fit the pieces of my old life into a puzzle that is constantly shaken by aftershocks. Your earth-shattering loss was really just the headline – the beginning of it all. Staring at my incoherent suitcase that night was the first sign of how far apart my world had just torn because suddenly none of my old pieces seemed to belong.