An Unexpected gift
8TH OF JULY
It’s late at night, and I find myself seated in bed, unable to stop looking at the itinerary over and over again.
It’s probably the twelfth time I’m reading it today. I look at the printed piece of paper, and as I read each line, the nerves make my stomach twist a little which then mixes with the excitement for the adventures to come.
-New Zealand’s itinerary for Winter Break-
09th: Fly out at midday (19,5 hs flight!!)
10th: Stop over in Dubai at night.
11th: (Flying to Auckland - Another 19 hs!)
12th: Arrive in Auckland early morning. Explore the city. Pick up rental car.
13th: Drive over to the Coromandel Peninsula.
14th: Enjoy Coromandel. Visit Cathedral Cove.
15th: Drive to Rotorua, stopping in Hobbiton.
16th: Rotorua: Wai-O-Tapu and Whakarewarewa village.
17th: Rotorua: Redwoods and lakes.
18th: Tongariro Alpine Crossing.
19th: Drive to Wellington.
20th: Ferry to Picton, and drive to Nelson.
21th: Hike the Abel Tasman in Nelson.
22th: Drive over to Christchurch. Stop over in Kaikoura.
23st: Christchurch: Visit dad’s resting place. Get to know the city.
24nd: Trip to Tekapo. Thermal springs and stargazing.
25rd: Back to Christchurch.
26th: Fly back home.
I’m about to read the next page, where there’s a detailed itinerary for day one of the trip. I have one full page for each day, including places to visit, where we’re going to stay for the night, and other details I thought necessary. As soon as I turn the page over, there’s a soft knock on the door.
“Yes mum, come in,” I say as I put the paper back into it’s cardboard folder, then shuffle it inside my handbag, almost glad to have an excuse to stop obsessing over these pages. I accommodate the handbag on top of my suitcase, which has been ready and sealed for the past 24 hours.
It’s been an effort not to open it again and check that I’ve got everything. The last few weeks have been so busy, that having to pack was probably an extra stressful task I didn’t need in my life. I’m glad mum has so much experience with it, as she was really helpful, giving me lists of things I needed to pack and everything.
Mum traipses into the room, and approaches me slowly. She looks cautious, and that makes me go into alert mode. More bad news? Can’t be.
She takes a seat on the bed by my side, and that’s when I notice she’s holding a little fabric bag in her hands. It’s like one of those typically used for storing jewelry, and I can’t help but wonder what’s in it. Mum looks up at me, and there’s a shy smile on her lips. This is kind of weirding me out a little.
“Are you ready for tomorrow?” she asks.
“I think I’m as ready as I can be,” I reply, “I’m obviously still nervous, but knowing Emma’s gonna be there with me is really comforting.”
“Just make sure you stick together,” mum adds, “It will give me peace of mind knowing that you have each other.”
“I’m sure we will mum, why would we even get separated?” I try to push down the doubts that arise at the suggestion, telling myself this is no time to be thinking about worst case scenarios.
Mum keeps fidgeting with the bag she’s holding, and she looks kind of worried. Just before the silence turns too uncomfortable, she looks back up at me.
“I have something for you,” she says as she lifts the bag ever so slightly, “It belongs to you, and I should have given it to you before.” She opens up the little bag, and takes out a black cord with a round green stone at the end of it. She holds it out in her palm, and I can see it’s not a full circle as I first thought, but a spiral.
“It’s called a pounamu, and it’s a tradition between Maoris,” mum says.
I know enough after all my research to have a brief idea of what I’m looking at. Pounamus are necklaces made out of a piece of carved jade that are normally given as a gift. They’re a huge part of the Maori culture, which I’ve been trying to read about, especially after mum told me dad was one himself and that he was really proud of his heritage. She said he used to love narrating stories about Maori mythology and Gods, but honestly, I had no time to look into that. Maybe I’ll look into it when I’m back, just out of curiosity, since I’ve never been a believer myself. Mum’s an atheist, and I guess I grew up under her influence, and what she used to tell me made sense. Well, that’s partly a lie, I do believe in the power of Mother Earth, but more like a force of nature than anything else.
One thing that I thought was pretty interesting, is that Maori is the word used to refer to the native polynesians that first lived in New Zealand, which means they’re not only people from one country, but more like a race that’s spread over a region.
A simple look in the mirror is enough to know that I inherited most of my father’s genetics, as I can see the physical resemblance within myself. Almost makes me wonder how I never noticed it before. I always knew my dad had to be black, but if I’m completely honest with myself, once I grew up and noticed how different I was to everybody else around me, I thought there was a possibility that I was adopted. It would have explained why I never saw my birth certificate, or any kind of paper from my first years of life.
Now I know that it was due to mum trying to hide my birth name from me, so I wouldn’t go looking for my father. She actually showed me my birth certificate last week after I was finally brave enough to ask about it. I might have shed a tear or two.
I push the memory away, trying not to get upset again.
“It was yours when you were little,” mum adds after a little pause. “I’ve been keeping it safe for you, hoping to give it back one day and I think you should take it with you on this journey.”
I take the stone that mum is handing me, and look at it as I hold it between my fingers, noticing the perfection with which this piece of jade has been carved. I run a finger through the smooth surface, and set it on my palm. It feels somehow warm to the touch, opposed to the coldness I was expecting. It’s only a couple of centimeters in diameter, but it feels heavy somehow… like the weight of my whole inheritance resides in this little piece of my past that is all I have from my birth-country.
This means so much more to me that any inheritance my grandfather might have left me. We've heard from the lawyers a couple of times, but I told mum I don't want to know anything about it yet, not until I'm back from the holiday at least. So she's been taking all the calls for me and dealing with it for now.
I look up at mum, and I can tell she’s trying hard not to cry.
“Thanks mum,” I say softly.
I love my mother, I love her dearly and I’ve been trying not to push her about all this. But the truth is, that there’s a part of me that’s mad at her. Angry for all the things she kept away from me, for the culture I was denied, even if it was a part of me. Since she told me the truth, I haven’t been able to stop thinking how much different my life could have been if I knew where I came from. If I knew part of the story behind my ethnicity… would I have been proud of the way I look instead of always being self conscious? Would it have made a difference at all? Would I have been strong enough to defend my roots or would I still have been the same coward girl that cried every time a kid mocked me?
I guess I will never know.
But having this door opening up in front of me, this trip only mere hours away, I can only hope for the best from here on. I can only hope to experience as much as I can in the place my father called home. To soak in their culture, their manners, their beliefs.
As I watch Sam looking down at the greenstone, I can’t help but feel guilty about all those years I hid the truth from her. But I honestly thought at the time that I was doing what was best for her.
I lived scared for so many years, thinking that Morris’ father might try to find us, that he’d want Sam to be raised in New Zealand, that he’d try to take her away the same way Morris had tried to take her. If something would’ve happened to my little Sam in that accident, I don’t know if I would’ve been strong enough to keep going. Sam is my life, and I can’t deny there’s been this fear growing inside of me as the day of the trip nears. But I know there’s no threat now that the old man is gone. I know she’ll be safe.
And maybe… just maybe... he was never really a threat. Maybe I had just been paranoid.
When Sam looks back up at me and thanks me for the gift, I feel all of her sorrow like palpable energy in the air, and I wish I could apologise to her, but I know it’s too late for that. But maybe I can give her a little more, maybe I can give her a little hope, a little faith, a little love.
“You should be thanking your father, actually.” I say after a moment. “You were wearing this necklace the day of the accident when I picked you up from the hospital. Sometimes I like to think it had something to do with the fact that you came out unscratched... Pounamus are known to hold a lot of meaning.”
As I say the words, I can’t keep the memories at bay anymore. The smell of the hospital, the rushing of the nurses. My feet running at top speed, desperate to be reunited with my baby daughter. Holding Sam against my chest after the hours that felt like a lifetime, squeezing her little body tight against mine.
I picture the moment when I looked at her again, kneeling on the hard floor, holding Sam by the shoulders with my arms stretched out. Looking at every little part of her to make sure she was alright. The memories are so clear, they hit me like flashes as I slowly get up, kiss Sam on the forehead and walk out of the room.
“Does anything hurt, darling?,” I asked Sam as I held her that day. She just moved her head from one side to the other in denial.
“Are you okay? Do you remember what happened?” I asked afterwards. I realized just as the words had left my lips that such a little girl couldn't possibly comprehend what had happened. But Sam looked at me in the eyes, her irises shining bright under the neon lights of the hospital, looking focused.
“Daddy drives,” she said then with her confident tiny voice, “many trees!” She yelped as she gestured with her arms over her head. “Stomach hurts," she said as she rubbed her tummy. "And Sam plays. Grass, and leaves and lights. Fun!” she said quickly, and then her expression had turned a little serious, concerned almost… but then she smiled once more, throwing her arms in the air and drawing circles with them, “piiuuuu, piiiuuuu,” she yelped as she mimicked ambulance noises and giggled. Her laugh had been so bright at such a terrible moment, that I hadn’t known what to do. “And a kiss!” Sam said as she touched her forehead lightly, and then smiled back up at me.
I remember feeling so confused, I’m sure I was still in shock and not knowing what to do, so I pulled Sam into a tight embrace, wondering how she could possibly still be smiling after the horrors she had probably lived that day. But that’s my girl, she was always happy back then, always smiling and being the center of attention with her loud voice and funny interpretations.
I reach my own bedroom and close the door behind me as I dig around one of the drawers, until I find what I’m looking for.
I remember how holding Sam as tight as I could in my arms at the hospital, I noticed something hard against my chest, and pulled Sam away once more. That's when I saw the greenstone hanging from her neck. I grabbed it in one hand, looked at it and turned it over. I had never seen that pounamu before… So I asked Sam where she got it from.
“Gift,” Sam replied with a big smile on her face.
And in that moment, my heart warmed up a bit, and my eyes filled with so many unshed tears as I imagined Morris giving our daughter a present that he had no idea would be the last one.
I grab my chest with a clenched fist as the memory takes hold of me and the guilt and pain feels as fresh as it did on that first day.
“I’m sorry,” I mutter as I hold Morris’ picture in my hands, and a lonely tear splashes next to his green eyes. “I’m sorry I kept the necklace away from her... sorry I kept you away from her.” I brush a kiss on the picture, and hold it against my chest as I lean back on the bed and close my eyes. “You were the only one,” I whisper to myself, to him. “The only one I ever loved.”
Maybe this is why I haven’t been able to admit to Sam that I do have a picture of him. Why I haven’t shown it to her. There’s a part of me that’s clinging so hard to him, to the fact that he was mine, to the memory of every good moment we shared together, that I’m struggling to share him with Sam, to let go. I’m a terrible mother.
Note: I know I promised a change of scenary, but don't worry, New Zealand is getting closer and closer! 💕 There was just a few things that you needed to know before hand😉
BTW, you can also follow me on Instagram to see the aesthetics of the characters💕 (find the link on my profile😘)