Clea’s paternal grandmother, her iaia, has been to Australia three times. The first time was in late 1996, soon after I came to live in the ‘lucky country’. (I see a great deal of irony in that moniker for Australia. Do you see it, too?).
My mother made the drawing above, in return for a drawing Clea made of her family, and which I duly mailed to her. It’s a silly yet affectionate drawing; it was inspired by a photograph of the children at Christmas. Clea was wearing the typical reindeer antlers and her siblings had red caps on. The drawing has been on the fridge door for a long time, held in place by a fridge magnet.
My mother's second visit took place a year after Clea was born, in early 2004 —we actually travelled to Singapore to meet her halfway. That helped her split her long trip from Europe in two stages. For a few days I walked Clea around Singapore in a very comfortable baby backpack we had bought for her. From up there she was able to see a lot of the world, and she was of course admired and talked to by lots of people in Singapore. Asian people love children, as you know. She was a little princess, a starlet everybody smiled to.
The third and last time was in late 2008. My mum flew without any overnight stops to Sydney; I drove to pick her up on a Thursday night; Clea had the last day of the school term off because she wanted to come along on the three-hour drive; there would be at least a one-hour wait and then another three hours back to the ACT. We would probably go to sleep at around 3 am —which we did— but she did not mind.
I would like to share a memory of that first hour of driving, between Canberra and Goulburn. We set out after dinner, just as the sun was starting to set. Clea and I spent almost a whole hour playing the Spanish version of ‘I spy with my little eye…’ (veo, veo). Eventually it became a little difficult to play the game; it is not so much fun when you start repeating items! Apart from passing trucks and cars headlights, there was hardly anything else you could see.
At some point, when it was my turn, I began with my “veo, veo…”. Sitting at the back, excited about this night trip to the big city airport, Clea asked: “¿Qué ves, Papá?”. I paused for dramatic effect and then blurted out, feigning shock: “NOTHING! I CAN SEE NOTHING! It’s too dark!”
Clea cracked out laughing. She thought it was a hilarious response to the game, and I guess my contrived surprise added to her hilarity. Eventually we reached Sydney Airport, picked up Iaia Marisol and her luggage, and drove back to Canberra.
We all got caught by the heavy rain; we were drenched to the bone by the time we got home. We rushed as much as we were able to when we got closer to home, but Clea stayed with her Iaia, who did not know her way home and who could not run or walk too fast. It goes to show how much she cared for her own family.
I don't expect my mother to visit again. In fact, I would rather she did not come over. I would rather not take her to see Clea's grave. I would rather she did not have to see what a sad person his son is: the grieving father.
I have often been told to hold on to hope, whatever that might mean. Yet like that night on the Federal Highway, I see nothing. Unlike then, though, I'm not trying to make anyone laugh.