“But why can’t we all just go together?” Fabiana asks again as she follows her mother around the cramped bedroom the four of them share at grandmas, while mum packs the last of her belongings away into the giant suitcase by the door.
Fabiana has spent most of her formative years living with her baker grandparents and youngest aunt, and is the eldest of three children. They are now three again. Girl, boy, boy. Fabiana was an only child for five years, and then came the first boy, and five years later came the next girl. Girl, boy, girl. But the birth was premature and then it was back to girl, boy. Then one cold winter, as mum battles a bout of pneumonia, it becomes girl, boy, boy.
Fabiana hates the thought of being left beind, now, just as they finally become a complete family of four. Like everyone else. The plan is for mum to go on ahead, to find a job and a home before the children go to join her. Fabiana does not like the plan. She wants to go and help. She can look after the boys, she has learnt enough from watching and later helping her grandmother childmind. On average, her grandmother looks after ten children each day.
“Come on, Fabi, you know you have to stay here and help grandma with the boys, amor. Time will pass by quickly, you’ll see, before you know it, we will all be together again. Just be patient!” mum reassures her, and places a small, soft kiss on her forehead.
Mum was right, those five months pass by quickly, too quickly, and before long more big suitcases are lining up the corridor of grandma’s house, and their three little lives are being packed into them. Fabiana is beyond excited! She cannot wait to see her mother again. She doesn’t even notice or care that she has to leave a lot of things behind. Like her Harry Potter books, or her tiny guitar.
After finding a Portuguese/English dictionary on her aunt’s desk, Fabiana writes her mum a letter in English, to show off the things she has learnt in English class. She writes “to my sweat mother” instead of “to my sweet mother” and she puts two O’s on every ‘to’. She writes that she cannot wait to give her a hug tight and many small kisses. She is proud of this achievement, and can’t wait to try out this new language in this new place.
School finishes in early June so Fabiana spends her last month at home at the beach, like every other summer before. Grandad goes to work, pacing up and down the beach selling his baked goods, and Fabiana stays behind to man the hut with her aunt and brothers. Between shifts of manning the hut, Fabiana and her aunt take turns watching the boys play by the seashore.
The aunt likes to sit right where the wet and dry sand meet, reading a magazine and glancing up every few minutes, telling the boys to put on a hat, or another coating of sun protector. Fabiana likes to sit with the boys, right where the waves break onto the shore. She likes to dig around in the sand there and feel for razor clams. She likes the smelt of salt on the boys hair, and the colours she sees when she looks directly at the sun without her glasses on. The beach is her happy place, the ocean in particular.
Saying goodbye to her friends and family feels more like ‘see you later’ than ‘goodbye’. Subconsciously Fabiana thinks this move could be temporary. They are known to move around often, briefly, here and there. She will, much later, come to realise that this particular move is to be very much permanent. Now, the anticipation of being reunited with mother, of their little family being together again, finally, their new home and new schools, with uniforms and everything, all makes the transition a lot easier. It helps Fabiana kind of forget what and who she is leaving behind.
Seeing her mum again is euphoric. Much more than getting on a plane for the first time, even more so than actually flying, the taking off from the edge of the earth and then landing again, for the very first time. Hugging and kissing and smelling her mum again, after five whole months is just everything Fabiana had hoped it would be. This is happiness, she is happy. Ecstatic, even. Briefly. Until, they exit the arrivals lounge at the airport and make their way outside to hail a taxi.
Torrential rain welcomes Fabiana to her new home. Torrential rain and a sky coloured in with so many shades of grey, that she feels overwhelmed. Sure, she has seen rain before, yes, even in summer. But nothing quite like this, even the worst winter days back home do not match up to this tempestuous afternoon. Climbing out of the taxi outside their new home, Fabiana hears a strange high-pitch sound, almost song like, getting closer and closer. Screeching around the corner, a multicoloured truck comes speedily towards them, coming to a brisk stop a few feet ahead.
“What is that?” Fabiana asks, frowning.
“Oh, that’s the ice-cream truck, it sells ice-cream cones, with sprinkles, would you like one?” mum smiles.
“But it’s raining!?”
She looks around, at this landlocked, strange place, at this late July afternoon, grey, and cloudy and wet and for the first time since learning of their immigration plans, she realises just how much she is going to miss home. Waking up to the smell of freshly baked pasteis de nata and bolas de berlim, to the sound of seagulls flying ahead, and the murmur of children speaking gibberish in a tongue she does understand, and to the feel of Mediterranean sun on her skin, and sand in her toes.