All that I love
I fold over once
And once again
And keep in a box
Or a slit in a hollow post
Or in my shoe.
~ Bonsai, Edith Tiempo
The postmark reads “27 Mai 2013,” but the card itself is dated May 23rd–a hastily-corrected 22nd, actually–in my “brother’s” broad print. It is nearly a month since that date; one more indicator of the distance between my “world” and his. The letter comes from a place my “family” has already left.
Photographs of the famous beach I never got to see decorate the front of the card, the sand and sky and surf all in colors that look so bright I would think they were Photoshopped if I didn’t know for myself that, under the Brazilian sun, all colors are rendered as brilliant as the shades of a girl’s skirt at Carnaval. I can almost imagine the siren-call of the waves, urging my friends to Write faster! Who has time for postcards when the sun is high and the sand hot and the water blissfully cool?
That day, it was raining in New Jersey.
“#TANK,” the letter begins, written in that self-same schoolboy scrawl. The first half of the postcard drips with sarcasm: “Surviving you helped us survive a favela, and my hanggliding which was insane.” In my head, I read favela as ‘fa-vay-lah’–the way the writer pronounced it, stubbornly refusing (classic arrogant Brit) to say it with the short ‘e’ sound used in Spanish and Portuguese and my own mother tongue. “Rio is my new favorite city!” he writes, taking care to annotate it with “Yes even more than London.”
At school, I see Union Jacks on every corner–a girl’s t-shirt, a handbag, an iPhone case–and they remind me, strangely, of Brazil.
The handwriting shifts. “We are still alive,” it says, in my “mother’s” sharp and sloping cursive. Days at the beach, nights at the bars, and the aforementioned favela tour are sketched in broad strokes by a few, matter-of-fact lines. “Our life goes like usual,” she writes, then proceeds to enumerate the ways in which it is, in fact, going exactly as I would imagine.
Dad doesn’t write anything–he never liked writing much–so instead I imagine him tapping his foot and singing his favorite Brazilian refrain of “Tchu tcha tcha, tchu tchu tcha” as he waits for everyone else to finish writing.
It ends with “love Mum, dad + bro,” and I laugh a bit at the irony of my English brother failing to use the Oxford comma. (In my mind, I can hear him telling me to shut up.)
I read the postcard–the first personal postcard I’ve ever received–a few more times.
Overall, the letter is short, sunny, and with just a touch of innocent smugness at being somewhere where the receiver is not: exactly like you’d expect a postcard to sound. In fact, I almost expect it to close with a perfunctory “Wish you were here!” Except it doesn’t. Instead, my Czech mother chooses to cap off the letter with words that sound almost like an order: “..next time, you have to join us.”
With the exception of myself, we were never a sentimental family, but I’d like to think we weren’t a thoughtless one, either. In those words, I read something like fondness, and on a balmy June night, exhausted from requirements I’ve done and have yet to do, I feel more buoyed by them than I would from a bubbly “We miss you!” “You have to join us.” is a certainty, a non-negotiable. It feels a bit like something I can hang my hopes on.
I smile at the thought. I wonder what I will write on my own postcards.