He had not opened the boxes in ages, and had forgotten how many were there. He had wanted to go through them, but hadn’t had a good reason to do so. There never was enough time, there was always something else: his studies, his first job, living abroad. Coming back and moving in with his girlfriend, a new job, travelling, a new house. The baby, the wedding, another baby. The last time he had had some time seemed a long time ago. Probably when he had first gotten here.
His wife was rightfully growing impatient with all those boxes, a mountain of forgotten memories threatening to crumble down at any given time. His line of defense was that his belongings had a strong emotional value, and that he could “always use them” someday. ‘You haven’t even opened them in 10 years!’ she would answer, the passing years further validating her point. ‘You don’t see any boxes of mine filling up the attic!’ Indeed, but he didn’t have his parents’ house nearby to drop his stuff there: this house is all he had here, so all he had here was in this house.
Still, she was right. Maybe it was time to grow up and sever ties with the dusty past. He thought having a family had made the trick, but here he was, still delaying cleaning his life up.
So up he went.
He opened the first box, firmly determined to throw away at least half of its contents. He had picked an easy one to start with: it only contained his high-school notebooks. He went through them, intrigued by reports of books he did not remember reading. He smirked at his old handwriting, frowned at a note from the Principal about his “lack of discipline”. ‘I’ll show you some discipline!’ he victoriously laughed, and emptied the whole box in a garbage bag.
The second box was an incoherent lot of bills, cutlery, clothes and ashtrays. So many ashtrays, about 20 of them. He recognized one he had bought in Madagascar, another one his brother had brought him back from Amsterdam that read “Why walk like a man when you can fly like a bird?” He decided to keep most of them, even though he had quit smoking five years ago. He threw out the cutlery and the torn clothes. Why he had kept 10 year-old bills in the first place, he had no idea.
The third box was full of pictures, just thrown in together. There was one girl he went out with when he was 16, proof he severely lacked self-confidence at the time. There was his sister in Paris. There was the bastard dog that had repeatedly bitten him in his teenage years. He sat down and started going through the distant images of foreign cities, drunk strangers and smiling ghosts. He was overwhelmed by all those faces and places, the dizzying tornado of emotions dropping him to the floor.
He was getting up, about to go down for a break, when he spotted himself, between the Statue of Liberty and a smiling Bedouin. There he was, shyly looking at the intruding camera, seemingly pleading whoever was taking the picture to take it quickly. He picked up the picture, there was no date on it. He looked at the picture: he was just a child, in another life, far removed from this attic. His small hand protecting his eyes from the scorching sun he had not felt in years. His clothes stained by food he had not eaten in ages. The walls of his parents’ house he could not keep his boxes in. Another land, a land his wife didn’t know, a land his children might never see. His land, that he hardly knew anymore himself. He looked again at the picture, and the child asked him, ‘Where are you?’ He answered, ‘I am here, at home.’ The child then asked, ‘Where am I?’ He paused. ‘I don’t know,’ he answered.