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The Suitcase

Updated: Jan 24, 2023

This short story was written in 2022 as part of a fundraiser for EndometriosisUK's 1in10 Challenge.




The suitcase is one of those old-fashioned wooden ones, with locks that slide to unlatch it. I’m burning with questions and anticipation as I open and lift the lid. The smell of old paper and dampness reaches my nose.

Inside is a magical treasure trove of objects: an army beret in a paper bag; an empty cigarette tin; a resume; birthday cards with little keys; a photograph album. I pick up the latter and carefully flick through. Black-and-white photographs of my grandfather stare up at me, beaming next to a street sign and holding a bicycle, or standing coolly on the steps of a surviving building.

Finally, there are letters. Hundreds upon hundreds of letters. Conversations with friends and family I never knew.

I pick one and start reading.

“Dearest Jimmy,

Just a few lines hoping you are O.K. and settled down. I hope things are not getting too hot out there, as we keep on hearing one thing and another on the news. And in the paper yesterday - those poor people standing in queues for 10 hours for food. It’s dreadful you know. I don’t know why there is all this squabbling …”

I read on as she rambles about the weather, the races, and general gossip. It seems trivial, considering he was stationed in West Berlin. But perhaps it was what he needed.

“Well, I’d best be going. I expect I will receive a letter from you tomorrow to answer. So, until next time, all the best of luck.

“Hope to see you soon, God bless you, your ever-loving mum xx”

I touch the paper and imagine what it must have been like to read her words, to feel her love oozing from the page. I wish I could have asked him what it was like being there - he was always so secretive.

So, I close my eyes and try to picture the scene.


 

The queue stretched on and on, disappearing down the street. Jimmy looked at his watch and sighed. Poor folks, he thought. He adjusted the weight of his rifle and his fingers thumbed idly at the letter in his pocket.

“… those poor people standing in queues for 10 hours for food. It’s dreadful you know. I don’t know why there is all this squabbling …”

Berlin was a mess. Buildings were in ruins, windows shattered, and the presence of armed forces was everywhere: American, French, British, and Soviet. The war was over, but it certainly didn’t feel like it. Already the Soviets had established a boundary, cutting off the east of Berlin from the west. Every day they seemed to become more and more hostile to the other allies. That didn’t bode well.

The queue shuffled forward a few inches. Jimmy couldn’t help but feel sorry for them. They weren’t to blame for the war, and yet it felt as if they were being punished for it. There wasn’t much he could do about it either - his rations were pretty meagre. All he could do was stand to attention and ensure nothing untoward happened.

“Hope to see you soon …”

Every letter seemed more hopeful than the last. Jimmy scuffed his feet against the ground. He’d missed Christmas last year. Despite celebrating it with comrades outside the city, it didn’t have the same vibe. He’d never felt more homesick than at that point. And he couldn’t begin to imagine how she had felt. She had expressed as much as she could (as was the British way) in one of her previous letters:

“We did miss you terribly this year. I don’t know how we cope without you, Jimmy …”

He stifled a yawn and stretched his back. If things continued to look up, perhaps he would be back next year. The thought put a smile on his face. Despite the shimmering heat of the day, he missed a warm fire, a fresh pot of tea, and a large slice of Christmas cake. Above all, he missed his friends: Derek, Pauline, Maurice, and all the others.

Jimmy's thoughts turned to his case back at the base. He really needed to organise those letters. Why? He didn't fully know. Occasionally he would re-read some of them, but the rest remained untouched. Unlike many of his comrades, however, he couldn't bring himself to ditch them.

He closed his eyes, and for a moment he imagined a grandchild reading them in some far-off future. He grinned and opened his eyes again, bringing himself back to reality once more. When he returned home he might start going to dances again. Perhaps he would meet a lovely lady.

The queue shuffled forward again. Jimmy watched as a mother and son scurried across the street, rations in hand. His stomach grumbled, and he shook his head. It was time to stop daydreaming.


 

In memory of my grandfather, D.F. Lowe (1928 - 2021)

 

© Lucinda Elizabeth | 2022

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