Smokescreens

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It was so old that it felt natural to see it closed. Its look, its smell. Its locks were extremely worn-out, and its covering leather was so dark that its geometric decorations were almost lost. The old trunk was the place where for years my grandmother had kept her valued objects. It was also the place where she would keep the gifts that she used to bring from her trips to the US. Those treasures. I recall seeing the old trunk open only once every few months.

What might be inside now? Perhaps an extra-large bag of M&Ms.

As opposed to my other grandmother – my maternal grandmother, who had spent her retirement traveling around the world, I had always questioned the repeated trips of my paternal grandmother to the US – why spend so much money going always to the same place? The reason was that she used to go to visit her daughter about every other year. My grandmother’s oldest child had married an American about 30 years before. She had left Cusco and moved to Gothenburg, a small town in the American Midwest, that, as my father said to me with a smile when I tried to find it in the map of the US, “It’s not there, Gothenburg isn’t even in the map of Nebraska”.

From those trips, my grandmother would usually come back charged with a bunch of gifts. Except for some specific requests of my father or his brothers, my grandmother would be very cautious with what she brought. Most of the gifts would rest in the trunk awaiting the next birthday or Christmas celebration.

In those days in Cusco, she would spend her time seating in her bedroom, wrapped up with her immense jackets and always wearing her SAS shoes, watching ballet shows in the Film & Arts channel and perhaps eating some artichoke. But always just in an angle that allowed her to look in the direction of the trunk at the end of the corridor. Inevitably, as kids that trunk would cause my cousins and me a lot of anxiety every time we would visit my grandmother’s house.

What might be inside now? Maybe some board games as fun as the Guess Who game that arrived last year.

However, despite the curiosity and the consciousness of being so close to the content, we never did much advance in order to force it open. The fact is that not only the old trunk was locked, but it was also blocked with other objects. A candelabrum was always impassive on top of the trunk as a tribute to the painting of my deceased grandfather that hanged in the wall behind. The smell of the fire and the wax of the candle. The habit of my family of always leaving the lights of this room off. Everything seemed to warn you to be careful.

The only couple of times that I saw the trunk open were the occasions when Elena opened it. Elena used to be my grandmother’s aide. As such she was not only the keeper of the whole house but also the only person entrusted with the key to the trunk. She had been with my grandmother since before I was born and our affection ties with her had grown as much as her authority over all of the grandchildren of the house. Forcing the trunk and knocking down the candelabrum? I would not want Elena to catch me in that moment.

One day, she came with the keys that were hidden god knows where and opened it to take out a request of my grandmother. I was with Alvaro, maybe also with Arturo. Our children eyes immediately searched the interior looking for toys or candy. We could not see any. The trunk was full of documents and some office supplies. Perhaps legal documents, perhaps title deeds, nothing that I as a kid would be interested about. However, our disappointment was quickly broken when Elena took out a bundle of candy canes and gave one to each of us. We received them with immense joy, no such candy could be found in my hometown.

In an instant, the trunk would be closed again, the candelabrum replaced, and its contents hidden to us. All until it would be briefly opened months later to reproduce the same scene. In the new occasion, it would be some cherry Twizzlers the smokescreen to distract us from the old trunk and to keep alive the permanent curiosity about its content.

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