July 7th 2018 marked the anniversary of the arrival in Australia of my mother and brother, Armando. Sixty five years. They travelled with so many others on the Surriento, Flotta Lauro. So many ships, so many hopes. We called them 'migrants' and gave them a certain legitimacy but they were 'refugees' escaping a harsh life. They took and they gave in equal measure - and everyone is richer for it.
Carmelina finished my coat today.
How many tears have washed the coarse fabric?
How have her fingers trembled to sew those last two buttons,
Finish the hem,
Trim the pockets?
I know why she took so long, obstinately endured my pleading,
Feigned sickness, boredom or just plain spitefulness.
She didn't want to finish it.
She hoped she could keep me here, with her, forever, while she sewed
Her little sister's coat.
Amore, you sent money for my coat, my shoes, my bag,
But do you know how much they really cost?
"Don't cry," I say to my father everyday. "He loves me so much, he will take care of me. You won't have to worry about me anymore."
He nods, wordlessly, not trusting his voice to speak.
A man, old before his time,
Who could not provide for his little girl with a baby of her own.
A father who has failed.
My handsome little one. Zia has made your coat too.
She has sewn her initials on the sleeve lining. So she will always be
close to you.
You cannot know the joy you have brought to her, all the pain
you have eased in that calloused place where her
heart should be.
Your little laugh and open face made her trust in love again.
Until now. Until this morning. Until this parting.
Amore, I check my new handbag.
I find the St Christopher medal you sent, tied in your handkerchief.
For my safe journey to you.