I never unpack.
As I prepare to go home after nearly six months in India, all I really have to do is smash my swollen, needs-to-be-washed clothing down far enough to make my dirty, orange duffel bag zip. At the airport, the man who first inspired me to leave home will hug me tight, and whisper sweetly into my ear, “Bran, we're at an airport and you don't hate me this time.”
Over the past four years, I don't know how many places I've lived. Floors, futons, one art studio across from a 7-11, a couch in a hippie collective, inside of arms, and in borrowed office-dens with other peoples' pets. One of twelve tight-sheeted bunkbeds in a room in Italy. A couple apartments – momentary attempts to touch down. Motels. A couch fort with my nieces. A cabin in the Himalayas without running water.
The things I bring are relatively constant, and mostly, never used.
I have a long painting of the Hindu elephant god, Ganesh, which I bought in Bangkok after getting lost at midnight and sitting with an old, white-haired fortune teller who melted a thick, creme-colored candle upon an overturned orange crate.
A marigold in a wooden box, blessed by an orange-robed Paramahamsa in the monsoon jungles of Orissa.
Photos of my family and friends, which I never take out, but which bring me comfort to have.
Antibiotics. Just in case.
A worn, too-small, blue sweatshirt my brother made me when I was eight years old. Using puff paint, he drew a round, fluffy, smiling character with arms outstretched onto the sleeves. On the chest, using all capitols, he wrote, HUG ME. On the bottom right, his initials, small: s.h.
A child-sized, ineffective towel I bought the first time I was in India, depicting a puppy in a Christmas stocking, that reads Happy Day!!
A stocking cap with ear flaps that I bought with my mom when I took her to Manhattan to see the Statue of Liberty. Cold-faced with damp, ferry-sprayed hats, we warmed ourselves in Little Italy over the best meal, we both agreed, we'd ever had.
Old, yellowed post-it notes, which my best friend, Sandra, wrote encouraging phrases or drawings on and left hidden in the folds of the things I always have. After four years, I'm still finding them. Just last week, a bubble-lettered note fell from a book toward my feet.
The books. Always stuffed in my accompanying red, carry-on Jansport backpack, so as not to put my suitcase over the weight limit. Always regretted in airports like Frankfurt or Brussels, the halfway-to-South-Asia points.
The bangles. From Tamil Nadu, Delhi, the Himalayas, Italy, Chicago, Lebanon, Hawaii. Gifts from faces I've known well, and those I've forgotten.
The clothes I hate to wear by now.
The prayer beads, a gift from Vishwa as he and I both left Seattle, given in the room we shared, on a dim winter morning. A flame, sandalwood air, our snowman melting on the front lawn. And he was gone. And so was I.
It's just easier to keep things packed.