By Ekta R. Garg
Prompt: Imagine a person who travels the world and collects special souvenirs from each country. Write his or her story.
Mark took the jade dragon out of his carry-on and put it on the empty spot on the shelf. He’d paid a little extra for the purple jade, but everyone brought home green jade. Mark had wanted something different. He knew Carol would like the purple better, and he would do anything for her.
“Do you see that, hon?” he asked over his shoulder. “It’s your favorite color.”
He didn’t wait for a response; he knew she’d love it. As he stepped back from the shelf, he eyed the other souvenirs he’d collected. He brought every single one home for Carol.
He’d had to fight security on the olive oil from Rome. Despite the online research that said he could bring back the Italian staple without any issues, Mark still had to beg his way back into the country. The oil had long since been absorbed by some of Carol’s favorite pasta dishes, but he’d kept the bottle. It reminded him of that trip and how excited he’d been to see the Colosseum for the first time.
Not far from the olive oil sat a beautiful painted fan on a small easel. Mark didn’t think he’d find an actual authentic Spanish fan at El Rastro, which beat any farmer’s market he and Carol had ever visited. He couldn’t stop talking about it for weeks after, and the fan really had become useful in the middle of the afternoon that summer.
The amber bracelets from Johannesburg hung from a cylindrical stand meant to showcase bangles. He knew Carol would object to purchasing four of them, but he couldn’t help himself. Mark knew the honeyed color of the stone would set off the glow in Carol’s skin, and he had to buy them for her.
When he’d found the porcelain tea set in Japan, he knew he had to bring it back home for Carol. The thought of packing those delicate cups and the tea pot almost made him leave the store. But the petite woman with the jet black hair and soft voice had reassured him multiple times that her store used only the best shipping companies. Something in her firm manner made him decide to take a chance. Anything for the love of his life.
At the end of the shelf sat the picture frame. It was one of those cheap things that tourists bought, with a bold script declaring deep love for New York City. He and Carol had posed on the top of the Empire State Building, and she’d kissed him just before the other tourist had snapped the photo. He could still feel the rush that came from that kiss, his cheek tingling where her lips had touched him.
Later, after they came back to the street level, he and Carol had bought the frame. They had gone to New York on their honeymoon. She’d always wanted to go to the largest city in the country, to feel it pulse under her feet and throb inside her chest when she stood in the middle of Times Square. Carol had turned to him right there in one of the busiest centers of the world and told him with shining eyes and a smile of wonder that she wanted to spend the rest of her life exploring every corner of the world. With him.
His face felt funny all of a sudden, and he realized he kept trying to scrunch it into different positions. He kept trying to keep the tears inside.
Mark turned and faced her. This shrunken frame with hollowed eyes using the few working fingers in her hand to push the motorized wheelchair toward him didn’t look anything like the pink-cheeked newlywed in that photo from New York City. But standing here today, a scant 24 hours after coming home from China, he loved her more.
He dropped to his knees in front of her and tried to force his voice around the lump in his throat. “Look! There it is. You can cross Beijing off the list.”
The right corner of her mouth pulled toward the ceiling, her best effort at a smile now, and he brought his arms around her, the most fragile souvenir of their love and devotion to one another.