My luggage, my father and his ashes (lost luggage story #2)
My father was born and lived in Serbia - the former Yugoslavia. After World War 2, he escaped to evade the Communist regime and in December 1955 he, my mother and my sister disembarked ship at Cape Town harbour. I was born the following April in Johannesburg and raised in Cape Town.
My parents adored Serbia but sadly my father never returned, fearing retribution for his escape. When he died in 1990, my father’s body was cremated and we interred the ashes at Maitland Cemetery. Eight years later, when we decided to migrate to Australia, I couldn’t bear the thought of leaving my father’s ashes behind. I had the urn exhumed and we brought his ashes to Wagga Wagga, packed inside my school suitcase.
For a long time, I intended to sprinkle my father’s ashes in his beloved Belgrade, but it was another 10 years before my mother and I journeyed to the old country and I had the opportunity to take my father’s ashes with me. I had an inkling that I might need permission to travel with human remains, but I ignored that thought.
Packing the ashes
On the morning of our trip, Mr PetMan unearthed the ashes from the suitcase - now in our garage.
‘These ashes are so heavy,’ I said with dismay. ‘I had no idea human remains weigh so much.’
I decided to take some of the ashes only.
‘My father won't know the difference,’ I assured Mr PetMan as I ladled ashes into a Tupperware container, jamming it into my suitcase.
My mother and I flew to Europe through Dubai. The trip went well - notwithstanding my mother’s excess baggage and overweight suitcase - and we arrived in Belgrade early the next morning. In the arrivals hall, I dragged my mother’s bag off the conveyer belt and waited for mine. I guess you know the outcome: my bag never arrived. Our argument with the Serbian airport authorities didn’t produce my suitcase; we caught a taxi to my aunt’s flat, my mother swearing in the back seat.
Losing the ashes
I spent three weeks in Europe, but my bag was elsewhere. Each day my mother encouraged me to shout over the phone at the JAT employees and airport officials - but still my bag remained lost. I was mortified: what if the Dubai officials had impounded my suitcase when they spotted a powder they mistook for cocaine? What if they imprisoned me? I was returning alone: who would rescue me if I languished in a Dubai jail? Added to my anxiety was the thought that my father’s ashes were trundling around a baggage carousel - lost forever because of me.
At the end of my holiday, I flew back to Australia through Dubai - without any arrest or questions - arriving safely in Canberra. Three weeks later my mother phoned me from Belgrade:
Regaining the ashes
‘Your bag haf arrived,’ she said, her tone expressing indignation at the errant suitcase. ‘Vot you vant me to do wit it?’
‘Send it back to Australia,’ I responded, ‘but take out Daddy’s ashes so you can sprinkle them in Belgrade. Are they still in the bag?’
‘Vel there’s some sandy in your clothes. But I take it out,’ she replied. I imagined her and my aunt muttering: ‘She haf no respect for poor Branko and his ashes.’
Sprinkling the ashes
As it turned out, my mother didn’t sprinkle my father’s ashes - she said it rained too much during her stay. For four years longer my father’s ashes remained in the Tupperware container before my aunt sprinkled them from a Belgrade bridge - on the day of my mother’s funeral. Finally my father - or at least some part of him - was home.