The Red Wooden Box

I must be very old. If you ask me precisely how old, I might not be able to answer. But probably older than your grandparents and maybe your great-grandparents. I don’t remember where I was born. It must have been in some small village in the middle of Serbia where people needed and loved wooden oak boxes. Those boxes, including me, treasured all their valuable things: jewelry, money, documents, lucky charms, letters, books. And every wooden box, precious as it was, was secured by a padlock. And you definitely needed a trusty padlock. Unfortunately, I changed quite a lot of them. Sadly, some of them were easily broken, the other ones were destroyed on purpose and the rest of them were eaten by rust until this yellowish-brown flaky disease killed them. I felt sorry for all of them and I properly mourned each one.

I remember that one of my first keepers was a soldier. He left Serbia when he was nineteen and he moved to Prague. He kept me in his room and every time he came back from battles, wars or just ordinary military trainings, he stashed letters, medals, tokens and even some weapons inside me. I liked those letters he had gotten from his girlfriend and parents but I despised those heavy weapons that intimidated me with their coldness and brutality. I didn’t want to hold anything that might have taken a life of some living being.

The soldier died in some war. I guess it was the Second World War, or maybe even the First WW, it is hard to say. My memory fails me. But I found myself so lonely for so long. Probably months passed and during those long months I was alone and abandoned in a dark soldier’s room in the middle of Prague, on the ground floor of a very old building. I was waiting for someone to come, open the door of the room, let the light in and save me from decay. Finally, that day came. A young girl was my savior. She was obviously the soldier’s girlfriend and she came all the way from Sweden to take me and the things I kept inside me. She cried and cried. And my heart ached every time she touched me with her cold hands that threatened to freeze my wooden body. She was a sad young creature. And I felt sorry for her. But I didn’t know how to help her. I even thought that I must have brought her more misery, since I was the reminder of the soldier, and the soldier was no more.

However, she kept me. She brought me to her cold village in Sweden after a long trip by train, but once she took me to her room and placed me under her bed, she never opened me again. I remained a forgotten sad token of misery that collected dust for many years.

Eventually, the girl got married, she moved to some other village or town, and left me alone in her room. Her mother cleaned the room regularly hoping that her daughter would come to visit now and again. And she did, but only once in a blue moon. It was during a visit home that she brought me to the kitchen and told her mother to give me away to whoever wanted me. Her mother reluctantly agreed. But she still kept me for some time in the same place, under the girl’s bed, hoping that her daughter would change her mind and bring me with her to her new home. She never did. And finally, the mother of the sad girl gave me to the collector of old things, an old antiquarian, who came from England to Sweden to find some interesting pieces of furniture or art. Don’t ask me why he came to Sweden exactly, but I had the feeling that he came to save me. I was abandoned and lonely for too long and I needed someone to take care of me. Dust was eating me alive and even some strange insects infested my poor body.

England was pretty cold and windy, but not as cold as Sweden, and at least I was placed in a shop window of a big antiquarian shop where I had enough daylight and enough entertainment. I watched passersby, cars, bikes and buses and enjoyed attention of the people who admired me. The antiquarian did a good job. He cleaned me and polished me, and cured me from the insects, and painted me in dark brown. It was not my favorite outfit color but according to the happy faces of passersby who stopped by the shop window and watched me, I must have looked damn good.

One cold winter afternoon, a young man entered the shop. He didn’t look around and didn’t admire the beautiful pieces of furniture. He just came straight to the antiquarian and told him he wanted to buy me. There was not much bargaining either. He accepted the price the antiquarian had set and after taking me and placing me in his car, we moved toward the suburbs of London. His house was small and cozy, but everything seemed packed as if he was moving. And he did indeed. The very next day, he put some books and letters inside me and we headed to the Port of London. Huge ships were waiting lazily.

Some of them were almost ready to sail, waiting for the last passengers to board. The big white ship that was probably three stories high was loaded with hundreds of other passengers but we easily found the cabin that was waiting for us. My keeper set me under his bunk bed and went out on the deck. We sailed for many days. I can’t say precisely how many but once the ship arrived at its destination, I realized that it was a huge city called Sydney.

Australia was warmer than England and I liked my keeper’s small apartment near the ocean. It was cozy and warm. I could hear seagulls and waves and I particularly enjoyed those soothing sounds of the ocean. My keeper was rarely at home. I was not sure what kind of job he had but he left every morning at dawn and came back in the evening. Tired, he made a simple dinner, had a glass of wine and went to bed. Sunday was his day off and he spent it reading and writing some letters. He polished me regularly and took good care of me.

However, one Monday morning, he didn’t wake up at dawn. He remained in his bed until midday. His phone rang many times but he never got up to answer it. And I realized something was wrong.

When on Tuesday morning he was still motionless in his bed, I started panicking. The alarm rang in my head. He might be dead! And unfortunately, I was right. But why? He was still young. I never found out. Some people came late that evening. They knocked stubbornly at the door for more than half an hour, and after no one answered, they broke in. I guessed those were my keeper’s friends or cousins. When they found him in his bed, some of them started crying, hugging each other and mourning. Their grief and sadness filled the apartment, and if I had been able to, I would have cried as well. But my wooden body didn’t hold any tears.

A few days passed, and I watched those same people packing my keeper’s things in big boxes. I remained in the same place. But once they took out all the boxes, a tall blonde girl approached me, took me in her arms and carried me to her car. She brought me to her home. And she became my new keeper. But not for long.

After a week in her home full of children, carpets and furniture, she gave me to an elderly man who might have been her grandpa. He walked with a cane and had a bent forward posture. He was kind and polite. He was a gentleman. His home was in a small village far from the ocean, and if I missed the sound of the sea, I made it up listening to the sound of the birds and crickets. Their chirping was equally soothing as the ocean’s song. My new keeper, the elderly gentleman, was originally from Prague, and his home was full of the paintings, photos and books of that beautiful city. It brought back some memories, but they were vague since I had left Prague a long time ago, maybe even before this man had been born. He lived alone. He listened to the classical music and often read, and even though I was sometimes dusty, he didn’t forget to open me occasionally and take out some precious things he kept inside me. But unfortunately, after few years of our happy life together, the man died and I found myself once again without a keeper. But I knew it would not last long. I wondered where and to whom I would be sent this time.

My answer came after another trip by boat. Along with many other belongings of the old man, I was boarded onto a ship, and I again arrived in Europe. This time, I found myself in the Port of Barcelona. But this stop was brief: They put me on a train, and within a day, I found myself again in Prague. Oh, happiness! Even though it was a bit changed and congested, this beautiful city was mostly as I remembered it: impressive and gracious.

My new keeper was a lady in her late fifties. I guessed she was the old gentleman’s sister. She liked me very much. I believed I reminded her of her brother and I carried some nice memories from their childhood: letters, diaries, books, documents, photos. I stayed with this lady a very long time. The reason for our separation was her death. I was devastated by the loss of another keeper. How many more of them would I gain and lose? My heart ached.

When I was dispirited and full of sorrow since my destiny had brought me so much loss, something wonderful happened. A very young girl, all smiles and laughter, took me and was willing to keep me. I was not sure if she was my previous keeper’s cousin or what the relation between the old lady and the young girl was, but what I knew was that this blue-eyed girl, with a broad smile and sparkles in her eyes, liked me from the very first day she met me. She took me with her on a long trip. We traveled many hours by train and finally we reached Serbia and her hometown Nis.

I have never been surrounded by so many happy people. Her modest home buzzed with happy faces: her mother, her father, her grandmother and her little sister were the most cheerful people I had ever met. Often, one could hear humming, singing, laughter and see plenty of smiles in that house. And I was the guardian of the blond girl’s treasures: post stamps, letters, diaries, books, notebooks, photos, toys, et cetera. Everything she had was so bright and colorful that when the girl’s father painted me in red at the girl’s request, I was not surprised or offended. Pardon me, maybe some wooden boxes wouldn’t like such a bright and dazzling color, but I was honored. I was different. And quite unique.

Years and years of happiness passed. The young girl grew up and became a young lady. She was a good student and finished university. And then she got a job offer. She was a teacher and received an invitation to work at a school in Indonesia. Yes, that’s right, so far away. When she told her family, they didn’t seem so happy. No matter that they supported her in all her adventures, and adventurous she was, they felt sadness when they thought that she might be so far away. However, after many family conversations and discussions, they all agreed that it would be a great experience for her and that she should give it a shot. I started fearing that I would lose her. But then she surprised me. She polished me nicely, put some important books and documents inside me and decided to take me with her. Her adventure became my adventure!

And here I am now, the red wooden box, in Indonesia, on an island called Bali, surrounded by the powerful Indian Ocean, bewitched by the Hindu culture and tradition, and inspired by daily adventures of my keeper, the blue-eyed smiling lady. The two of us, my blond keeper and I, have spent more than eight years in Indonesia. And we still love it and enjoy it. How many more months and years we will spend here, I don’t know, but I know that wherever she goes I will go with her, and I couldn’t be happier.