"Ah-choo!" The dust from the boxes had snuck up my nose once again. I surveyed the scene. Years of memories stared back at me. I opened another box. Pulling back the bubble wrap, I carefully lifted her out. The light brown eyes stared back at me as if surprised. Maybe she was tired of being in there. I know I would have. Gently, I set her down by the window and immediately she began to dance. Her hips wiggled back and forth, her little grass skirt rustling gently, like a breeze through the palm trees. I closed my eyes, and I could smell the ocean.
The warmth of the sun had been my constant companion that day, attempting to leave its red calling card on my skin. It had been a long day of volcano tours, sampling the local food, and perusing souvenir shops. On the recommendation of a colleague, I decided to go to the open-air market to see what fares there were to be had. My long list of people to buy for brought back flashbacks of Christmas shopping. This souvenir stuff can be some serious business. But, I had been saving money for this trip, so I knew I could splurge. Before I was standing after stand of native treats, trinkets, and the usual "they went to [fill in the blank] and all I got was this lousy t-shirt." After walking around for some time, I finally found the one souvenir I had to come home with. Of course, it had to be the tackiest and cliché item, but it had been a special request from my little girl, and I was not one to disappoint.
The whole plane ride home, I cradled her in my lap. There was no way that I could trust the baggage handlers with my precious cargo. I had already witnessed the near destruction of a baby stroller as they stood around nonchalantly checking their watches, eyes seeking quitting time. I could hear the snickers of passengers around me when they noticed the souvenir in my lap. In response, I would turn and smile at them while caressing her hair, yes, I had gotten the one with the real hair. The silence was almost immediate. Since I was going to spend the next few hours on this plane, I might as well have some fun.
The sound of my cell phone ringing ripped the reverie away from my mind's eye. I looked at it with annoyance and waited for it to stop hollering at me. There was only so much that I could deal with right now. My gaze returned to the brown-eyed dancer. With the nostalgia came the bittersweet reminder of the last time our little hula girl danced. Cassie had been too sick to make the business trip with me. I did everything I could to get out of the trip, but like always I was "the man for the job." Cassie and I talked every day after all my meetings, ending our conversation the same way:
"Remember to bring her home."
"With a green grass skirt and pink flowers in her hair."
"And real hair, it has to be real hair."
I stroked the hula girl's hair just like I would with Cassie's every night. Running my fingers gently through her dark hair until she fell asleep. I could still smell the scent of her shampoo. The scent of the beach, just as it had been in Hawaii. A mist of grief came over me. I picked up the dancing doll and placed her by one of my favorite pictures of Cassie. It was taken this past Halloween, Cassie's last Halloween. I could still see her wiggling her little hips and making waves with her arms as she performed her little dance for me. A small smile broke through. My eyes shut, and I could see Cassie. She was so small and frail in the hospital bed.
"Daddy make sure you take care of our hula girl."
"Of course, Sweetie.
I tapped the hula girl's hip, and she started to dance again. Turning around, I picked up another box and continued to unpack.