Samoa is not a holiday for us, not anymore. It is beautiful and lush. It is the cliched island paradise.
We have been there three times now and it is all very familiar. It is easy for us to drive around Apia or to various places on Upolu. We have been to the Robert Louis Stevenson Museum three times as well. We drive to Lalomanu and there are people there whom we know.
We had only ever intended to visit Samoa once. Once would have been enough. We went once and lost our child so now the visits are full of memories; of the last flight with her; of those last precious days with her; of the tsunami and her death; and then the days of waiting until we could take her home.
Each time I go, Clea dies again. Each time, I discover again that she is not in Samoa; although I search. I search every child’s face to make sure that they are not my child. I walk that beach and I seek her face in the jungle. I wait for her to pop out from behind a tree. She is not there. She is not anywhere.
On Lalomanu beach, we visit the family whose house when ran past that morning with Jorge yelling at them to ‘run, everybody run’ as I ran holding hands with Clea and Omar, and Jorge ran carrying Jordi. The mother remembers Jorge yelling at her. She remembers his red t-shirt. She remembers running alongside me, both holding our children as best we could. She remembers sitting in the forest with Jordi and Omar as we searched for Clea, and as her husband searched for their son, Frazer (he was two months old). Like Clea, he was taken from his mother. Clea and Frazer were found close to each other beneath a tree at the base of the escarpment behind where Frazer’s family live.
The father slashes through the over grown jungle to the place of our children’s deaths so that I can lay a flower at the base of the tree. The plastic is still there from the flowers I left last year. They have not removed them. They say they will look after that site for us.
We ask them if they need anything. They request money to buy food for Christmas. We know that most of that money will go to the church so instead we buy them some food for Christmas. We buy Mary (who is now three years old) a Barbie doll as she has no toys, only a few kittens to play with.
Their house is still not finished after being destroyed in the tsunami. They still live by the beach – where else would they go.
Like me, the mother says she has two children, Mary and Frazer. I always say I have three children, Clea, Jordi and Omar. I will always have three children.
And as I sit at Faleolo airport all I see is me standing on the verandah of the VIP fale watching three hearses drive across the tarmac to the aeroplane. I watch as they load the coffins into the aeroplane wondering which one holds the lifeless body of my daughter. Then we board the plane, again, and we make the flight home to a life without our daughter.