Birthdays can be heart breaking.
Especially when watching children, unskilled in courteousness, open clothes they don’t like. You learn to smile through the ‘Groovy Chick’ t-shirts that you had graduated from two years earlier. By the time Aunt Vera is still gifting crochet hats on your 30th those lessons in politeness, the little white lies, are ingrained.
On the morning of a family member’s birthday we used to gather in the kitchen to light the candles while they were in bed (always awake but loyally dozing). Then all five of us would burst in, a procession of candles and school uniforms and presents spread out on the duvet, followed by a late parade to school.
One year, my dad handed my brother Omar something he had picked for his birthday and not just my mum.
It was a light blue Levi denim jacket.
Much larger than the other children his age, this jacket was bought from the men’s section. Omar didn’t exactly throw it on the floor. He said thank you. He just never wore it.
Nevertheless, my dad got over this and found himself with a practical new addition to his wardrobe. Just to be clear: my dad has absolutely no fashion sense. Natively Algerian, his go to accessories are an espresso and a cigarette… and then another.
In his younger years he looked slightly like Prince (the curls) and with no concept of double denim (the perennial to avoid or to embrace?) his casual look was what we could only identify now as: pretty fucking cool.
We all grew up and the light blue Levi denim jacket led a quiet life in the attic for a while before it came with me to university and had the time of its life. I privately relished in telling people it was my dad’s. My vintage clothes tell a story and yours are from a £15-a-kilo sale, soz.
By then my dad was in his fifties and once again living on the coast of Algeria after a split with my mum. There he gravitated towards fake Lacoste polo shirts – always in his signature mustard, which, to be fair, compliments his brown skin tone.
With this added distance and the quiet heartbreak that ensued, the jacket was literally my hero item. I was only ever going to see my dad twice a year now, but when I wore his old jacket he was kind of giving me a hug… and coming with me to festivals… and carrying my premixed M&S gin and tonics.
I then left the beloved light blue Levi denim jacket at home while I went travelling, only to find that another one of my brothers had taken to wearing it. It seemed sweet that my teenage brother Yaz liked wearing our dad’s jacket. It felt like something that bonded us through his veil of nonchalance.
It felt like this until I learned that he’d left the jacket inside a club in Newcastle.
I don’t know if we might have experienced the same thing, my dad and I, when Omar first rejected the jacket and Yaz then carelessly lost it. I know that my younger brother has grown up because he then went to uni and bought me another denim jacket in a £15-a-kilo sale: cue those lessons in politeness.
However, this jacket says to me “I now see the hole in your chest, and I’m sorry.”.
I, in turn, am trying, and failing, to not get so attached to items of clothing. Clothing that summons people I can’t see and places I can’t be.
Anyway, there’s a fake Lacoste mustard yellow men’s polo shirt waiting for me if I want it.
Sophia writes about the cross-cultural phenomenon of being half Geordie and half Algerian. Sophia lives in Brixton with her partner and is writing her first novel. Contact her at email@example.com or follower her on twitter here: @FollowRainbow_
Image: Billy Pasco