The suitcase

- A hundred thousand - said Dr. Rudolf, pediatrician. As always, I replied:

- "No. For no money."

- "One day I'll buy your suitcase." - he said.

As he always did during our consultations, he wanted to buy the black suitcase. It was neither a medieval find nor an impressive work of a leather artisan. It was a simple, small, worn-out piece of luggage. I guess that the factory was trying to imitate leather using plastic, but they really didn't succeed. The metal locks were almost always broken, and the keys were almost always lost somewhere in our house.

I can't remember how I got it, or who gave it to me. But that suitcase became a central object in my life: my tools and inventions were kept there. "Invention" maybe is a pretentious word to designate a handful of flashlights and blinking electronic devices. Maybe for their technical simplicity, I liked to assemble flashlights of all kinds: big or small, with one, two or four batteries and different kinds of bulbs. They did not involve any further knowledge in electronics: it is as simple as connecting batteries and bulbs, sometimes with a switch between them.

In fact there weren't so many dark places to explore with so many flashlights, but I remind lots of different designs for different applications. One small flashlight for everyday use at school, another one for my parents' car (with a blinking mode for emergencies), a big one, with lots of batteries, for long expeditions. The cutting-edge flashlight was the ultra portable, made with a watch battery that could fit anywhere and lasted for about five seconds.

Great expeditions to the Santa Efigênia Street, in São Paulo, supplied me with bulbs, batteries, switches and wires. Then, a complex assembly happened, where the batteries were connected to the switches and the bulbs through copper wires: the most spectacular flashlights were ready to light up the world.

The secrets of the world were hidden in that suitcase. The secrets of the flashlights, of the blinking lights, batteries, bulbs, wires and switches. In that suitcase, in fact, the possibility of a whole new world was born everyday: a place where the "technological" construction was contaminated by magic, by fascination - and by discovery. Playing with flashlights, and associating switches, I had my introduction to the digital world - maybe more significant than any Boolean algebra class I have ever had. I learned that the digital world is not more that a series of small switches, turning on and off everyday, every time. The magic of those simple and strange flashlights demystified the "digital" world I would live in some years after.

Some minutes later, the pediatrician went back to the subject, probably to distract me from some medical procedure:

- Give me your price. For how much would you sell the suitcase? Two hundred thousand?

For some reason (maybe due to the fact that he was a pediatrician), he understood the singular value that the suitcase had, and offered an amount of money that was enough to buy a car.

Month after month, year after year, the suitcase got messier and dirtier, with more wires and components.

One day, someone was cleaning the house and that old object was on her way. She asked my parents and they told her to clean it up. Seemingly, it was only an old, worn out, messy suitcase, and a child's thing. So she threw away all the wires, leaked batteries, broken components, bulbs and flashlights, cleaned the suitcase to perfection and made it almost new - and empty.

In the next day, I looked for my suitcase for hours and I couldn't find it. When my parents got home, they told me the good news: it was clean, almost new, on my bed. The suitcase didn't exist anymore.

In that black and old object, witness of discoveries and lived history, was my first and more important lesson on the scientific method, on trial, error, construction. Losing it was remarkably important for learning another kind of thing: the art of living, the infinite contradictions and misunderstandings of life. After all, my parents, who I admired so much, were the responsible for that.

And it was not only the feeling of loss: that calm and understanding boy was also experimenting another one: hate. Well, hate leads to revenge. I immediately went to my father's office and, one by one, threw five hundred books from the bookcase to the floor. I was trying to destroy his object: my father is a professor and lives surrounded by books.

Every time we try to remember our childhood, we tend to exaggerate some aspects and forget others. Our life is, after all, just a personal fable. Maybe there were not so many things in that suitcase. Maybe the flashlights weren't so different. Maybe it didn't mean so much in my life.

But, nevertheless, each of us has a suitcase, black, white, red or blue; each of us keep in it wires, batteries, dolls, puppets, games. This object carries the key to understand our intellectual path - opening it again can retrace the forgotten links between our lives and our thinking matrix.

If, when we get old, somebody notices that we walk in a strange way, curved to one side, that is not likely to be a health problem. It will be our suitcase, that we have been carrying for a lifetime, that insists to give our life a meaning, that insists to be always present, reminding who we were and where to go.