At breakfast, everybody’s eyes were bloodshot. Baba's eyes were flu-like in the sense that they would turn cold or hot in a split second, but we knew not to talk to him at all in the morning, especially now. Mama’s were absent minded as she poured Alwazah Tea into her glass mug; we could talk to her. It was the first time we had breakfast together in a while since at the camps in Syria and in Europe. There, we took turns walking to the resource tents to get food for everyone while all but one of us was still asleep. Everyone then woke up at different times and ate their breakfast while looking out at the rows of tents that resembled the uniformity of 1950s tract housing neighborhoods. Instead of going to a butcher, we were escaping the butcher.
“Yusuf,” said Baba.
“Eh?” I replied.
“Come help me after I eat and lie down. We need the internet. I’m going to go walk around and see if we can find any cheap plans.”
Samer, my brother, my friend, my enemy, stuffed a piece of pita filled with labneh and oil into his mouth then looked at me and pointed with his oily finger.
“Don’t get lost again! HAHAHAHAHA!” he shouted.
I was going to slap him but decided against it.
After Baba had his after meal lie-down, we got dressed and walked out onto the street and scoped out the stores in search of internet. I thought I remembered seeing a couple of signs mentioning the internet on my walk last night when I did in fact get lost trying to find a store to buy milk. I saw a gazillion cell phone stores, and even though my English wasn’t quite there yet, I still could recognize ethnic run electronic stores since they all looked the same from the outside. Luckily, all we needed was the internet because my Baba was able to get a line for his phone from the social worker we saw on the second day we were here.
You would have thought that it was me or my brother who was screaming for WiFi, but it was really my Mama. The first thing she wanted when we landed was the password for the WiFi in the Tim Hortons where we were having our first North American meal. She kept pestering my Baba so she could watch her soap operas. I couldn’t imagine getting off a ten plus hour flight and wanting to watch people scream at each other. Samer eats sweets, my Baba smokes and swears, I watch porn, and for my Mama it’s soap operas that release whatever it is she needs in her head to be able to make it through the day .
Baba and I walked up a couple of streets until we found ourselves at this giant opening in the middle of so many huge buildings. Above us, advertisements towered over everyone like giant TVs. It was then that I realised that we were not in our area anymore and the people on the street started to look a bit better. I saw a small Gucci store that had someone in dirty clothes sleeping on the ground in the front by the doors. I had never seen anything like it.
“Yusuf,” said my Baba.
“Forget the internet for a little bit. I want to walk around and explore a little bit. I wanna see more. I miss walking. When we go home, tell mama we couldn’t find anything. We search tomorrow. Is that okay?”
My Baba really needed to go through a day without crying so I agreed. After we explored this big square, we went inside this mall. I couldn’t believe how large it was. I found out later it was called the “Eaton Centre”. It completely gobsmacked us. My Baba and I must have gone into every single store, even the ones meant for women. It was weird but I know for a fact my Baba had a blast inside the Victoria’s Secret, even though we got a lot of looks as we looked at the thongs and bras. It was until the second, after we walked out I understood why we were getting so many looks, so I told him we really can’t go into another store like that. Another highlight was when we went into one of those stores that sold “As Seen On TV” products, and my Dad and I kept taking turns until the store clerk said we had to stop. We both were in awe of everything and anything. The food, the smells, the toys, the laughs, the lights, and the colors.
We got tired of walking around, and my Baba wanted a coffee. We looked for a Tim Horton’s in the mall and we found it. My Baba, after trying their coffee at the airport, fell in love with their coffee along with their donuts. He didn’t know what he wanted, and all he did was tell the worker he wanted a coffee and something sweet to eat along with it. After he got his order, he loved them so much he had the person working at counter write down the name of the items he got:
Medium Double Double
Honey Cruller Donut
From then on, he carried that piece of paper so he would know what to get if he ever came across those giant red letters. And we eventually found it, and I had forgotten he had that paper until we were standing in line when he pulled it out of his wallet, the paper still in front of him as he slurped at his coffee and devoured his donut, part of the glaze sticking to his thick, black moustache.
After an hour or so of people-watching, and as he finished the last of his coffee, he got a call from a number he didn’t recognize. He picked it up and it was my Mama, telling him to get home as fast as he could. We walked through the door and Mama was the first person I saw. I noticed a strange tall figure to my left, but I was too focused on my Mama’s face, and how tired she looked. I never really noticed the bags under her eyes until then. I heard dripping then I felt my feet getting wet as I took off my shoes – there was water all over the floor. I looked at the figure to my left and saw that he had a tool belt around his waist and the logo of the community housing organisation on his upper left chest. My Baba walked over to my Mama.
“What happened?” asked Baba.
“That pipe started leaking and hot water started coming out,” she whispered.
My Baba looked at the pipe. I could understand why Mama hated it, and I understood why she brought it up in the meeting with our caseworker. Safety reasons aside, the thing was such an eyesore. It ran down one part of the ceiling and, in a U shape, went up into the ceiling again a little further away. I know for sure my Mama would refuse to have guests over in the future because of it. It was a big, ugly cylinder covered in brown rust. My Baba walked over to the maintenance man.
“Is everything okay?” he asked. “No problem?”
“There was a small crack in the pipe. It’s good your wife was home. Would have been real bad I tell ya.”
I looked at my Mama and she was staring out the window at another building that looked exactly like ours – copy and paste.
“I sealed it up and put some protection on the outside. You shouldn’t have any more problems,” said the maintenance man. My Baba said goodbye to him as he packed his tools and left. My Mama walked away from the window when he left and got paper towels from the kitchen and started to wipe up the water. I felt awful.
“How did you call me?” my Baba asked.
“The neighbour let me use her phone,” she replied.
My Baba looked around the apartment.
“He’s with the neighbour. She said she would watch him while I sorted all of this out.”
“You let him stay there? What’s the matter with you?”
“What do you want me to do?”
“You let our son stay with a stranger. I ask again, what is the matter with you? Who is she?”
“She was the one that gave us dinner the second night we were here. The blonde one.”
“What’s wrong then?”
“There is something wrong.”
This whole conversation happened while my Mama continued to wipe the floor – the paper towel breaking and ripping towards everything good. Life is a wet paper towel - slowly as we become saturated with the inequities of others, we stain in an attempt to clean them and everything around us; we start to break off and to break away. I felt something coming on. I felt a fight happening soon as some back and forth started to happen, and volumes were being raised. I left the room and started to walk towards where Samer and I slept. I didn’t want to go, but in my Mama's dark eyes told me to go away. The paper in her hand peeled away and finally vanished and ripped to nothing when I heard her stand up.
When I got into the room, that’s when it started. It was about ten years that sat between the first fight I remember to the one going on right now. I thought they were play-fighting the first time because my Baba laughed randomly in between his cursing and screaming. Then I overheard him say to a friend that it was so “he didn’t kill her”. I learned that he has to laugh when he’s angry so he doesn’t destroy anything that breathes around him.
Throughout that day and into the night, the day went without any noise. It was a less than ordinary day. Samer came back from the neighbour. He told me how her house smelt like absolute garbage, but she had a son that was at his Baba’s for a little bit so he got to play his gaming console. Even though he never played one before, he knew exactly what to do since all he really did was watch the gaming YouTubers all day and all night. I admired that about him. I always tended to get jealous of others and if I didn’t have what they had, then I would have such an awful time that I didn’t even want to listen to others talk about what I didn’t have. I wanted to go for a walk to get fresh air, but felt I wasn’t even deserving of anything fresh at this point. I woke up in the morning to Fairuz’s voice booming from the living room. I got up in nothing but boxers and walked over to the sound and found my Baba standing, staring at his cracked phone that was sitting on the ground.
“What’s going on?” I asked him
“I got internet. Cheap plan. We only have so many gigs per month but we make it work until me or you find work and we can get more.”
“Why didn’t you wait until I got up?”
“I wanted to surprise everyone.”
I heard the doors opening behind me. My Mama walked into the living room. Followed by Samer. She stood smiling at the phone on the ground. Then she saw the small black router sitting in the corner of the room and I thought I saw her dark eyes shine a little bit, just a little bit. My Baba sat down by his phone, then my Mama, then my brother, then me. We sat in our pajamas, with nothing to do but sit in this apartment on the ground, and listen to Fairuz while another day started.
A word from the author: Although I have lived in Canada for all my life, my family and I are friends with fellow Syrians who came to Canada as refugees. Speaking to them and some of the troubles they face here, I got the idea to write this story about a fictional Syrian refugee family.