SOFIA IHSAN | FEATURES
Melting ice cream, scattered snack packets and the deafening laughter and chatter drowns the ticking of the clock. She eyes towards the packed suitcases and then to the sleepy eyes and warm smiles in front of her. A yearning in her heart arises, an ache she had been suppressing, tears that she had been controlling. “I don’t wanna go…” she says in a meek, almost inaudible voice. They all stop and look at her, as if waiting for her to say this very sentence. As if even through all the noise, they were listening for her silence, waiting for her to form words. Nobody responds. Mourning lingers in the air. She stands up and paces to and fro, almost wanting the room to be bigger than what it is so the space could engulf all that she feels. Visibly frazzled and exhausted, she plonks herself down on a chair and starts to sob uncontrollably.
“You… you… okay? You alright?” One of them asks her, placing a gentle palm on her heaving shoulder. She lifts her head up, angered black eyes, moist with tears, boring into their helpless souls.
“It’s time,” she says and drags a suitcase out of the room with her. The rest of them follow with her luggage to the car. Formalities of hugs and good-byes are exchanged with some embraces lasting too long for oxygen to remain. She drives off with her father, taking in all the scenes that the dark night and her teary-blurred eyes allow her to.
They will all leave too. They have to. This soil, this land, this country never promised us a forever. That is the destiny of the persecuted. The need for migration claws up to us and digs us off our roots and plants us into new soil, foreign soil that bears no familiarity, just a hope of survival.
It has been eight years. That night still haunts me and not in a 2:00 am nightmare kind of way. Memories creep up on me in the middle of a busy afternoon when I am intently listening to Mr Shaun Wilson’s lecture podcast about the social dynamics of inequality.
That night replays in front of my eyes when one of my ‘oblivious from reality,’ naive and privileged students from the school I work at says, “How horrible was World War II. I am glad there are no wars in the world anymore.”
I am drawn to think about it when a fellow university mate from the same ethnic background as myself says he is raised in Australia, when I ask him where he is from. I ask what age he moved here and he replies, “thirteen.” I feel an uninvited gut-wrenching anger and I don’t identify the source immediately. I was thirteen years old when I had to flee to Australia with my family. I was not raised here. I was raised in a place where my mother-tongue was the preferred language and where Eid was a public holiday. But it still remains as difficult a concept to explain to them as it was eight years ago when a friend of my mom asked me why I missed Pakistan.
“That country took away your grand-father. You were in danger there. Our community lives in constant danger there,” she said. Try explaining that to a thirteen year old whose accent was not mocked upon in her native country, who missed the smell of soil when it rained there, who would do anything to have those winters sitting in a quilt with all her cousins laughing at the lamest jokes while eating peanuts.
I try to shake that night away from my mind. The first time I was successful in doing that was during a year eight school formal assembly. Lost in the chorus of ‘Advance Australia Fair’ it occurred to me that I had fallen in love with this country, this new home of mine. That feeling has stayed with me. I have grown to love and respect this land that has given me and my family a new life.
I have done my best to fit in.
Sydney suburbs are awake early morning and bathing in the warmth of a fierce November sun. I catch the 611 bus to my university for a session two exam. Outside the exam room, I exchange casual “good mornings” and “the weather is so hot today” with some of my classmates. One of them responds with “I know, man I wonder how you handle your head-covering in such heat.” I look at her. I don’t see any mocking or racism, just an innocent curious wonderment. I go back to that night. Then I go back to many days and nights back in Pakistan. My family was proud, and my friends had a newfound respect for me when I started wearing a hijab.
I never had to try to fit in. I just did!
Sorrows of that night follow me. Thoughts come and go of what could have happened and what could have been if we didn’t migrate. Would we even have been alive? Would we have been living in hiding? Or would we have thrived and lived normally in between our own people. There is no way to know.
“Distinguish melancholy from sadness… You need to breathe. And you need to be,” Albert Camus states in his autobiography ‘Notebooks’ (1935-1942). I don’t let go of memories, of what was and what could have been, nor I separate myself from the reality of what is and what will be. I bask in the radiant Sydney sun eating a Zooper Dooper viewing its reflection in the water at Parramatta riverside park. I think of melting ice cream, scattered snack packets and deafening laughter and chatter.