CHARNEL RIZK | REGULARS
I have been here.
“Sheli sensli min rabitik, bet zammir el bab,” my father says to me in Arabic. Take your necklace off, it will beep. I remove my necklace from which a gold cross hangs and place it on the tray in front of me. The room is dull, the artificial lighting is gloomy. Walking through the security scanners I hold a bag of falafel rolls, which consumes the smell of the room. A sense of dread overcomes me, I've been here too many times.
I follow my father through the corridor but I know this route well, I can navigate the building on my own. I know every field and court, every hallway and corner, every restricted and non-restricted area. For one year, I have been visiting. The guards offer me their pitiful smiles, I am the source of communication between them and my father.
Room 173, there he is.
My uncle, my godfather, who has lived with us my whole life. Seated on a bed, dressed in a maroon track-suit uniform. He is now behind bars. In a place they call a “detention centre.” When he sees us, he smiles, always. This creates a glimmer of hope, how he survives.
At 10-years-old, I did not understand. But I visited every-day because where I’m from, family is important.
I wonder, reader, do you know about this centre which lies just off Villawood road? It’s quite hidden, it’s quite evil.
In the waiting room is where I spent most of my time, doing homework, eating falafel, and celebrating Easter. Visiting hours opened at 5:00pm every day and so my parents ensured that every day we arrived at 4:30pm.
But reader, life goes on. The system wins, my uncle gets deported and I continue growing. And if you must know, till this day, I cannot drive on Villawood road. Eat at Villawood McDonalds. Or think of Villawood.
Don’t worry, I did not spend all of my childhood in the waiting room. I also played with my cousins at the park. We swung on swing sets, flew on flying foxes and, oh yes, got told to “Go back to where you came from!” by a cruel lady. Don’t worry, we continued playing.
Reader, I could tell you about robberies and violence, racism and inequality, but that is continuous and you’d keep wondering when does it end?
At 16-years-old, I decided I wanted to be a performer. I wanted to sing and act. But I felt stuck. You see Merrylands is where I grew up, Merrylands is where I studied, Merrylands is where I worked.
But I never knew of any artist from Merrylands. Do you?
Until one day I realised, I am the artist from Merrylands. Who has seen what I have seen? Who has felt what I have felt?
At 21-years-old, I am here to tell you that I am here, I have always been here. In Merrylands I still reside. On hope, is how I survive.