by James Beattie Morison
© 2009 James Beattie Morison
An opportunity forces an immigrant to Canada to choose between two futures.
Looking out the Window
Shakar tapped his fingers gently on the window. He didn’t pay attention to it. He didn’t even know he was doing it. The warm sunshine fell on his face. Outside his children played in the snow.
Omar rolled a large snowball, building it up with the damp snow. Q’mar copied his older brother with a smaller snowball. Khadija, his daughter seemed to be in charge, as she urged her brothers on. They had a small circle of big snowballs. When he started to watch, Shakar thought they were building a snowman. Now he thought it was a snow fort.
Khadija and Omar laughed as Q’mar fell into the snow. He popped up quickly with a smile on his face. As Khadija danced about, her bright red coat flapped in the air. He remembered that she was the one who complained most about the cold. Now it was a challenge to get her to zip up her coat.
He looked back at the fort. He shuttered as the memories came back.
The Old Fort
Its bright white walls, visible from a distance, seemed to float on a sea of grey sand. The old fort was a relic of colonial times. Once a potent symbol of oppression; some things never change. No longer did soldiers wait inside, just the enemies of the state.
Shakar stood on the cold floor of his cell. His hands reached out to both walls of his cell for support. The thought of lying down was enough to bring back the sensation. He watched the condensation dripping from the ceiling. With each drop, he felt his strength ebbing away. In the darkness of the cell, he felt the weight on him.
His friends had warned him to keep his own council. He couldn’t help it. Not after what he witnessed. He had to say what he said.
Shakar glanced out through the door. Omar sat in some shade by the outer wall and read a book. Just behind him, Q’mar played some game in the sand. At the far end of the yard, Khadija sat quietly on a bench. As he watched, she looked up at her brothers. He shivered slightly.
He turned back to face Nassir. His old friend stood and waited, his eyes pleading. His dark blue suit gave him an unexpected sense of formality. Behind him, the diplomat waited. Young, blonde, and attractive, she seemed out of place. She was formal and official. She wore a muted red suit.
Samirah, his wife, sat quietly on one of the couches. The couch had belonged to his grandfather; another relic from the past. She appeared to be absorbed in her own thoughts, but her eyes were upon him.
Across from him was the empty couch, dark blue satin with gold trimming. It was a gift from a powerful man. A man he now feared. Nassir shifted his weight. He grew impatient.
“We don’t have much time. You must go now.”
Shakar turned away from his friend and looked at the diplomat. “They tell me that the words freeze in the air. How can a man live a country like that?”
“Canada isn’t always that cold.” She smiled. “Well, maybe in Winnipeg.” Her voice turned serious. “You’ll get used to it.”
One of the servants gave him a drink. Shakar sipped it slowly. His brow furrowed. He looked at Samirah.
“It is time to go.” Nassir waved his hand toward the door.
Shakar put his cup on the table and looked down on the floor. He gazed at the carpet. He remembered the times he played on the abstract patterns as a child. His eyes sought out a particular line on the carpet. Every so often, it looped up to form an irregular figure. They were all similar, and unique. He noticed that one looked a little like a maple leaf.
He sat up and motioned to a servant. “Get everyone ready to go.” He looked up at Nassir and smiled. “What choice do I really have?”
Shakar came back to himself. He stood by the window and enjoyed the warmth of the sun on his face. Q’mar lay on the ground as Omar and Khadija covered him with snow. He heard someone cleared their throat and he turned back into the room. Nassir stood in the middle of the room. He still wore his heavy winter coat. He must be hot thought Shakar. Just a few paces behind him stood Ambassador Ya’qub.
He moved out of the sunshine.
“Put on your sweater.”
He smiled at Samirah as he picked up his sweater from his chair and put it on.
“We need you now.” Nassir continued. “Democracy and freedom are with our grasp. As minister you can help them grow strong.”
“We have the power now,” the ambassador quickly added.
Shakar looked at both of them. Then he glanced at the couch. He had offered them a seat when they came in, but they had refused. The ambassador had looked insulted. Shortly after they arrived, he and Samirah had been out for a walk when they saw the couch. Someone left it in a back lane. When they asked if they could take it, the woman had laughed. “Take it if you want it.” It had been difficult to get it home. He repaired the broken leg, while Samirah patched and cleaned the fabric. It was quite late at night before they felt it was good enough for their children.
“Let me think about your offer,” he said as he motioned his guests to the door.
The Warmth of the Kitchen
The children were all in bed. Shakar hoped they were asleep. He and Samirah sat at the kitchen table. He looked over the papers in front of him, mostly bills. He compared the numbers on his calculator against the bank statement.
“Khadija got a B in her math test today.” Samirah stopped to concentrate on her mending for a few seconds, and then continued. “She is much happier now that she has some friends.” Samirah put down Shakar’s good shirt and picked up one of Khadija’s skirts. “Omar’s school is organizing a trip to see the legislature. He so much wants to go.”
Shakar looked back at his papers. “Not this year I’m afraid.” He looked at his wife. “Next year I will have my accreditation. Things will be better after that.”
He leaned back in his chair. Dinner had been over for a while now, but he could still feel the gentle warmth from the oven.
A Walk in the Snow
The snow crunched as he trudged along. It was really too late for him to be up. Tomorrow he had to work. He looked at the snow as it fell. Big fluffy flakes drifted down. It was just as he had imagined snow was like. Under a street light some insects seemed to fly over the ground. It was the shadows of the snowflakes as they fell.
The snow obscured the view and he couldn’t see more than a few metres. The snow muffled the sounds. He couldn’t remember such silence. He found it peaceful. It was as if he was the only person in the world. But, he didn’t feel lonely.
His home came into sight through the snow. He stopped to look at it. He caught glimpses of the warm glow from inside through small gaps in the closed curtains.
The snow fort slowly disappeared under the fallen snow. He stepped into the centre. He reached out his arms as if to touch the walls. He found no support there, but he did find freedom.