by filiz tamer
I am at the airport in Toronto, but I am not arriving as I did four years ago from Turkey, but leaving. I feel my father’s hand, clammy and tight as he leads me through the people.
My mother is behind us with a nervous smile reminding me that she has been looking forward to this trip for four long years. She has spent the better part of the week packing and rapidly talking over the phone to my grandma and uncle. Her mood can’t be faltered these days.
The last time we were in Turkey was four years ago. That’s how long it takes to save up money for me and my mom to travel across the world to visit the rest of our family. Canada is home but it’s just the three of us on this side of the world. It’s too expensive for my father to go with us this time around so once again we leave him behind.
The wheels of the suitcases are surprisingly comforting; they sound like the familiar hum of the machines in my dad’s lab. As a treat, sometimes he lets me accompany him to his office. I spend hours wheeling around on a swivel chair, staring at a Titanic movie poster in the common room and playing Tetris on his computer while he tends to petri dishes and vials full of concoctions of carefully measured growing organisms with names I can’t pronounce. Now, I picture him in the lab alone, and coming home to an empty, dark apartment.
My daydream is interrupted as we approach a counter. The suitcases have stopped rolling and now all of a sudden it feels as though there are hundreds of them swarming around me like a flock of black birds. We start to check in our bags. A lady with bright red lipstick puts stickers on them and I watch the suitcases roll away. She gives me a small smile as she notices me staring at her. I’m reminded of my grandmother who never leaves the house without applying lipstick. A sudden jolt of excitement rushes through me I imagine myself sitting quietly on her bed tomorrow as I watch her carefully apply her lipstick in her poorly lit bedroom. She would always let me dab a touch of it on to my own lips if no one else is around.
As soon as the suitcases disappear off the conveyor belts my parents start frantically looking at signs to figure out where to go. We speed walk until I hear our gate being called and my parents come to a stop. I’ve been dreading this moment and I feel my throat start to burn as I try and hold back my tears. My father finally lets go of my hand and bends down to my height. In his hands is a small rectangular box. He opens it carefully and shows me a thin yellow gold bracelet that’s engraved with the words “I love you.” I look at the bracelet carefully, how much did this cost?
Images of my dad in the lab late at night and my mom looking exhausted after coming home from a long shift overwhelm me.
How much did this cost?
He asks me if I like it. I look up because I try not to cry. What can I bring him back from Turkey, I wonder? Certainly not any pictures. He told me once he doesn’t like old photographs because he doesn’t like feeling nostalgic.
He looks ahead to the gate. I look up again still trying not to cry and this time I notice that there are birds inside the airport, living near the bright fluorescent lights. I say yes and hug him one last time before we cross the gate. I try to think about the birds. They are free to stay or go as they please. I envy them.
Cover image created by Zehra Nawab. Illustrated portrait by Sam Trieu.
Filiz was born in Ankara, Turkey and moved to Waterloo with her parents in the mid-90s. After living in many different cities she returned to Waterloo to do her master’s and decided to stay after meeting her husband. They now live in downtown Kitchener and have a dog and a very mischievous cat.