The X Page: A Storytelling Workshop


Pardon My French

by Hiba ElMiari


This story is inherently dedicated to my father. Also, to my dear friend Priscilla Jamal who encouraged me to participate in this workshop. Priscilla, everytime I write, I am one hundred percent sure that you will be reading.


I could barely catch my breath. Between the uncontrollable laughter and the quirky jerks, my attempts at efficient breathing were futile. 

Blankets with animal and floral prints were scattered all over the place in the most unflattering arrangement. Every item of our living room was placed where it was not supposed to be. With no regard to interior design or our mom’s efforts in tidying up the house, we had declared our living room a blanket fort.

My siblings and I were creating a joyous chaos and a mother’s nightmare way past our bedtime. Our exuberance concealed the noise of the howling wind, angrily slamming at our bedroom windows. We felt rebellious and unbothered. 

Suddenly, we heard footsteps. 

As they were approaching, we retreated to our fort and hid under the zebra blanket. The roars of the wind outside grew louder, delighted it seemed at the prospect of us getting in trouble. 

Silent with anticipation, patient like soldiers in the face of an impending doom, we waited. 

It was Dad. 

As he was sweeping the living room with his eyes, I could hear my heart beating in my ear drums. Finally, his eyes landed on us with a decisive stare. 

After a second that felt like an eternity, he smiled. 

Then, we knew he was joining us against the unjust bedtime curfews. In that moment, the warmth stopped coming from the propane heater and started radiating from his face. 

Baba embraced me and seated me on his lap. Quickly, my siblings deployed themselves in front of us. 

Whatever Baba was saying was making us burst into laughter. One of my brothers was laughing so much he started clapping his hands like a seal.

My dad is not a comedian. I do not think I have ever heard him tell a joke. 

We were laughing because Baba was speaking French to us, a language that was so foreign to our ears. 

Why would French be funny? It is not. In fact, it is a very sexy language. It is the language of love. We did not know that of course; we were still incredibly young. 

For us, the language of love was ice cream instead of vegetables or, of course, staying up past our bedtime. I think our laughter was that which accompanies wonder and awe. We saw a side of our father that we had not seen before and it tickled our souls. 

What I feel for my father is a raw, unfiltered, and aggressive form of love that can easily overwhelm me when I speak of it. My soul is intertwined with his. Some time ago, my dad and I had a barren disagreement. It was the first and last disagreement I would ever allow myself to be in with him. I was sobbing when he walked into my room, sat at the edge of my bed, pointed at his heart with tears in his eyes and said: “Come, cry here.”

A couple of months ago, this heart that has hosted me between its chambers for 24 years was tired and Baba had to undergo open-heart surgery. When I spoke with the surgeon, I warned him that he will be responsible for two hearts in the OR; that I would become homeless if anything went wrong. 

Anyway, the wind kept howling at our windows, demanding to be let in. 

I asked Baba to say more things in French. Willingly yielding to my nagging, Baba said: “vous etes ma reine”. “You are my queen.”

I felt the blood rushing into my cheeks, so I buried my face in his neck. 

There, in the stubbles of his beard, my memory ends. 

Today, I am learning French. I called my dad and started parroting some phrases I had practised. 

“Salut, Je m’appelle Hiba. Je suis Palestinianne. Je travaille en Canada et Jabite a Waterloo.” 

On that phone call, my dad started laughing. He commented on my accent and he said that he already knew that my name is Hiba and that I live in Canada. 

So, I said, “Tu es mon roi.” You are my king.