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There was a white van outside. Before we took the picture it wasn’t there, I could swear it, but now, there it was. It seemed to have just appeared there, as if our sorrow had conjured its arrival. It was a delivery van, the kind where the back is one big empty space, separated from the front by a wall. There were four of us — my mother and father sat in the front with the driver, while my sister and I sat in the back, alone with our luggage. With hysterical sobs, we all got in, and as the van drove away into the night, I watched my grandfather through the back window. He seemed to have just realized something — perhaps that this was really happening, or that it was a big mistake. He might have realized something was already missing in him, a gaping hole of his identity which depended on his family. I don’t know if it was for him or for us, but he started to run. He ran as fast as he could, desperately waving at the van, screaming at the top of his lungs. He was already old, sick; he had stopped walking me to school. The only time I saw him walk was to the market and back every morning. Still, he ran after us that night, almost certainly for the last time. He was a physical manifestation of our collective grief, running and screaming, demanding to be seen, to be heard. Hope drove the van, drove it away, as far as it could get. Hope would have driven it straight to Canada if it could have. Hope was much louder, more powerful than grandfather — and although he put everything he had into this final holler, the noise of the van drowned him out. It hurts to think about that night and the next few hours, cold and crying in the back of a dark van with my sister. We didn’t say a word to each other. We didn’t console one another. What could we do? We wept. I don’t know what my grandfather was screaming, but he must have been thinking the same thing as everyone else: This better be worth it.
What I know is that packing a decade into a suitcase isn’t easy. What about four decades, a century, a generation? Your luggage becomes all that you can remember. It starts to define you, perhaps not to yourself, but to the world. All that you are is what you left behind and what you left for.
My parents left the home country for hope. Not because they were hopeful, but because they were hopeless. They went in search of hope. They hadn’t felt it, hadn’t even seen it, in a long time. They didn’t know what it looked like at home, and they didn’t know what it might look like in another world. They needed it, though, so what could they do? They took everything they knew about life back home and everything they wanted from our new life in Toronto and fashioned it into something worth hoping for. They imagined something that would make everything worth it. For them, a job, a car, a house; for their children, degrees, titles, proof. They wanted things they could hold — things they could photocopy and send to their parents, things that could be framed and hung-up to decorate the walls of their houses. Immigrant homes are like museums of their children’s accomplishments. Immigrants don’t start over, their children do. This is the burden I started carrying on my first day of grade six, the burden I’ve seen many others carry, too. We packed it in our backpacks in the morning and made sure to bring it back home every night. At school, we remembered it every time our name was called, every time our lunch bag opened and turned noses and friends away. Every time we were singled out, we remembered our mission. Like tiny little secret agents, we had been tasked to infiltrate this foreign place, to operate from within.
Hope is not the one true God; hope is the trickster coyote because hope might never wear the same mask twice. Our world, for us, is only habitable because of hope. To live life hopefully is to be satisfied with a life of not knowing, of working towards a future that is better, even in some small way. To carry hope is to carry fear, disappointment, love, a sense of humour. I know about the importance of hope; I search for it, and I know that hope is a journey. Still, the first step is often taken in the dark.