“Up you go handsome, watch your feet!”
Nazanine lifts her squirming four year old into a grocery cart and pushes it warily into the store. Weaving to the left and then to the right. Avoiding the other shoppers. The store is busy. Filled with hurrying, impatient people. The lights are bright, and the merchandise shiny. Abdullah smiles delightedly and babbles away in her ear, reminding her of what he likes, and what he wants to buy. Nazanine smiles back and keeps walking.
I wonder how long it’s going to take Waseem to bring Ammi and the kids in? The parking lot is packed. What if he doesn’t find parking? Was it a good idea to shop at this time?
“Pasta! I want bow-ties and rainbows!” Abdullah orders it all delightedly. He loves to grocery shop. Nazanine stops the cart and obliges her youngest as he chooses what pasta he would like to eat this week. The many and varying multitudes of pasta are stacked one over the other, towering over Nazanine’s small frame and her even smaller child. The grocery cart would be filled with these multitudes if Abdullah had his way. He loves pasta. Abdullah reaches over, and Nazanine pushes him forward. Heading for the produce.
Maybe I should have brought Hamza and Hadiyah into the grocery store. Kept them with me. Or, maybe I should have just kept them, at home, with me.
As she maneuvers the cart, Nazanine glances towards the store entrance, repeatedly. The brightly lit, big-box store yells its name at her. The branding is everywhere. Naz searches past it at the faces of the entering customers. Looks for Waseem’s familiar face. Her husband should have parked the car by now.
Green apples, avocados, bananas…
To distract herself from her worry, Nazanine mentally repeats what she needs as she approaches the produce. The colourful displays attract Abdullah. He doesn’t need any distracting. He’s in his favourite place. He drinks it all in. Reds, and oranges, and greens, and yellows. He laughs and does not stop talking. Nazanine smiles absently at her baby. No, her big boy, as she swipes at a stray, lock of hair that keeps slipping out of her hijab. She moves forward through the rainbow. Her son chattering in her ear.
Abdullah reaches over and tugs at his mother’s headscarf as she looks for the biggest, brightest, greenest apples. Her oldest, Hamza hates fruits and vegetables. Finally he has found a fruit he likes, and so Nazanine is determined to pick the best ones for him.
Abdullah pulls on his mother’s hijab once again, more insistently this time. “Oranges?” He smiles into his mother’s face and pulls it closer to his. “Nope, sorry buddy. You don’t eat them. You only squish them. Not this time. We’re getting bananas remember?”
“But I like squishing! Okay, Mama,” he says resignedly, “I like bananas too.”
“Good boy. Just don’t squish them.” Nazanine pushes at the pesky hair again with one hand, and bops her boy’s cheek with the other. She begins to move forward again. Abdullah giggles and bops back.
We need bagels. Where are they? Where is Waseem? Did something happen?
As Nazanine begins to walk towards the bread aisle, a pair of arms lock themselves around her waist, blocking her movement. Her body stiffens. Then, she feels a familiar face press itself into her stomach.
“I found you Mama!” It is Hadiyah. Nazanine feels herself soften. Her little girl beams up at her, excited.
Easy Naz. They’re here. Finally. Now we can finish up, and go home.
“How did you find me sweetheart? I thought you guys were lost! What took so long?” Naz runs her hand along her daughter’s silky, black hair. Beams back at her middle child. Looks expectantly at her first, her Hamza.
“Papa wanted to find a spot closest to the store, so Daddie wouldn’t have to walk so far.” Hamza, her ever serious, ever curious nine year old, announces.
“I held Daddie’s hand! I did!” Her grandmother is her favourite person in the whole world, and, Hadiyah hates being left out of any conversation her big brother is in. She can do anything he can. Her mama tells her that. All the time. And because her mother says so. She knows she can.
“Good girl!” Nazanine gushes. Hadiyah grins and looks behind her mother. Daddie, her grandmother, is lumbering slowly towards them. She watches as her Daddie’s blue, robe-like abaya billows out around her as she walks. Hadiyah thinks she looks majestic.
Naz shifts her gaze from her daughter to Ammi. She sees that her mother-in-law’s big, brown eyes are laughing as she looks adoringly at her son with whom she has entered the store. Naz knows that, under the niqab covering the lower half of her face, Ammi is smiling. Naz knows to look for the faint outline. She can see the smile. Knows its there, even if others won’t see it. Ammi enjoys family outings. Even, if it is a short trip to the grocery store, like today.
“What’s left on the list Nazanine?” Waseem inquires, as he and his mother stroll to where his wife and three children stand. He glances around at the columns of cereal boxes that surround his family. The choices; the sizes, the flavours, seemingly endless. His eyes, so similar to his mother’s, dance with mischief above his beard. He smiles at his wife and Abdullah, who is pointing determinedly at an unappetizing box of plain oatmeal. He wants his mother to buy it. All of it. Naz smiles back. She knows parking was just an excuse. Waseem wanted to take as long as he could so he wouldn’t have to deal with Abdullah. The little grocery general has very authoritarian demands. Culinary demands that must be obeyed.
“Yoghurt tubes.” Hamza declares solemnly, as he examines the contents of the grocery cart. That is the only thing left on the list. Abdullah nods his approval and points imperiously to where he can see the milk. He bounces up and down in the trolley. He knows where to go. Off the family heads to the dairy section. As they walk, they see that the line up to pay, is long. Very long. Naz looks around for the shortest line. There is none.
Great. Good luck waiting with the kids in that line up!
The last of the food items are selected and dropped into the cart. The family heads to the line up. There is no room to walk. Naz has to ask more than one person for room to get her cart into a place in line. Some happily oblige, others scowl. Naz resists the urge to scowl back. She says her excuses me’s and pardon me’s. She wants to scowl. She wants to go home. She smiles and says thank you instead.
Easy Naz. Everyone is tired. We all want to finish up and go home. I wish the line would move faster! I just want to go home.
In the line up, the kids begin to argue over who will take what, for lunch tomorrow. Ammi and Waseem shush them. Naz tries to change the subject. She looks around for something to distract her children with.
Magazines, chocolates, little toys...Toys? Shall I bribe them? No. I hate doing that. Besides, there’s nothing here that we don’t have at home.
Naz’s gaze lands on a tall man in a red baseball cap in the line next to hers. He looks annoyed at something. He also looks vaguely familiar. He appears to be South Asian, like her. Where has she seen him before?
Get a life Nosy Naz, you don’t know every brown person you meet...Still...Do I know him?
As Naz tries to place the familiar face, she sees that he is speaking to the woman in front of him. She loads her groceries onto the conveyor belt, pushes at her hair impatiently, and snaps something back at the man. Just a minute ago, the same woman had given her and her family room to squeeze past her. She had moved her overly full cart forward those few inches that they needed. She didn’t look happy then, she looks angry now.
As she watches them, Naz begins to catch snippets of the exchange.
“Why don’t you leave them alone? They’re not bothering you...”
“People like that. We’ve banned them...”
Amidst the children’s squabbling voices behind her, Naz’s attention shifts. Her gaze sharpens. Her ears strain to hear every word. Her heart begins to beat, faster and faster. Louder and louder.
“ISIS. Terrorists. 9/11.”
Naz’s heart is thundering in her ears now. She struggles to breathe. Her vision starts to go grayer and grayer as she hears each word. Her breath catches, gets stuck in her chest, as she hears each word.
Not again. Not now. Not in front of my children. I can’t breathe. I need to take them home!
Naz makes eye contact with the man. “Hum ko bol rahi hay?” She asks it in Urdu. Hoping he speaks it. Says it directly to him, so she won’t have to engage the woman. She hopes he will understand her.
“Hum ko bol rahi hay?” Is she speaking about us?
“Wow, so you’re all together huh? No wonder you’re defending this scum. Extremists.”
Easy Naz! Stay calm! Just stay calm. Just get home.
“Actually, the fastest growing number of extremists in North America are white, neo-nazis. Ma’am. We’re just ordinary people, doing our groceries. Ma’am.” She knows she sounds condescending. So Naz struggles to keep her composure, to keep her voice from breaking. Her children are here! She tries, but her voice rises, louder and louder with each word. She can’t help it. Her children are here. Her anger threatens to overpower her. Spill out of her.
Calm down Naz. Your children are here. Calm down! Oh, my Lord, please let us get out of here. Please, let us get home.
The kind stranger locks eyes with Nazanine. Pleading with her. Hoping she’ll understand. He shakes his head. He’s protecting them. He understands them. He raises one hand, in a peaceful manner, with the other, he calmly places a loaf of bread onto the conveyor.
“Actually, I don’t know her. We just happen to understand each other’s mother tongue.”
“We speak English around here.” Every word she says, accompanied with an angry hand gesture, the woman is red in the face. She narrows her eyes at Naz’s family. Her gaze lingers the longest on Ammi. On her niqab. The woman’s pale, blue eyes are like slits through which she stares, and stares. Her accusatory eyes, bore holes into Naz.
She’ll scare the kids. How dare she! Stay calm. You’ll scare the kids. We should have stayed home.
Naz opens her mouth. Ready to respond. Then, there’s a warm hand on her. Stopping her. Its Ammi. The faint outline of her mouth, under the material covering it, is hard, no longer soft and smiling.
“No. Naz. Leave her be. She’s not right.” Ammi’s voice is low, her Urdu melodious and comforting. Her hand caresses Naz’s arm. Her big, brown eyes, caress Naz’s face with their dismayed, yet, loving gaze.
Naz takes a deep breath and looks at her husband and children. Waseem, busy with the children up until his wife’s outburst, is confused. His eyes, search Naz’s. Questioning. He did not hear what Naz heard. Her children are scared. All they see is their mother’s, distraught face.
“Yeah, go back to where you came from.”
We’re from nowhere, but here! This is our home! Here!
Naz whips around, fists clenched, seeing red. Again, Ammi holds her back. Holds her, despite knowing that the woman’s angry outburst was likely triggered by the sight of her own niqab. Her Ammi, her mother-in-law holds her back. Her eyes plead with Nazanine, begging her to let it go. Telling her it’s not worth it.
I need to take Ammi home. I need to take my children home.
“Mama?” Naz looks down as Hadiyah whimpers. Her eyes are full of tears. Ready to spill over. Hamza looks up at his mother. His eyes are both confused and angrily aware. He will remember this. Only her baby is blissfully unaware of what is unfolding before them. Abdullah is busy, attempting to get his dad’s cell phone out of his pocket. He just wants to play.
I just want to pay for our groceries. I just want to go home. I’m so tired. I just want to take my babies, and go home. My home. My world.
“Waseem? Can you please take the kids and Ammi to the car? I’m going to speak to management.” Naz’s voice is shrill, but her words are deliberate as she speaks to her husband.
I don’t want my babies to see or hear anymore. They don’t deserve this treatment. My family doesn’t deserve this!
Naz watches as her family, her whole world, leaves the building. Hamza’s face stays with her the longest. He cranes his neck backward to keep his gaze locked on his mother. He doesn’t want to leave her. He knows something is very wrong; knows this has happened before; knows this will happen again.
“Is there a problem here?” Naz turns at the determined voice of authority just in time to see the angry woman hurrying out of the store. She gestures one last time to Naz. Threatening. Eyes raging.
What did we ever do to you? Who are you? Why are you so angry? I feel so sorry for you. I’m glad you’re going home.
Naz turns to the man. Sees his name badge, the word “MANAGER” printed on it. Smiles sadly.
“The problem just left the store, sir. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I want to go home.”
This short story was inspired by true events endured by the author and her family, at a grocery store in Montreal, in August 2017.
To write creatively is to mediate a debate between dream and reality. An article of writing is a hypothetical assessment of communication amongst this precocious species of ours, which evolves on the fuel of words. Words beget situations, which in turn beget circumstances, which in turn begets a trial-and-error scenario from which we construct the future. To read a poem or novel, or to watch a play or opera, is to tap into a parallel universe that distorts the human condition into entertainment, while at the very same time shaping it into a kind of compass on which the individual relies to navigate the forestry of outside voices that he or she is compelled to process and evaluate, practically in perpetuity. The first poem I ever wrote in artistic and communicative earnest is nearing its thirtieth anniversary. I called it “A Coming-Out Party,” and ironically, revealed its existence to no one for at least two years after its composition. It’s a not-uncommon gesture for someone who has penned their first piece of creative writing. In twenty lines, I felt I had said more than I had ever said in the combined duration of years that preceded it. One’s first piece of writing is a mission statement, a proclamation of a writer’s perception of the truth. The revelation of a perceived truth can be a daunting act, but when we have settled on a truth that we are at peace with, we are all granted access to the world of writing.
appear as if they are all
telling a profound decoration
sewn into silk long gowns
with jewels suggesting happiness,
all erasing the simple pleasures
in a wash for the family,
a career woman's daily journey
to work- work she will never own,
and maybe he, classified simple,
a carpenter in dress
watches as women surround a man,
women perfumed to elegantly pleasure
the senses of alluring desire,
watches quietly dying
as a man who could have been him,
the same high cheek bones,
the same sway of maleness,
he goes back to check his pay packet
and it's already emptied by a wife
spending too much and loving too little,
is it that we do nothing but,
draw a picture of comparison
to an ideal life,
perhaps a plan,
a grand stage of fraudulent lies
given to all of us whether or not
we have our 15 minutes of fame like Andy Warhol said,
then we sleep,
sleep into what was meant as heaven for some and hell for another,
we like fabric as one
as the stages are set and the actors prepare for
their final acts.
By Melinda Cochrane
I love books. I don't remember having to learn to read. My earliest memories are of toting a ratty book of fairytales instead of a teddy bear, looking at pictures of a boy and 'Run, Spot, run!,' and of my 2nd grade teacher's fancy alphabet around the room. I have a warm feeling from those memories, the words and letters and shapes all familiar and decipherable rather than threatening. I was the kid who had her nose buried in a book all the time, gave absent 'uhuh's and got into trouble later for not having heard a word of what she'd agreed to, and, when books were banned at breakfast, read cereal boxes assiduously. The written word was comforting.
It was also an escape. When I felt bad, I could immerse myself in some fantasy land with a plucky heroine or an intrepid band of adventurers facing shattering challenges. I would find an author I liked and read everything I could from them (usually popular books. I didn't do heavy-hitting books that were good for me. Black Beauty was traumatizing... Suffice it to say that I liked happy endings and only bad guys were allowed to die). A bit before I hit puberty, my sister's romance novels became the thing. I was too shy to borrow them from the library myself, so found them wherever my sister hid them, finished them and put them back - I hoped before she'd notice, but she clearly knew since the hiding place kept changing and her scowl didn't. The rather warped view those gave of the Great Mysteries of Sex and Relationships still confound my husband today.
I'm confounded too; in fact, both of us are, over a different matter. It has to do with a profound sense that there is something broken, something fundamentally not right about where we are as a society. Maybe even as a species. Analysts talk about the erosion of civility, of political disillusionment and disenfranchisement, of overwhelming debts and job insecurity, of a poisoned atmosphere and accelerating extinctions. It's hard to hear these things, their leaden weight, their inexorable progress. In a complex interwoven world, amid histories of discord, war, and distrust, we have neither the political will nor the requisite knowledge to change our path. There is a sense that we are in over our heads, and our children will face an uglier world than the one we knew.
I've turned to books again, partially for escape, but also for perspective. Through the grand swathe of history, there have always been periods of rise and decline. While we will never experience the every day lives of our ancestors, we still have their stories. Their words, their heros imagined or real, their humour and frustrations, have waited patiently through the ages to show themselves to us, in our time and space, and beyond. Even in this, humanity's most dizzying period of technological change and mobility, we are connected to all those who have read these same rhythmic turns of phrase, these ribald jokes, those heartfelt verses. And we have a chance to write words of our own, joining them to the stream of experiences and images that wend their way into the unknown.
The future may be scary, but we won't be alone.
About the author
Sarah Kamal dabbles in various things and is active in her community on the outskirts of Montreal, Canada. She feeds neighbourhood kids and gets a kick out of watching her son grow - although she has moments of terror when she reflects on her own terrible attitude as a teen (sorry, Mom!). Her son will hit puberty in 5 years; Sarah has no doubt grandma will relish payback time.
Love and Hate: My Identity as a Muslim Woman
A Spoken Word Piece by Nadia Naqvi
I hate being stared at.
But, I love being smiled back at,
When I smile in the face of my transgressor,
And they realise their mistake.
I hate feeling oppressed,
By non-Muslim standards and opinions of me.
But, I love being liberated,
By my own, Muslim standards.
My own opinion,
And my own viewpoint,
On my own life.
I hate being insulted,
For my choices.
But, I love being celebrated,
For my choices.
Because I know,
My own choice,
Is my own.
I hate being ignored.
Or, my voice silenced.
But, I love using any opportunity,
To use my voice.
Breaking down barriers,
Using my own voice.
I hate being considered,
But, I love knowing that I am not.
And proving that I am not,
Is in fact showing my superiority,
That lies in my inner strength.
I hate seeing surprise on people’s faces,
When I talk, “Such good English or French”.
But, I love taking that surprise,
And turning it into delight.
I’m an interesting girl.
I hate not being given opportunity.
But, I love taking any opportunity,
Knowing that it was given to me for a reason,
And using it for good.
I hate being hated,
But I love watching hate melt away,
I hate having to prove myself,
Over, and over, and over again.
But, I love, proving myself,
Over, and over, and over again.
Knowing that I will be able to.
Because my intention is right,
And right is by my side.
I hate knowing it may never change.
But, I love knowing,
That it will change.
Be it not for me,
But for the scores of Muslim women,
Who will come after me.
I love knowing,
That I can make it change.
Not for myself.
But at the very least,
And at the very most,
For my own daughter.
About the Author
Nadia Naqvi was born and raised in Montreal to Pakistani immigrants. She is a practicing Muslim, a mom of three young children and, a high school science teacher. Nadia is a member of the Montreal branch representing the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM). She also sits on many school and board level committees as a teacher. She likes to speak and write her opinion on certain issues, hoping to help those in need, speak out against injustice, all so that it can bring change for future Muslims in Canada.
One of the first things I talk about in my workshops for new writers is identifying your purpose for writing. A lot of people begin by writing the story then almost as a side note discover what it is they want to do or say with their words. I've come to realize through my journey that it is the purpose your words serve to the world that matters and it should be your starting point. Making a difference with writing has become my purpose. Now, when I start a new book, my first thoughts are to create a positive outcome for the reader.
Here are 5 suggestions to help you identify your purpose
1. Identify the universalities in your messages
2. Be clear about who you are writing for- identify your audience
3. Understand that it may help and it may not- but you are trying to do something positive with words
4. Make sure you know who you are writing for- if it is yourself then that is okay too, make sure you keep perspective always.
5. A story or poem should move your reader, and by moving them you can make them think
I hope this helped you! Remember to have fun writing and to make sure your words matter.
Melinda Cochrane International is happy to announce another writer to the world of books. Chelsea Moran is a dynamic and authentic artist who offers a new voice in poetry. Her poetic form is quite interesting. Her book One was originally written on a typewriter. Her old world meets new world approach led to a collection of poetry that you will want to buy. We have also republished Steven Fortune who's book once again speaks to his talent. Sentimental Drift is a beautiful written montage of imagery. Also new to the company is Lindsay Waldron. Her book speaks to the strength of overcoming challenge and the beauty within the world at the same time. Stop by our store to have a look at all our books.
Melinda Cochrane International is accepting blog posts about writing and the purpose you have in writing your story. It can have any theme, but must be relevant to writing with purpose. Posts must be no more than 250 words, well edited with a picture of yourself and bio of your work.
Submit through the contact form on this site. Waiting time to hear back will take no longer than one to two months and depends on the number of submissions. However, you may hear back earlier! Good luck and make sure you edit well- unedited work will be refused.