I was 7. I still had trouble pronouncing words like “shame”, but my ESL class transferred me to the normal English grade 3 class. “Socializing is important, Arinushka,” my mother said as she held my hand on our walk back from Three Valleys Public School. Tears cut through my sand-covered face. At recess I would sit near the wall and draw.
I joined Model Car Builders club because Mr. Allen, my grade 3 teacher, was the supervisor for it. He really liked putting together old cars with fancy colours. After school on Wednesdays I would sit and glue little plastic pieces together until it resembled a vehicle. He always said my car looked the best. I liked Mr. Allen, he had a nice big beard and a round belly to match.
He was my very own Father Christmas.
I painted my car red because I had seen dad look at pictures of cars and always like the red ones. When I brought it home to show him, he put it up on the shelf in my room. For Christmas, he got me a model car set, which we put together after homework in the evenings. His hands were gritty and had dirt in the cracks. He had lots of education but none in Canada, so he fixed vacuum cleaners.
When my 8th birthday came around I wanted to have a birthday party. That’s what everyone did in Canada. I wanted to buy party favours and chips and pop and decorate the apartment.
“We don’t have money for that right now, Arishka. Don’t worry, I will make the apartment look nice,” my mom said, trying to calm me. I didn’t want to be a loser kid with the lame party. I went to a Canadian girls’ party a while ago and the whole place looked like a fantasy land.
I invited 8 kids from my class, and the Russian girl from the building that I played with. My mom served orange slices and put paper cut outs on the walls. She didn’t know what kind of music to play so she put on the radio.
The paper cut outs weren’t shiny or colourful, and the orange slices were healthy. There were no chips or pop. There was no pizza. Just home-cooked food and stupid party games that she had trouble explaining.
I hated her. I feigned a stomach-ache and went to the bathroom. I stayed there until the end of the party.
My mom said “good-bye” and “thank you” to everyone, with her thick Russian accent. I turned off the light in the bathroom and felt sick.
When I came out my mother asked me if I felt okay, and whether I wanted to open my gifts.
I told her I was sick to my stomach.
That night, as I lay hating the white-walled apartment and my dad’s gritty hands, I heard my mom taking deep breaths and murmuring in my parents bedroom.