A Canvas Rug in a Family Basement

Iman MonnooNovember 15, 2022CitizenshipFiction

“Lightning horrifies. And he hates himself for it — regrets the barrage of destruction unleashed in fits of unrestrained fury, mosaics of scars left on people’s exposed skin and the ground’s shock over its rude intrusions. But when a storm comes from afar, it is the lightning we watch. In his rage, the darkness shies away and we can finally breathe again.” - Mama, circa 2015

Dear Diary,

Rahim is turning seven years old tomorrow! The whole house is in an uproar with the preparations and Apa1 is even bringing us special hazelnuts to make Mama’s famous toasted hazelnut pie (much better than pecan pie, if I do say so myself).

To say we are all excited would be an understatement — even Mr. and Mrs. Roberts from the first floor are bringing us balloons to decorate the basement! They said it would “scare the bleakness clean away from the room,” whatever that means.

Too bad we couldn’t be with Dadi and Dada2 this year: I know they would have wanted to see the new house and grace it with all their misgivings as would have been the customary housewarming present back home. They would wrap us in hugs that would squash the air out of our lungs and whisper prayers into our hair — God, I miss them.

This is no time to be sad, though. Mama said we need to stay in high spirits to make the party as normal as possible. After all, if Rahim can’t be with all his friends this birthday, his family should at least try to make the day special (don’t tell her I’m banking on the pie to be the saving grace).

Oh, Apa is calling me to clean up the fallen paint from behind the cooler now. Until next time!

May 2, 2016

Dear Diary,

I have to write using a candle in the cupboard because Mama told us not to turn the lights on today. Some people are visiting the Roberts upstairs and we “dare not make a peep” according to her. It’s alright, though — I have headphones and get to listen to the new Waterparks album without Rahim constantly bombarding me with an array of random questions.

Speaking of which! I forgot to tell you about how the birthday party went — unfortunately, we couldn’t sing “Happy birthday to you! Happy birthday to you!” at the top of our lungs like we always used to do, because Papa said it would be too dangerous (I still whispered it in Rahim’s ear though — look at me being a rebel!).

In other news, Mrs. Roberts wants Mama to work full time for her instead of part-time as she had been before. She would get to meet some of Mrs. Roberts’ colleagues and even speed up our green card acquisition if she made a good impression. I think it’s great news, but Mama looked skeptical; apparently, something felt “off” about the offer. Haha, see what I did there? . . . Maybe it’s not such a good time for a joke after all. I think Apa would agree with me on that.

I suppose I’ll end things there for today. That last line really depressed me.

May 5, 2016

Dear Diary,

We finally found a new home for the old rug! You remember the one I’m talking about, right? Scratched from Spot’s overgrown nails back when we couldn’t hold him down long enough to cut them, faded from its original mahogany to this ugly canvas hue, and the only piece of furniture we made sure to bring with us from back home. At long last, Apa’s suggestion to put it in front of our mattress was accepted (and to her great delight, too! Now she won’t be shoved off our single-sized mattress onto the cold concrete every night when Mama, Papa, Rahim, and I can’t maintain our huddled sleeping positions any longer). You would think they would have settled on such a decision sooner, but because this was the only item of any significance we had brought with us, Mama and Papa wanted to make sure it was the right choice.

I know you’re thinking this wasn’t the grand house in Connecticut we were envisioning, ornate and grand just like Dada told us it would be, but the rug really brought the room to life and, as Apa always says, at least things are better than they were in Kashmir.

Papa told me something really interesting last night that I’d like to leave you with for today: “God created the world to test us and our job is to kindle the flames of our faith even when there aren’t enough sparks to start a fire.” He thinks God allowed us to bring our rug with us to make our wait in this home easier. Whatever the case is, I’ll be taking this as a sign that things will get better soon.

May 7, 2016

Dear Diary,

It’s been a while since we last spoke. There was so much I wanted to tell you and just . . . couldn’t find the words. I suppose I should start with Mrs. Roberts.

When we first came here, her kindness felt like a door opening for us. A light at the end of a dark tunnel, if you will. She gave us a home, a haven of safety and we thought maybe, just maybe,that would be the tiny fleck that would barrel itself into the beginning of a new life for us — we would earn, we would be accepted, and eventually we would bring Dadi and Dada to the new sanctuary we had created for ourselves. Maybe it was wrong to ask for so much.

A few months after Mama was offered that new full-time position, she met someone named Mr. Jenkins; to most people, he would have been any average, 60-year-old plumber just looking to do some maintenance for Mrs. Roberts. In fact, he and Mama even grew acquainted to the point where she brought him downstairs once to meet us all. Apa made him her special hazelnut pie and he showed us how to fix the leaky ceiling that left an ever-lasting damp spot in the corner of the room.

What we didn’t expect following his visit was the banging on the door the next morning — the debris forming itself into a makeshift wig on the tops of our heads, the screaming voices, and the blur of movement until we had been corralled back to the immigration office.

I wish I could describe to you what it felt like — the best I can do would be to ask you to imagine the feeling of falling so suddenly you felt your insides would burst from the pressure. I told Apa she could expect the white wallpaper to be stained with my blood any second: all she could do was hug me till both our shirts were transparent from the wetness flooding down, down, down.

In cruel irony, it is storming outside as I write this, a true parallel to the day we arrived here. Right now, the five of us are huddled together in an office room, waiting for what happens next. This might be the worst part — the waiting. And yet all I can think about is what Mama said to us last year, when we stepped onto the dock and collapsed into sobs, allowing raindrops and tears to mix until they could not be distinguished from one another any more: “It is the lightning we watch. In his rage, the darkness shies away and we can finally breathe again.”

I turn to the lightning now; perhaps he’ll be kind enough to light our way back.

Until then, I’ll be thankful for the canvas rug that still sits in the basement we shared, a reminder that we were here and for a brief period of time, we had reached the end of our dark tunnel.

December 16, 2016

1 A term of endearment used for older members of a family — in this case, “Apa” refers to an older sister.
2 Grandma and grandpa, respectively

Iman Monnoo is a 16-year-old in 11th grade at Lahore Grammar School Defence in Pakistan. Aside from reading and writing, she also has an affinity for public speaking and drama!