Short Fiction ~ Cyril Dabydeen
Second Prize, Strands International Flash Fiction Competition - 13
He looks at me with familiarity--my countenance, or allure it seems. Ethnic, too? More than propinquity, you see, with my stance here at the shop’s counter, the Quickie’s corner-store. “Where d’you come from?” he asks forthrightly, but feigns affable ease.
Where? An immigrant’s instinctual game we’re playing with geography as our guide here in the Great White North (so-called).
He forces a grin, making a face--not a stranger’s face--this middle-aged man living here in Ottawa, the nation’s capital city. A newcomer, as perhaps we all are, what I want him to know; and yes, for me to accept him at his word. Our existential beingness, you see.
Now who’s really an immigrant? Indeed he’s from Lahore. What the Quickie’s corner-store confirms, in a manner of speaking: here he works at the cash register; and what he figures I will now purchase with my unaffected ease.
He keeps acknowledging me, because of our common identity-cum-familiarity.
And our longing for one place all the while, without aloneness--let it be known.
“In Canada you always buy a lottery ticket,” he tells me, entreating me--an overture mixed in with his prescience.
“To make life good,” he assures me with his verbal inflection.
“You will win.” His game of chance--I know, but don’t really know.
He laughs, because of abiding hope somewhere. And a special spirit he might have cultivated. His charm, no less. He with his new-immigrant’s dream of living a full life in Canada. A South-Asian’s quest, if only Pakistani-style. But I would rarely ever buy a lottery ticket, I’m about to tell this man.
Yet a vision of sudden wealth flits into my mind. Fantasy with a sense of escape, yes.
He laughs, sort of, with more prescience. I also laugh.
“You must keep trying,” he persists, handing me a lottery ticket--my purchase because of his prompt. A rescue point, and freedom with a vague sense of materiality, somewhere.
“But my chances are…?”
“Don’t worry about your chances.” He sounds definitive.
“You will win.”
An immigrant’s cause to celebrate, yes.
“You are in Canada!” He breathes in hard.
I also breathe in hard. Mimesis, yes.
He shakes his head in an oversized jacket, like what’s just thrown over his shoulders. He twirls his whiskers and looks at me with his lathe-grey eyes. Now it’s what we keep making of each other--our talking, more than made-up conversation, with my presuppositions.
A new identity taking shape with real or just imaginary places: now here with our own immediacy, if only our immigrant space. I unconsciously dredge up more than what’s intuitive--with our sense of oceans crossed. Will I really win?
I entertain more dreams, but not a far country, do you know? And riches, like being a maharajah in a time of yore, if a castle somewhere in Jaipur, but not one that’s gothic. Yet one far unlike a Wall Street millionaire’s, you see. Dream on!
This man wants to know my name, because of what’s authentic in me, and now forming between us. More than verisimilitude, you see. And where do I really come from with my own bonhomie, or contrived style? Familiarity yet oozes. I tell him where--more than a made-up place in my mind’s eye. Details I give to him in a casual manner.
And he’s undoubtedly from Lahore, and has been living in Canada not very long.
But how long is long?
I unconsciously pretend being a wanderer—not a wayfarer—in my new style without pretence. He asks another question to establish a marker between us--with his outsider’s sensibility at work. A subtext somewhere. He wanting to know much more than what stems from sheer curiosity. And yes, about my lottery-ticket winning chances in Canada aligned to my bona fide immigrant’s hope.
Something new to behold in our self-awareness, or self-realization.
Indeed, our actually being in one place and in one time—here at the Quickie Corner store. As other customers cast quick glances at us: our ethnic experience acted out, more than in a trumped-up familiar manner, sure. And my indeed having bought a lottery ticket and dreaming of winning--like a regular pastime.
I keep making up more than sub-continental boundary lines, see. The Far East, and the famed Silk Road, with a genuine cartographer’s sense in me. Lottery winner, eh? I look at the ticket in my hand. Breathing it, smelling it. My castle up in the air. Immigrant reality aligned to fantasy ongoing!
But this man’s not without his own guile. He pats his whiskers, muttering about real possibilities here in Canada—unlike the life he might have lived in Lahore. The lottery ticket in my hand wavers. I unconsciously rehearse the numbers in my mind.
A prized possession only. And tomorrow the draw will be. A sense of ecstasy grows because of my winning ways. Got you! I hear him say. The other customers’ eyes light up, taking us in. Casually I say my goodbye. Wishful-dreaming, nothing less. Canada--here I come.
Cyril Dabydeen’s books include My Undiscovered Country (Mosaic Press), God’s Spider (Peepal Tree Press, UK), My Multi-Ethnic Friends and Other Stories (Guernica Editions, Toronto), and the anthology Beyond Sangre Grande: Caribbean Writing Today (Mawenzi House, Toronto). Previous books include: Jogging in Havana (1992), Black Jesus and Other Stories (1996), My Brahmin Days (2000), North of the Equator (2001), and Play a Song Somebody: New/Selected Short Stories (2003). His novel, Drums of My Flesh, had been nominated for the 2007 IMPAC/Dublin Prize, and won the top Guyana Prize for fiction. Cyril’s work has appeared in numerous magazines and anthologies, e.g. Poetry (Chicago), Prairie Schooner, The Critical Quarterly, World Literature Today, The Warwick Review, Prism International, Canadian Literature, the Dalhousie Review, and in the Oxford, Penguin, and Heinemann Books of Poetry and Fiction. Former Poet Laureate of Ottawa (1984-87). Taught Creative Writing at the UofOttawa for many years.