“Wah, Ho-liang! So beautiful!” my mother said as we stepped off the plane and entered Vancouver airport. She fell in love with the blue skies and cool breeze immediately, but I wasn’t about to betray our true home so easily.
“It’s too cold,” I said, slinging my backpack onto one shoulder with unnecessary force.
“Tsk.” She clicked her tongue and grabbed both suitcases, walking so fast that I had to jog just to keep up. That was my mother; everything was done fast and efficiently without delay, and always in five inch heels and full makeup.
“Hurry, Sayang, I see Nicky.”
Sayang means “honey” in Malay, but my nickname sounded wrong in the mess of people yelling back and forth in English, and my heart dropped down hard into my stomach like an indigestible lump of iron. Uncle Nicky was dressed in a suit and coolly leaning against a concrete beam on the other side of the arrivals gate. It had been almost five years since I had last seen him, and already he looked nothing like the goofy uncle who used to piggyback me up the hills of Petaling Jaya.
“Wah, so big now ah?” Uncle Nicky said, his Malaysian accent momentarily making me forget that I was now far away from the comforts of Kuala Lumpur.
“Yeah, she now sup mm sui already, fifteen!” Mom interjected, placing her hand on my shoulder proudly.
The rest of the walk to the car was spent eavesdropping on Uncle Nicky and Mom talking in Cantonese and Malay, weaving the two languages together as if it was our own secret code. It made me even more homesick. As soon as the subject of school was brought up I purposefully shuffled my shoes louder so Mom would look back to see me glaring at her.
“You want heater?” Uncle Nicky asked as we got into his Toyota Corolla.
Mom and I nodded in unison, crossing our arms over our chests and huddling closer to each other in the back seat. Mom tried to talk to me the entire way to our new home in Richmond, but I only stared out at the window, noticing how there were no central mosques or durian stalls or mamak mee stalls anywhere. Everything was different, and I hated it.
Uncle Nicky had helped Mom with her immigration to Canada, sending over the documents and finding a place for us to live. The house was a real gamble for us, because Mom put most of our savings into buying it without being sure that the marketing job she was offered at SAGE Publications was permanent. They said words like “semi-permanent” and “trial” but that did not stop Mom from leaving KL, dragging me away from friends and family just to experience the coldest and rainiest place I had ever been to.
“Look, Sayang! Isn’t it wonderful?”
Mom put both hands on the side of my face and turned my entire head to look outside the car window, straight at a small red and brown painted house that was coming up on my right. As Uncle Nicky turned the car into the driveway, my eyes started to sting. I wanted to cry, but at that moment I had suddenly forgotten how to swallow, and my throat felt tight and very dry. I had to think about how to breathe.
“There’s no gate?” I asked after a minute, looking at Mom worriedly.
“No la, no need here. Canada is very safe.”
I stared at the front yard skeptically. There was so much space that I felt more panicked than I did at night when Mom needed to lock the doors, arm the alarm, and turn on the surveillance cameras. We needed to sleep in one room together just in case the robbers broke in through the back and the police weren’t able to get there in time. Even when I was afraid, fear was part of my routine, and it was strangely comfortable.
“You know ah, a woman got slashed walking to Jaya One. Took her handbag,” Mom told Uncle Nicky.
“Aiyaa see la, there cannot even drive into the driveway without being worried. Here, you can even let Nita take the bus alone!”
Mom smiled nervously and I could tell that even if I was in a new country, taking the bus alone was still unlikely to happen.
“Come, haang-la, let’s go look at it!” Mom said to me, pushing me to open the car door faster.
Reluctantly, I pushed down on the car door handle. The cold air hit me like a monstrous wave, and we both shivered. Mom took my hand and held it tight, not bothering just yet with our bags as we walked together up to the front door.
As soon as we stepped inside, I noticed that it was much better than our house in PJ. It was bigger on the inside and more modern.
“There’s an upstairs?” I asked excitedly, running up the stairs as fast as I could.
The first room on the right was the biggest, so I knew Mom would take that one. The next room, though, was bigger than my old one, and had a large window. It was odd to see the window so bare, I had become so used to seeing metal bars like the ones we had back in our kitchen window in PJ.
I knew exactly where my bed would go and my posters of Zee Avi and Yuna, Malaysian artists that I was sure no one here had even heard of yet. I could make this room look like my old room back home with one exception: Benji. We had to give him away before we could come. The last thing I did was rub his tummy and tell him I would be back soon. I lied.
“Nita, come back down, Uncle Nicky is going!” Mom yelled.
“Coming!” I yelled, as I took one last look at the empty bedroom and the naked window before flying down the stairs.
Uncle Nicky was putting his shoes on by the front door, while Mom wheeled the bags into the house from their sad positions in the driveway.
“Mm-hoi-sum Nita, huh?” he said, looking up from his half kneeling position.
“Of course I’m not happy,” I replied, looking away from him and down at my blackening white socks.
“Aiyaa, always so dramatic, Nita. Come now, it’s not so bad.”
“My room here is smaller!” I lied.
A smile crept across Uncle Nicky’s face. It was as if he knew some big secret.
“Ah, but look you already called it your room, right or not?”
I had no idea what to say to him. I was angry that he was smiling when I missed Malaysia so much. Luckily, I did not have to say anything to him, because after he said this, Mom walked in a few seconds later carrying our last suitcase.
“Ah, sau-sau-day, silly I should have helped you!” Uncle Nicky said, standing up and grabbing the bag from my mom.
“Mm-sai la, no need don’t be gila.”
Malay, and even Cantonese, sometimes sounded out of place in our home when we first arrived here. It was hard to hear it echo off of clean white walls and empty large living spaces that did not have the same warmth and wear as our house back in Petaling Jaya.
“Bye Nita, you help your Mom unpack okay?” Uncle Nicky said smiling, and then he was gone.
Mom stepped outside for a minute, closing the door behind her, not wanting me to hear what else they had to talk about, and when she came back inside she carried in with her a cold breeze.
“Should we unpack now or not?” Mom asked.
“Maybe in a bit?” I replied, looking at the bags sadly.
“Okay Nit– I mean Sayang, my Sayang,” she said gently, putting both of her hands on my shoulders.
Mom stared at me intently. Her dark brown eyes were moist and I couldn’t tell if she was altogether happy or sad, but the way Mom said my nickname infused the air with the scents and sounds of Malaysia, and for just a moment it was like we had never left.
Chloe Kerr is an English Literature major who loves to dabble in the art world whenever she isn’t burrowing her face in a novel or writing a paper. Chloe, who recently completed her undergraduate Bachelor of Arts degree, has taken many creative writing courses, and credits her biracial background (her mother is Chinese and her father is Scottish) for her curiosity and passion for studying and exploring all to do with multiculturalism and immigrant culture.