By: Aadel M Al-Mahdy
We, Jackie Wu and his wife, Evelyn, and my wife and I were the last people to show up. It was a house of a considerable size, beautiful and almost new. In the large kitchen, the buffet table carried an abundance of food brought, as usually the case is, by the attendants. People were sitting everywhere, in the dining area, in the living room and the kitchen. The place was filled with the appetizing smell of food and wine and the presence of a priest who ceaselessly seemed to be engaged in conversation with everybody. The priest was in his early sixties with a shining smile which he made sure that everyone had a share of it as though it was the body of the Christ. We sat down and smiled at everybody. The Wu’s were familiar to them, but my wife and I were totally new. I surveyed the place with my eyes. On the far end of the buffet table I saw a big ice-box full of beer cans and next to it stood many wine bottles of different vintages. “God, I do not feel comfortable at all” I whispered to my wife after I had seen on the kitchen counter more alcohol stock stacked up as though everybody came over here but to drink. “Once we start eating and drinking, everything will be fine, just smile around for now” my wife whispered back to me, words hissing through her teeth.
This is exactly what I hated about my marriage; doing things against my own will. I did not have a weak character and I could refuse, but I had already enough on my plate, hence I tried to avoid evoking new arguments. Our acquaintance with the Wu’s was one of the things forced on me by both my wife’s haste which was one of many of her bad traits, and my deep love to my eldest son, Khaled. One day, Khaled came back from the school with a letter from the family of his friend Newman stating that Newman liked Khaled and wanted to visit with him and be with him more often. Newman’s family, the Wu’s, were excited as their son who was too shy to mingle with other kids found someone to befriend, and pleaded to us, Khaled’s family, to give their son a chance. Unaware that I was going to be overcrowded in my life, I agreed thinking that it was only the kids who would exchange visits not the whole family. I am a social person, nevertheless, I do not like my personal space be preached. I did not want to have any deepened familial relation with the Wu’s but, at the same time, I did not want to become a hindrance in the boys’ friendship. My wife’s careless openness has always been a spoke in the spine of my plans.
I did not hate the Wu’s, but I did not like them either. Jackie was an easy going, laid back husband who owned Chinese restaurant but had to abandon the food business for some reasons and since then has not been working. Evelyn did accounting works. She was married to a man who owned carpet cleaning business but died of a liver disease leaving her with a child who was a bit slow. She then married Jackie, a Chinese man and had three kids from him; Jamey, Newman and Cameron. I never liked Jamey and his mother. I felt, though time proved me right, that Evelyn was the kind of a woman who would dig and poke her nose into people’s affair in the guise of offering friendly advice. Jamey, who was the oldest, was manipulative and aggressive, and had a bad reputation and troubles at school. One day, Jamey caused Hamzah, my youngest son, to fall on the ground and then pulled him by his leg. I was very angry and declared that Jamey was not allowed to visit or mix up with my boys since the whole issue from the start was supposed to be friendship between Khaled and Newman only, not the whole members of the family.
At the time, I was having troubles with my wife and her parents. In fact, the troubles between me and my in-laws started long time ago and never abated. They never accepted my marriage to their daughter basing their rejection on three reasons reeking with racism: 1. I’m not Christian, 2. I’m from a third world country and 3. They thought I was black ─ If you marry this man, the kids you get from him will be born with wretched souls ─ My wife’s mother said one day to my wife to discourage her from marrying me,─ And when you return to Canada, the kids being born black will find difficulties mixing up with their roommates at school ─ When I heard this, I realized that my mother-in-law was badly sick in her head. Khaled was born with white skin, blue eyes, blond hair, so was his brother, Hamzah who followed him a year later. “I guess your mother will be miserable, now” I said to my wife. “Why?” my wife asked. “The kids are born with physical features opposite to what she expected” I said. “How could they be otherwise when you’re not black yourself and your eyes are green” my wife answered. Why on earth did my mother in-law think I was black? ─ I asked myself ─ could it be because I am African. But I am from Upper Egypt and upper Egyptians are Mediterranean like Italians and Greeks. And suppose I was black, why should be there something wrong with it? ─ Well, After my immigration to Canada and when I took my boys to school, I found other boys and girls to be of different ethnicities and they all played together and laughed together in the school playground during the recess. “I guess the kids at school are color blind” I told my wife one day. “What do you mean?” puzzled, my wife asked me while preparing dinner in the kitchen. “Well, although I hate it, I can understand the religious rivalry, but racism is something I never understood. The kids are definitely void of racism, because they’re color blind. They all play with each other at school and even sometimes have fights motivated by anything other than racism” I explained. “Of course! It is we, the adults, who teach them racism” my wife said. “Then your parents are the most ignorant” I said. With tears rolling down her cheeks, my wife came out of the kitchen holding a knife in her hand and said, “I know that”, and then put the knife down on the kitchen counter, wiped off her tears and added, “They haven’t been to the church for over three decades, nevertheless they were still worried about your faith. They did not come from fantastic families in Scotland and Holland; nevertheless they still worried about your place of origin" Isaid, “I wish I can say to them that my forefathers build the pyramids thousands of years ago while theirs were still roaming the forests and the plains” and then added, “On top of that, does your mother know that it has been proven scientifically that we all came from the Southern African bushman tribes whose skin color is dark”
It is said that a mill-stone, though big and powerful, will eventually break. The ceaseless wedges that my in-laws relentlessly put between my wife and I, attained success mainly when the circumstances helped their seed of destruction germinate. I had Hepatitis-C. It lay dormant in my blood and kicked in at the most inconvenient moment. Depression, Fatigue, inability to work and my in-laws warring caused arguments to arise between my wife and I. This is when Evelyn interfered offering her help. “I know of a counseling group headed by a priest. They gather together, not in the church, but in one of the client’s houses” said Evelyn to my wife. “When does it happen?” excited, my wife asked. “It happens twice a month and next time will be the first day of next week” Evelyn answered. “And what do they do during the meeting?” my wife asked. “We eat and drink and discuss our problems and afterwards, the priest arrange for three-day accommodation in a nice hotel where the troubled couple stay and work out a solution”
When my wife told me about this counseling event, I was skeptical at first but finally I decided to let her go through this experience. On Monday the Wu’s picked us and we all went there.
My wife was right when she whispered back to me that once we started eating and drinking, everything would be fine. Wine can be a good ice-breaker for people to start a conversation, but if they don’t hold the reins of their wine horses tight, the horses will run out of control and then the riders will find themselves breaking the thin ice on which they’re running, thus ending up being drowned. A humming voice emitting from the house as though there were many bee-hives drowned the silence of the night as Everybody was talking; everybody was smiling; everybody was shaking; everybody was drunk save for a few who still talked with untwisted tongues. I was one of them. “Let me introduce you to father Jackson, the priest” Evelyn said, holding a glass of rosé in her hand and swaying like a tree branch, “Hi, father, this is Mr. and Mrs. Al-Mahdy” Father Jackson has not yet been drunken but rather tipsy. He might have chosen not to be drunk in order to be able to attend his flock. “Ah, hi, how’re you?” said the priest, “Where’re you from” the priest asked. “He’s from Saudi Arabia, father” Evelyn said, budging in. “I’m not from Saudi Arabia. I’m from Egypt” I objected. “Who cares, Saudi Arabia or Egypt, they’re all the same” Evelyn said, almost falling down. Her husband helped her sit on a chair. “I do. And Saudi Arabia and Egypt aren’t the same, unless you think Italy and France are” I said, my voice showing that I was upset. “You do not have to be upset. It is not of a big deal” the priest said. “I know, Mr. Jackson, but I like people to know me for what I am” I firmly said. “Oh, you’re right, you’re right” the priest said, trying to avoid getting into argument. When the party was over, I asked Evelyn husband to give my wife a ride home as I was going to stay behind and help in washing the dishes and cleaning the place.
Khaled and Newman became very good friends. They spent lots of time after school with each other and Cameron, Newman’s youngest brother. They all formed a block against Jamey whom they called jackass.
One day, my wife told me that Evelyn told her that when she had a bath, she would step out of the bathroom totally naked not minding the kids would see her. I wondered why Evelyn told my wife about this personal behavior and why my wife told me. Is it the so called hearsay natural cycle, or Evelyn is trying to impress my wife with her liberal life style. I also wondered if my wife got the message and therefore told me so that I would loosen up a bit. In any case, I did not like the whole issue at all. Being a new immigrant who has not yet known much of the Canadian customs and traditions, I was confused.
I discussed the matter with a born-Canadian friend of mine. He told me that the Canadian customs in no way would allow for such behavior which he thought was child abuse that must be reported to the authorities. “I thought so, too. It doesn’t matter whether you came from the East or the West, there’re universal standard of behavior” I told my friend. “Why didn’t you report the incident to the authorities, then?” he asked. “I could not because my wife would be upset and I did not want to have more troubles than it was” I answered. He then asked me to give him the names, address and details and and said he would report the incident himself without getting my name involved. A week later, when I went to pick up my two sons from the school, I saw Newman sitting in the corridor. I asked him if he wanted a ride home. He uttered no single word but looked at me with eyes full of animosity. I told my wife about Newman’s attitude. She said that someone reported his mother to the authorities regarding her nudity in front the children and since then she has been in troubles. I told my wife that I mentioned the story to a friend of mine and he must have reported her.
My in-law’s relentless middling and back-stabbing never ceased, so never did Evelyn’s since she has opened fire at me shortly after that incident. Defending my family on two fronts; my in-laws’ and Evelyn’s, and seeing my health deteriorating, I had to lick my wounds and convince my wife to move to a different city. Thus I was left fighting only one war. That is racism, oh, I mean my in-laws.