The oddest thing about this new land was the blandness of things constructed by people. She remarked on her first day that all the houses were more or less the same colour. They were brown or grey, or varying combinations of brown and grey. Occasionally a house would have a colourful door. She learnt about a third colour, beige, that described most of the houses in her new land, and she decided it was also the best way to describe the food.
All the food was varying shades of brown and beige. Potato. Bread. Noodles. Meat. Repeat. All brown or beige. Sometimes there were splashes of red for things that were supposed to taste like tomatoes, like this sweet concoction ketchup, but it really didn’t taste like tomatoes at all. Apparently there were colourful foods in this new land too but someone told her that not everyone could afford them.
By far the best thing about this new land were the colours in the trees and on the ground. In summer, there were so many shades of green. It seemed almost a shame that there was just one word—green—to describe all of these magnificent colours, as if a mere word could capture the magic of this land of forests. Back home, all the trees and bushes were the same dull matte green covered by a thick film of grime. In retrospect, maybe her old land was best described by that new word, beige, when it came to the flora.
She was pleasantly surprised by the explosion of oranges, reds, yellows and purples that came in autumn, another new word, and was amazed by the new textures of the leaves which crunched beneath her feet. When winter came, the newest word of all, the white was blindingly beautiful; she wanted to touch it all the time, except that it was cold and afterwards her hands would turn red.
The white stayed for a very long time, much longer than the greens, the oranges and the yellows. She could tell her parents were getting impatient with the white and browns. How dull this was, especially next to the brown houses and the brown food, they complained. They missed the colourful houses, the colourful foods. They missed seeing plants all year round, even if they were dull matte green and covered in grime. Sometimes they were so sad they would cry, or yell at each other, or call family back home to cry and yell. She thought about how happy they had been when they first arrived, when the colours were there to welcome them. She was certain that there were still colours out in the woods, and she decided to go collect some to make her parents happy again.
Down the road from her new brown-and-beige house was a little pond covered with a thin layer of grey-white ice. The ice, which had previously been solid white-blue, had begun to turn into lacey webs, peeking through to still dark grey water. She peered over the side of the pond and spied some reds and oranges. The leaves from autumn! They were still there, in the dark grey water, just beyond the thin white ice. How lovely it would be to rescue the trapped colourful leaves from their cold wet prison, and bring them home to make her parents happy again. She would dry them off and make a bouquet, she decided. Slowly, she shifted herself down, sliding her purple boots onto the grey-white ice, over to the edge of the dark grey water, when she heard a CRACK beneath her feet.
The local newspaper tweeted the next morning: “Illegal immigrant, aged 6, dead in Greenpoint Pond.” The comments read: “serves them right anyway, they get what they deserve,” “now deport her family before they get on our EI.”
these words by Jo-Ann Zhou were inspired by the work of Selina Vesely
From the author: Aside from the ending, the rest of the piece is actually based entirely off of my own personal experience; even though I was born in Canada, I moved abroad to Peru when I was a baby (thus the inspiration for the “beige” land, since Lima is very dusty) and moved back when I was five years old. So, even though I’m “Canadian” I still feel as though I’ve lived through the “immigrant experience” since I had to learn the language and get used to the new food and customs. I wanted to write a piece that conveyed the mixed emotions of arriving in a new country: the excitement of discovering new things but also missing certain things from home. As a kid, that also meant watching my parents work through those emotions too, which I partially conveyed here. The jarring ending is a second commentary on my experience as a “kind of immigrant”; most of the time I love living in Canada and have a great sense of wonder and respect for it, but this is occasionally jolted by rude comments from strangers who don’t think that immigrants belong. The juxtaposition is meant to show the reader how jarring these comments can be, as they often come totally unprovoked and with no context.