Family Parade


The household is in a state of chaos.


My mother rushes around the kitchen grabbing tin foil, plastic wrap 
and lunch bags for the aloo-chutney sandwiches spread in rows on the kitchen table.

“Oh Ji,” she shouts to my father, who is running up and down stairs 
gathering picnic supplies. “Can you get my purse from the closet? And grab my sunglasses too!”

My little sister Anika bounces a rubber ball along the kitchen walls 
yelling “Orange! Crush! Pepsi!”—with a loud thump following each 
exclamation—in imitation of a game I gave up playing last year. As usual, she forgets to say “Cola!” at the end.

Meanwhile, my grandmother shuffles down the hallway, lamenting her aching bones a bit more loudly than usual, and mutters about going out 
in hot weather. And my aunt and cousins, who have just arrived, talk all at once in the entryway, urging us “Chalo! Chalo!”—hurry up—so that we will not be late for the parade.

Upstairs, I am seated on my bed, arms crossed, tapping my heels 
with impatience. I have been waiting to use the bathroom down the hall, which my grandfather has occupied for the last half hour. I suspect that 
he is cleaning his toenails—he refuses to put on his sandals without this ritual.

I sigh. I didn’t really want to go to the parade in the first place, at least not with my family. But most of my friends are away on vacation or 
working summer jobs. We hardly ever go on vacation; the last real trip 
was to visit relatives in Pakistan, over three years ago. Instead, I think 
sullenly, we go on dumb family trips downtown, even if it takes forever to drive there.

I can already hear the echoes of steel drums accompanied by a heavy bass beat as we begin to walk over to University Avenue. It lends an air of energy and excitement to the city and I start to feel more optimistic about the outing.


“ALIYA!” I hear the sharpness in my mother’s voice as it carries through the hallway and up the stairs.

“WHAT?” I shout back, not moving.


“I can’t go! Someone’s in the bathroom, I can’t get ready!”

“So? Go use the other one. You have five minutes,” my mother snaps.

Before I am able to retort that all my things are in THIS one, I hear the bathroom door open as my grandfather steps out. I jump up and sprint down the hallway, nearly tripping at the bathroom entrance, and blurt out “Eeew, gross!” as I spot a stray toenail in the bathroom sink. I gingerly pick it out with a piece of toilet paper. That is when I see my reflection in the mirror, and my already foul mood plummets. My hair refused to obey my commands this morning, and now there are strands curling and frizzing in odd directions. Worst of all, there is a new pimple on my nose.

Maybe it is just as well that I am not heading to the mall with my friend Farah, who got back last week from her family trip to Kenya. At least downtown, I won’t have to worry about running into anyone I know.

Hurriedly I splash water on my face, wipe it dry and rub some Clearasil on the embarrassing zit, squirming at the image in the mirror. My eyes are okay, but my nose and lips are so big. And my skin just seems to get darker each summer. I had better pick up some sunscreen at the—

“ALIYA! WHERE ARE YOU?” At the sound of my mother’s voice, I quickly tie back my hair and run downstairs.

Ten minutes later, I am seated in the “kids car,” driven by my father, as he tries to navigate the weekend traffic on the Don Valley Parkway. My two cousins, whom everyone refers to as the Twins because they are only a year apart and look so much alike, are seated on either side of Anika, who is singing a garbled version of the ABCs. I expel a loud breath and try to fan my face. It is sticky and hot, I am stuck with a bunch of little kids, and my dad has launched into a history lesson about the Caribbean—something about sugar plantations, which I tune out. I look terrible. Worse, my 
mom didn’t wash my favourite Cotton Ginny t-shirt yet, and I have to wear another one that I now realize smells of the past week’s cooking.

It is a full forty-five minutes before we reach downtown. My father instructs me to keep a lookout for parking, as he checks to see that my aunt’s car, in which my mother and grandparents are seated, is right behind us.

“How come it’s always so crowded and busy downtown?” I ask grumpily.

However, just as he begins a lecture about urban development and 
summer festivals, I spot a large handwritten poster reading “Welcome to Caribana ’87! For Parking—Turn Left” and interrupt him to follow the signs.

I can already hear the echoes of steel drums accompanied by a heavy bass beat as we begin to walk over to University Avenue. It lends an air of energy and excitement to the city and I start to feel more optimistic about the outing.

The Twins try to grab my arms—my hands are full, carrying bags of sandwiches and fruit—and pull me forward, chattering excitedly as they debate whether this parade will be like the one we saw on Canada Day, although we arrived late and missed most of it. My grandfather follows behind, prayer mat under one arm, video camera in the other. He keeps adjusting the camera 
as he walks along, calling out to us to pose for him at each streetlight, with periodic shouts of, “Bachcha party! Wave to Dada! Hel-lo! Hel-lo!”

The others straggle behind with my grandmother, who shuffles forward slowly, stopping occasionally to rub her back.

We squeeze through crowds of people sporting bikini tops, shorts, sandals and sunglasses, some cheering for their favourite floats, most shaking their jiggly body parts, in rhythm and off rhythm to the thumping beats. With my mother shouting from behind for everyone to stay together, we manage to find a shady spot from which we can see the parade. Dark-skinned, bare-chested men in red and black headbands float past on a truck playing steel drums, and children decked out in costumes with coloured feathers and strands of sequins expertly move along beside them, blowing on whistles to the beat.

I am mesmerized, however, by the blinding and provocative costumes worn by the women—tidbits of cloth covering breasts and hips in the brightest pinks, blues and yellows.

The beat is deafening, and infectious. I want to dance, but don’t know how, and glance enviously at a pale blond girl, coconut sunscreen melting down her face, who dances to this music as though she’s done it all her life. I wonder if I could at least sway to the beat, without getting lectured by my mother or grandmother. Apart from the Twins and my sister, who are jumping about and pointing to their favourite costumes, everyone else in the family stands still, observing the carefree dancing with serious attention. My grandmother has already begun her expected tirade about the debauchery she is being forced to observe.

“Hai, Allah preserve us,” she says, automatically adjusting her large white dupatta to cover her head fully. “This music is too loud, I’m going to go deaf. And these people have no shame at all.” At this, she points a finger into the parade. “Look at that woman’s costume, there is nothing hidden from view!”

We all glance over to see a slim black woman wearing an elaborate, sparkling silver headpiece, with matching sequins barely covering her breasts, and silver lamé hot pants. She shakes her hips and winks at my grandfather, who is following her movements with his video camera as she passes by.

“What do you expect from these people, they were all slaves. Let them celebrate their freedom!” he retorts, and continues to videotape the event.

I feel relieved that no one in the crowd arround us appears to understand Urdu.

After a few minutes of fidgeting and trying to keep myself from moving to the music, I decide that I need to take action. The kids are playing a game of spotting costumes, my grandfather is busy with his videotaping, and my mother and grandmother are once again counselling my aunt on how to deal with her husband, who never seems to be home and whom she keeps threatening to divorce. Only my father looks tired and lost in thought, not really seeing the parade. This is boring. Everyone else around us is having fun, and I want to have fun, too.

“I’m going to go watch the parade from that corner,” I tell my mother. “It’s less crowded.”

She stops speaking to my aunt and glances over to where I am pointing. “There’s no shade over there. You’ll get dark,” she cautions. “Here. Wear this.” She removes the Canadian Tire visor she’d been wearing and gives it to me. I say nothing, but resolve to take it off as soon as I am out of sight.


Before I can escape, Anika takes my hand, exclaiming that she wants to wear the visor too. My mother calls out, “Take your sister with you!”

With a sigh, I pick out some food to bring along and pass the ugly visor to Anika, who happily sticks it on her head even though it is too big.

Finally, from my new location, I begin to enjoy the parade. Luckily my sister is not whiny yet and, grabbing her little hands, I swing her arms back and forth, occasionally pointing to interesting floats and costumes as they go by. Dancing with her, I don’t care as much if I look silly—and when Anika begins to sway her hips, I do the same.

Eventually, the aroma of barbecued hot dogs reaches my nose and my stomach growls in response. Anika notices my stare in the direction of 
the hot dog stand and begins to jump up and down, exclaiming, “I want hot dog! Hot dog!”

I take on a stern expression to convince her this is not a good idea. 
“Chi-chi. Hot dogs are yucky. Full of pork.” Instead, I push an aloo-chutney sandwich, now soggy from the chutney and oil, into her hands. She looks down at it and wrinkles her nose, shaking her head.

At that moment, I feel a tap on my shoulder. “Aliya?”

I turn around and gasp in surprise. It’s David Ali, one of the cutest guys from school, who was in my history class last year. I really like him, but 
we never get much of a chance to talk—he’s always with his friends, and I’ve been too shy to just go up to him and start a conversation.

“David! What are you doing here?” I ask, then look down at his feet 
realizing what a dumb question that is. I am trying to absorb the shock of 
seeing him and simultaneously worrying about how awful my hair must look and whether he can see the pimple from this angle.

“Uh, I came down with some of my brother‘s friends,” he says, nodding toward a group of guys jumping up and down to the reggae rhythms coming from the float passing us by. “I, um, was just heading over there to get a 
hot dog.” He pauses, adjusting his sunglasses, then clears his throat. “How about you?”

“Oh, um, yeah. I, er, came with some cousins,” I say, gesturing vaguely behind me, figuring that it is not a compete lie. I am relieved that he can’t see my family, staring statue-like at the lively spectacle.

He nods, looking behind me with some puzzlement, then goes on to make conversation about his summer activities. I chat with him happily, feeling thrilled that the boring family trip has brought about such an exciting event. I can’t wait to get home and share every detail with Farah.

After several minutes of conversation, David shuffles his feet and says 
he should probably get back to his group. With a wave goodbye, he asks, “See you next month at school?”

I nod blissfully, already imagining the two of us as a couple. With the loud beat reverberating in my ears, I feel a burst of energy and spin around to grab my sister and dance in celebration.

Except that she is no longer standing next to me. I look around quickly, left, right, behind me—she is not there. My heart begins to pound loudly and I feel panic and fear rush through me. My thoughts are racing and I try to calm myself. Surely she is nearby. She probably got bored while I was talking and wanted to go back to our family, although they are several feet away and not in plain view. I walk back toward them, slowly looking around in case she has gone in the wrong direction, until my family is in full sight. The fear takes complete hold of me now. My sister is not with them. Worse, my mother has spotted me alone, without Anika.

“Where is Anika?” she demands.

I gulp. “Um . . . she was right next to me. I swear. She was right there. She must be nearby. I’ll find her.”

I can see the anger and worry in my mother’s eyes. “What do you mean? She’s lost? I ask you to take care of your sister for ten minutes and you can’t even do that?” My mother begins to scan the crowd and calls out to my father, aunt and grandfather that Anika is lost and that everyone should start searching for her.

“Stay here and take care of your grandmother,” orders my mother. “And make sure you don’t lose her, too,” she adds tartly. The spectators standing near us turn at the commotion, wondering what is going on.

By now I am ready to cry. My grandmother has begun to detail all the gruesome scenarios. “Hai, Allah forbid anything should have happened to your sister. Just last night I heard on the news about a child who was kidnapped from a city park. And there are so many people here. Anyone could have grabbed her and no one would even notice. Or what if she wandered into the traffic? There are so many cars nearby . . .”

I desperately try to tune out her dramatic commentary, along with the cacophony of music and laughter that are now heightening my own anxiety. I try to concentrate, and to think where Anika might have wandered. Standing on tiptoe, I look around above the heads of thousands of spectators, hoping I can spot a glimpse of my little sister in her pink dress. But there are too many people all dressed in bright colours, all moving in a blur.

Suddenly I remember the hot dogs. Maybe Anika wandered over to the hot dog stand? I search for one of the adults to tell them to check over there, but none is in hearing range as they wander through the crowds trying to find Anika.

“Amma, I’ll be back in two minutes,” I say to my grandmother and push past some spectators, from whom I get dirty looks in my haste to reach 
the hot dog stand. I am convinced that this is where Anika must have gone and begin to feel hopeful.

She isn’t there. The hot dog vendor squints in curiosity—he can probably see the disappointment on my face. Before I can ask him anything however, a young couple with an infant arrives and orders two hot dogs. I rush back to where I left my grandmother, hoping that I have not lost her, too.

Luckily, my grandmother is still there, and she is waving madly at something in the parade when I reach her. “It’s Anika! Look! There she is! Anika is in the parade! She just waved at me!”

I look toward the parade. A calypso float, with the words, “Island Chutney” emblazoned in bright red across the front, is going by. A West Indian girl in a fluffy pink dress, about Anika’s age, is jubilantly dancing about and waving sporadically to the crowd.

“Amma, that’s not Anika. That’s another girl. Anika was wearing a pink dress, remember?”

My grandmother expels her breath in frustration. “Aré, no one ever listens to me! I told you, I saw her, she was in the parade, she just went by. Walk down further that way, you’ll see her.”

Feeling doubtful, I begin to walk in that direction when my grandmother shouts again. “Look! On the other side! It’s Anika!”

I look over across the parade and, indeed, it is Anika, smiling, waving and being carried on the shoulders of a tall black man wearing a bright orange, sleeveless tee covered with a green and black flag with a yellow “X” emblazoned across it. She has stuck the Canadian Tire visor on his head, and I can’t help noting that it suits him much better. In any case, it is clear to me that he is carrying Anika through the parade and past the crowds in the hopes that she will be spotted by her family.

I join my grandmother in shouting and waving at him, no longer caring who is turning around to stare at us. My mother, who is walking back toward us, sees what we are pointing to and squeezes past the parade barricades to reach the other side, and is nearly knocked over by a mammoth set of sparkling purple butterfly wings. She grabs Anika from the man, 
who appears to be trying to explain where he found her. My mother nods brusquely, muttering a few words in response. At the first gap between floats, she rushes back with Anika to where we are waiting. I wonder if she even thanked the man.

Half an hour later, we trudge back toward the parking lot to head home, after nearly losing my grandfather too, who had given up searching for Anika and went to pray for her on a nearby patch of grass instead. No one wants to talk, except the Twins, who are now harassing my aunt about why we haven’t had a picnic and eaten all the food we brought with us. Anika, 
it turns out, did indeed wander over near the hot dog stand, where the man found her, crying. My mother has not said a word to me, but through her stony silence I can feel her anger. I am sure I will be subjected to a lecture after my aunt has gone home, and that I will be hearing about this incident for several weeks to come.

My single source of relief is that my mother does not know I was distracted because of a boy—and worse, I realize suddenly, a boy who happens to be black.

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