The end of the world, when it comes, doesn’t feel like much.
It feels like dull, grey skies and numb hearts and skins. It feels like building a home in a place that’s far away from your first and breaking into tears at a scent that seems to take you back. You lose your way to work every week and find yourself amongst people who refuse to pronounce your name right.
And this—this wasn’t what you saw in your dreams, when you moulded castles in your head every night before bed. You had these visions, of cosy rooms and laughing friends and warmth in a land that would begin to feel like comfort.
Instead, you get loneliness, bathed in dirty yellow light, as you sit in a different room from everybody else, holding back tears because everything has changed and you’re the only one who feels it.
There are screams outside the window, and they seep inside, cracking the paint on the walls you so carefully coated blue, with love and with hope and the naïve idea of friends seated on the couch, complimenting the colour of the walls as they eat chips and drink beer.
But you’re unwanted here, unloved and lost, eyes almost accustomed to the angry faces and the bared teeth of those screaming outside the window. We were born here, we were raised here, this our country, you are not welcome here. They take up your days and make up your nightmares, wake you up at three in the morning in a pool of sweat.
“I’m not a refugee. I am an immigrant,” you tell them but it doesn’t matter because you’re still different, and different is all they care about.
You thought you’d have children here someday—that the land would welcome them with open arms and care for them like its own.
“You are loved, you are important,” the land would tell them, “You are just as deserving of happiness as anyone else.”
But the wisps of these children die in your head because the thought of them feeling like they’re different and unwelcome kills you.
When your mother calls, you lie. Everything’s great, all sugar and cream and clouds. The people are lovely and they’re warm and welcoming, and you almost don’t want to go back home.
The end of the world, when it comes, feels like staring at your feet after a two hour long nap, and trying to figure out if they’re real. If anything is.
This new world you’ve suddenly found yourself in, the smoothness of the clean streets, the voice of the lady in the elevator sounds foreign and cold.
And the cold—it takes some getting used to. The chill in the air makes you shiver and wrap yourself up in three coats, and the biting frost of the people freezes you to the bone.
You cut yourself reading the newspaper every day, against hopes lost and bodies found. And you see yourself in every one of them—the dead and the alive—until you begin to doubt your own sanity.
Your lowest point comes every night as you lie in your cold bed, feeling the loneliness creep in, shivering every time the wind whistles outside the window. You toss and you turn for hours, but the grey doesn’t go away, and you only find warmth inside the thick, rough blanket that you carried all the way from home.
Home. With its busy streets, full of cheerful people whose eyes crinkle when they smile. Home, with your mother fussing over you and your father agreeing to take you on a drive because he wants to spend more time with you. Home that you left to come here, and you can’t even complain because it was your choice, it was all you ever wanted, to be here, away from a home that felt too restricting.
This was what you signed up for— your breath of fresh air, now polluted and suffocating you, the empty rooms and the cold and the food that tastes like distance.
Home is where the heart is—but your heart wasn’t there and now it’s not here either.
And the distance never goes away—everyone looks at you like you’re different, that strange man from some poor country I’ve never heard of, don’t know what happened, probably war or something. I wonder if he’s planning to stay.
“I’m not a refugee. I am an immigrant,” you want to scream, “It took medical tests and examinations and courage for me to be here. I’m scared and sad, on the other side of the world, and all you do is shut me out of the bubble that you’ve created for yourself. I don’t know where to go anymore.”
But you don’t scream because they wouldn’t listen— they’re too busy screaming themselves.
You’re lonely enough that you find yourself on the couch one night, whispering to the photograph of your mother in your brown, tattered wallet.
“I want to come back home,” you tell her, between sobs, “I want to come back home to you and Papa. I don’t want to be here anymore.”
The photograph doesn’t respond, only staring at you, unmoving.
“I’m tired of being looked at like I’m different. I’m tired of not having any friends. I miss you. I don’t want to be here, I hate it here.”
The photograph doesn’t say a word, motionless, and you angrily toss your wallet away to somewhere you can’t see it.
The screams outside your window get louder and louder every day and you feel yourself beginning to disintegrate, just like the blue paint on your walls.
The afternoon it happens is sunless and grey.
You’re in the bus on your way to work, hyper-aware of the thin-lipped woman glaring at you like you’re an insect that must be squashed. You ignore her, looking outside the window at the snow-covered pine trees and tapping your feet, a little nervous. Your mind wanders back to home, the sunny backyards, the colourful clothes, the constant noises that punctuated every moment.
“Where to, sir?”
The voice of the bus conductor pulls you out of your thoughts, and you reply quickly, stealing a glance at the thin-lipped woman behind you. She’s still looking at you, nose curled up in disgust.
“That’ll be ten, please.”
You nod at the conductor, reaching into your bag for your wallet and your heart drops when you don’t feel it. You can feel your eyes widen as you scramble for it desperately, and the bus conductor’s gaze remains fixed on you, waiting. You don’t have your wallet, you realize, and the vague memory of you casting it out of your sight that night enters your mind. You’re outside your house, on the bus to work, with no money.
“I, uh. I just realized I don’t have my wallet on me, I think I forgot it at home, um. Is there anything—”
“You’re one of those nasty refugees, aren’t you?” the thin-lipped woman chooses this moment to speak, glowering with rage, “Come to steal our jobs and destroy our homes, I suppose? Why can’t you stay a burden and broke in your own country?”
“Sir, I’m afraid I’m going to have to ask you to get off the bus,” the bus conductor adds grimly.
You open your mouth to reply but no words come out. You feel your eyes sting, and squeeze them shut to stop the tears from falling. A lump begins to form in your throat.
I cannot cry, I cannot cry, I was raised to be a man, I cannot cry, I have to stay strong, I cannot cry.
“I imagine you’ve done this tons of times, haven’t you? This whole helpless man, oh, I can’t seem to find my wallet act? Probably got away with it too—someone has to take pity on the poor, lost man in the bus, buy you a ticket, lend you a coat if you’re lucky.”
“The next bus station is almost here, sir. I’m afraid you’ll have to get off the bus,” the conductor repeats, interrupting you.
“This country isn’t for illegal people like you,” the woman continues, the volume of her voice increasing with every word, “It’s for honest, hard-working citizens like us. Go back to where you came from if you want to be a cheat. We don’t need more illegal people up here.”
“I’m not—” you try, but the words stop in your throat. There is nothing you can do about the tears that follow. In a few seconds, you will have to stand up and get off the bus, with the echoes of the woman’s voice in your head, along with the grim face of the bus conductor. You will stand on the pavement, alone in the freezing cold, and hear every word she said ring in your ears until you have nowhere to escape to.
“Excuse me? Let me get the gentleman’s ticket, please.”
The voice is silvery and tinkling, music to your ears. It takes you a few seconds to process what it said, and when you do, you whirl around in your seat to protest, “No, I—”
The girl shakes her head at you firmly before paying the conductor for your ticket. She’s young, maybe about twenty, with child-like eyes and bright pink hair.
As you watch her, she fixes her cool, icy gaze upon the thin-lipped woman, who squirms.
“There’s really no need to be so harsh,” the girl says, “When you do these things, you’re basically asking for the same treatment yourself, which I’m sure isn’t something you’d particularly enjoy.”
She looks at you then, and her voice softens a little when she speaks again.
“Hi,” she says, “Sarah. It’s nice to meet you…?”
“Ahmed. I’m Ahmed. Thank you for that—for, um, for paying for my ticket.”
She smiles, settling down in the seat next to yours.
“Don’t you worry about it. We’ve all been there, haven’t we? I once lost my wallet for days, only to find out that it was somehow stuck to the bottom of the bag the entire time. My girlfriend had to lend me money for a whole week.”
She looks at you when she mentions her girlfriend, studying you—challenging you, almost.
I accepted you for who you were right now, she seems to say, a helpless foreigner who’d forgotten his wallet somewhere. Will you accept me for who I am, for loving a girl in a world where it’s not okay?
You smile, as the sun finally peeks out from behind the grey clouds.
“Well, you sure are lucky that you have her, then.”