Wednesday, June 14, 2006

They wrestle their daughter's stroller through the narrow doors of the Vancouver bus that will take them from Stanley Park back through the downtown area. The woman's bright coral salwar kameez flows loosely around her lithe form as she tries to angle the stroller's wheels to squeeze through the entrance. Her husband wears jeans and a crisp white buttoned shirt, tucked in.

Having managed to board, they sit near the center of the bus, on opposite sides of the aisle with the stroller between them. The little girl in the stroller kicks her legs and babbles, exchanging adoring smiles with each parent in turn.

Two stops later an old man boards the bus and sits behind the father. They exchange pleasantries, finding a commonality in their histories. The younger man reveals that he and his wife came to Canada two years ago; the old man has lived here for fifteen years. "This is a very good country," announces the older man. "You will do very well here."

The younger man nods. "Yes." He smiles and glances swiftly across the aisle. "My wife, she gets homesick though."

The older man shakes his head and bats his hand at the mother. She is smiling at her daughter and does not turn at his motion. "Hello!" he calls, tapping her elbow. When she raises her head to look back at him he raises a finger to point at her. "You do not be homesick," he says. "This is a good country. You will be happy here. You do not need to be homesick." He shakes his red-turbaned head emphatically at her.

The woman smiles and nods politely. She looks at her husband, who smiles sheepishly and averts his eyes.

Now the old man's attention is diverted by the little girl's sudden outburst of babbling and clapping. He playfully wags a finger at her. "Naughty girl!" he says. She stops and stares solemnly at him, her brown eyes wide. The old man reaches out a gangly arm and taps the back of her hand in a mock swat. "Naughty, naughty girl!" he tells her, smiling a gap-toothed smile. "Your daughter is a very naughty girl," he tells the father.

When the toddler remains shy and quiet, her father tries to impress the old man. "Say something to him," he urges her quietly. "Say, 'hello!'"

"You are a naughty girl!" murmurs the old man, swiping at her hand again.

The tiny girl is silent. Her dark curls tremble as she whips her head around to look at her mother's friendly face, silently and innocently dismissing the old man's rebuke.