I find out from the radio. ‘Devastating news from Christchurch coming up right after the break’. I’m in the car, on the way to pick my mother up from the church she volunteers at. She says everyone at the church makes her feel welcome. They love the food she makes. They love her warm smile and the colours of her hijab. Today, one woman says to her, ‘Are you Muslim? Well, God loves everyone’. My mother must be God. She loves everyone too. When she makes her tepsi baithinjan and serves it with her biryani, slivered almonds, barberries, pine nuts and threads of saffron, she says the staff fight over the last serves in the pot to take home, if it hadn’t sold out at the church cafe. Retired men say to her that this is so different from the usual menu. They prefer this. Of course they prefer this, she says as she gets into the car. Of course they prefer this over salted lamb and boiled potatoes.
She doesn’t know. Good. She doesn’t know. I wrap my fingers tight around the steering wheel as I say all the lines I’ve been rehearsing. What spices did you use? Did you see that nice woman from last time? What are you cooking for them next week?
In class, the lecturer plays a documentary about terror and bombings. Victims and their families are interviewed. It’s fine, I can handle that. First it’s a woman saying that, as she realised she was being kidnapped, she stared at her wardrobe trying to figure out what to wear to her own kidnapping. She laughs and cites emotional shock. I laugh with her, picture her picking out a practical pair of jeans and a wrinkle proof sweater, her kidnappers waiting politely at the door until she says to them come on in, I’m ready now. Then there was a recording of a man. He talks about picking something to wear for his brother’s funeral. The black t-shirt and the black blazer, barely pulling together a decent ensemble. ‘That was my first funeral’.
Yeah, no. That’s not fine. Maybe I can’t handle that. I leave the room and I eavesdrop, waiting for the recording to be over so I can go back in. Okay, I can be back in there now. I go back in there. I take a seat. Why are my hands shaking? We’re discussing the documentary now. The lecturer says this is about forgiveness. Can we ever move on and forgive? No, no we can’t forgive. I take a drink out of my water bottle but I miss my mouth and I spill. The fuck you know about forgiveness? Why am I here. The water doesn’t do anything to the bitter, stinging needles in my throat, I know the ones, they hit me just before. My body saying get ready, find a carpeted floor, you’re about to collapse.
When my mother and I get home I pray to God that dad isn’t already here. That he hasn’t turned on the television. But he is here, and he has turned on the television. I say let’s go out to dinner. I got us a table, my shout, yalla hurry up or we’ll be late. But it’s useless. They’ve found it. I watch them turn to stone in front of the screen as they slowly process what has happened in a place that’s supposed to be better than here. My mother says to me that they say he’s Australian, is he Australian? She looks to me for confirmation. I don’t want to confirm it. I want to say he’s not. I want to tell her we’re in a good country with good people. My father says the Prime Minister condemns this. He heard him on the radio. But I’m furious at this. I say well maybe the PM shouldn’t have endorsed literal Nazis in Parliament. My father becomes silent.
I find myself on the floor quicker than I thought. Harder than I thought. I want to crawl under a table and be safe, like I used to be when we played our hide and seek with cousins who are no longer with me. A friend grabs me and takes me outside for air. I see all the cars on the street exploding. I see them turn into flames with my loved ones still inside, like they have done before. I’m on the floor again. I can’t move. I can’t breathe. The smell of the burning fuel, the ripple of hot smoke in the air, I can’t breathe.
I receive messages from my good Australian friends. One kind friend says she sends all her love and protection to me and my family. I need all the love, all the protection, but for my family. I get more messages and I show each and every single one to both my parents and my sister. I take screenshots and put them in the family group chat. Do you see? Good people. We are loved here. I promise you, I swear to God we are loved here. I wasn’t ready for this type of growing up, the one where I want to wrap my parents in bubble wrap like they had tried so hard to wrap me. I can’t hide everything that’ from them. I can’t hide Morrison or Anning or the shooter or the final solution speech or the white supremacy motion or the Nazi fandom within our own press. Today I wish I could hide the entire city of Christchurch and all of Australia.
At the end of the night, my mother turns off the television. She walks away from it and towards her handbag. She pulls out a new hijab she bought this morning. She wraps it around her head and asks me if I like it. A light pink against her brown skin, I tell her it lights up her face. She tells me she got it for a good deal, thought it was elegant. I say she looks stunning. Her faint smile fades when she looks in the mirror. She puts it away and comes and sits next to me. In silence she holds my hand. I feel her tears pierce the shoulder of my shirt and burn through my skin like acid. I keep my own tears locked into my eyes and I let them burn the rest of me from within.