One Step at a Time
It is the hardest moment in Golrokh Kavakebi’s life, the time to say goodbye to her family, friends, and all the things she is familiar with. The combination of memories, sadness, happiness and doubt make it harder. Goli always wears a new pair of shoes when she moves somewhere new. But when she leaves Tehran for Calgary, Alberta, she decides not to follow her usual ritual. She puts on her old black sneakers, and during her long flight to Calgary, she explores her memories and her reasons for leaving Iran.
It’s the 8th of April, 2018, and I’m sitting on the last step of the stairs in my in-law’s home in Tehran, lacing up my new shoes. The airport cab will be here in a minute. I’m looking at my new shoes. I always buy a new pair of shoes for moving to a new place. It has become a ritual of mine.
Arash, my husband, says, “Cab’s here, let’s go!”
At that last second, I take off my shoes, put on old black Deichman sneakers, which are ugly, but still comfortable for a 22-hour flight. I bought them in Austria, have worn them in several countries, even on our travel to Ankara, Turkey, where we received our Canadian Visa. They don’t deserve to be left behind.
In the cab, I’m shaking, thinking about goodbyes. Arash’s tearful aunt stands outside the cab holding a bowl of water. The cab starts moving…I turn back and see her pour the water on the ground to keep us safe.
I can’t see the smoggy streets of Tehran through my tears. Those streets and their infinite traffic always make me crazy, yet Life is flowing there, all day and night. “Tehran never sleeps,” people say.
I was born during a war. The government encouraged people to have more children. There wasn’t enough formula for babies, not enough spots in schools, universities or jobs. People used to joke: “there are not enough spots to be buried.”
There are no wars going on now, but we’re always on the edge.
On the plane, Arash says, “We’re over Greenland now.”
After growing up in one of the hottest cities in the world, now I’m almost at the North Pole. People in my city say, “Don’t run around outside barefoot, you’ll become a bigfoot!” But it was the only way to escape in the evenings to play in the yard without waking mom up. And I did become a bigfoot. One time, my sister and I were watching Cinderella together. When Cinderella’s sister’s big toe pushed out of the crystal shoes, I realized that’s me, I’m Anastasia…and my sister with the small feet was Cinderella.
The girl in the next seat nudges me while struggling to take off her shoes. Her feet must be swollen in her green high heels, which are like a pair I left behind. Should I have brought them? What if I’m invited to a party? “Don’t be silly!” I say to myself. “Who cares about high heels? You left many things behind! Family, friends, the great feeling of understanding every word as soon as they come out of someone’s mouth.”
“Everyone who leaves is a coward,” my friend told me once.
But for me, living there was a slow death. I had to leave. People censor themselves to survive. For years, people who worked for the government or in the education system were interrogated about their religion and political views. Criticizing the regime is forbidden. Hanging out with the opposite gender is a crime. You can be arrested because of your short manteau or because your sleeves are too short. Having basic rights or a bit of stability is a dream. I wanted adventures in my life, but over the years, my dreams became smaller. I just want some peace.
It’s still the 8th of April when our plane lands. There is snow on the ground, and my first glimpse of Calgary is a black and white abstract.
Outside of the airport, I step on the snow and feel my socks become wet through my sneakers. I take a deep breath and say, Hello Canada!
GOLROKH KAVAKEBI was born and raised in Ahvaz, a city in southern Iran. After graduating with a degree in Computer Software from Tabari University in Iran, she moved to the capital Tehran and worked as a Website developer. In 2016, she moved to Vienna to study. Since April 2018, she has lived with her husband in Calgary as a permanent resident of Canada. She enjoys reading novels, travelling, and the arts.