Leaving in Eight Hours
Samia Hossain buys a pair of flip-flops in Dhaka. They will take her and the baby she is expecting to Canada, where her husband has sought asylum. The author of books on atheism, he is a target for Islamic fundamentalists. His co-author and editor have already been murdered. But she will bring hope. She wears the flip-flops into the delivery room.
It was a sunny August day in 2015. Dhaka traffic was the craziest on Gulshan Avenue at
5 p.m. The whole day, I was in turmoil about whether I’d get the visa or not. If I got it, I’d be travelling halfway across the world.
Mom called. “Did you get the visa?”
“Yes, ma.” On the other end of the phone, there was a very long silence, simultaneously very happy and sad.
My flight was scheduled for 2 a.m. I wasn’t really thinking about anything except my sandals. They were killing my swollen, pregnant feet. I had stopped at the market on the way home to buy a new pair. Near the gate, a man was sitting on the pavement selling a bunch of colourful sandals displayed around him. I picked out a pair of light blue plastic flip-flops with white polka dots and a huge baby pink flower on the top. It took me a year to notice the glitter on the petals. The shoes looked childlike, but they were okay.
Everyone in the family was waiting. Mom was cooking my favourite dinner. My sister was packing my bags. My brothers and parents‐in‐law were sitting beside the dining table. My nephew and niece wanted to play with me. They didn’t understand I was leaving. I tried to tell them, but they just giggled.
It was nearly midnight when we reached the airport. I barely realized I was leaving my loving family, my friends and my very own brainchild: my business. I wished the people who were tearing everything apart knew what it was like to be in my shoes. The plane started to take off. I switched off my phone, leaned back and began thinking.
Almost six months ago, our lives turned upside down, and not because of the baby we had just learned was coming. The party we had planned for the announcement of my pregnancy never took place because one of my husband’s dearest friends was hacked to death the day before. Another was stabbed many times, and one of her fingers was chopped off. One month later, another friend was killed, then another one. They were targeted by Islamic extremists because of their lack of belief in religion. After the third killing, we decided that my husband Abir should leave the country. He is the author of two books about atheism. He and his publisher were getting multiple death threats, and the publisher was later hacked to death. Abir’s co-author and his editor were already dead. We kept changing our addresses, commuting routes, phone numbers. But the situation got worse.
Since 2013, 39 people have been killed by Islamic terrorists due to activities, such as publicly stating their lack of belief in Islam, writing blogs on evolution—and opening a music school. Fundamentalists want to bring the whole country under Islamic law. I wish they could agree that one size doesn’t fit all. Just a year ago, we were organizing workshops, writing books and blogs criticizing social taboos. Now we’re running for our lives.
Luckily, my husband had a seminar in Toronto. We planned for him to apply for asylum when he got there. When I said goodbye to him at the airport, we didn’t know when we’d meet again—and whether there would be three of us or only two. But here I was three months later on a plane to Toronto!
I entered Canada exhausted after 19 hours of travelling. My $2 plastic flip-flops had brought me 7,000 miles away. This could have been the most delightful day. But when I saw my husband, he was pale. He whispered to me that Neel, another friend, had just been killed.
Six weeks later, I wore this pair of sandals to the delivery room at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Toronto. I was scared with no family around, but it was not so long before my Canadian baby girl, Sophie, was lying beside me, reminding me of the value of life.
We are so lucky to be alive!
Samia Hossain was born and raised in Bangladesh. She is trained as an architect and works in the furniture design industry in Canada. She likes to read, write, and travel. She is currently living in Toronto with her daughter.