By Attila Zønn
It was on May 4, 1965 when I come to Canada. I was not prepared for the weather. Where I am from in Italy, May is like the first month of summer. Already everyone is in shorts, and the sun shines like new life and already people are running to the beaches. It is May!
But May in Canada is like a roller coaster.
It is a terrible thing to be an immigrant and you are not prepared. When you look at this new world it is only with confusion and being uncomfortable in your space has made you lose focus. There’s no details. There’s no certainties. At times you are helpless and wish to be home again where you know the language and everything makes sense.
But this is the new life I had chosen so I must be strong and not lose courage. I must learn and then all will come clear.
The next day, with my passport and documents, I must make my way to an agency where they will find employment for me.
The family I was living with could not take me. It was the middle of the week. Everybody have to go to work.
They write the name of the place on a paper and tell me, “Lorenzo, it is easy. It is close. You get on the bus. You listen. After seven dings you get off and a big building will be in front of you. You go inside. They speak Italian. They will help you and then someone will bring you back. It is easy.” I don’t like this expression — It’s easy. Easy for who? The person saying it? I say, “What is this ding?”
They tell me, “When a person want to get off the bus they pull a cord, it make a ding so the driver knows someone want to get off.”
“So seven dings is seven stops?” I say.
“Seven dings is seven stops.”
I am uncertain. I could not sleep that night thinking of travelling alone on a bus when I do not know the language, but I must do it. I must.
That morning I get on the bus and I find a seat beside a fat woman who frown at me and pull her purse tight to her.
I pay attention to the dings. One ding, okay. The bus stop, people get off. We go a little further. Ding number two. Bus stop, people get off. It is easy, I feel confident and relaxed — then ding, ding. But the bus only stop once. That’s four dings! Or was it only the third ding but dinged two times? I don’t know!
Suddenly, there are dings coming from everywhere. My head is full of fucking dings! Did I miss the seventh ding? I start to count in my head the dings I have heard and I was confident that the next ding is number seven.
I get off.
Yes, I get off but there is no building in front of me. They said, when I get off after seven dings, a big building will be in front of me. But in front of me now was a small grocery. I look up and down the street, and there is one big brown building but it is two streets over. Is that the building? I am confused and the noises from the cars, the many people on the sidewalk, did not stop my confusion.
I follow instructions.
Yes, seven dings.
I am here, but I am lost! What do I do?
The wind was terrible. It slash my face. It make my eyes cry. I am only wearing a thin jacket.
I walk to the big brown building. I stand in front of it. Is this the building? I look at the paper they give me. The letters could have been Chinese because I could not understand what they say. There is no writing on the building, just some numbers over a glass door to go inside. The numbers above the door don’t match the numbers on my paper. But I go inside. There is only a lobby. There is a black sign with white letters and numbers. I look at my paper and look at the letters on the sign but there is nothing similar. There is no one there to help me. What do I do?
Now I panic. I have never been panicked in my life but now I am terribly panicked because I’m thinking how do I get home? I have the address to the house, but who is going to help me?
I go outside. The blood is pumping to my ears. I look at all the people walking around this morning, and suddenly I feel I am in the wild — stranded with no shelter from the terrible cold and the wind.
This building have very tall windows and around each window, the brown bricks stick out from the building, like . . . niches. Yes niches — enough for me to get in between to shelter myself from the terrible wind. Getting out of the wind help me to calm myself. What do I do?
I must act! When the light change, herds of people cross the street towards me. I hold the paper in my hand, I approach the herd. I feel like a beggar. I say the only English word I know — please. I point to the paper. “Please,” I say, but everyone is in a hurry.
I go back into the niche, and I think, with all the people I see this morning walking along, there must be at least one Italiano. There must be. They tell me when I leave Italy that Toronto have a large population of Italians. In these masses of people on the sidewalk, there must be at least one.
But how do I get the attention of an Italian from these herds of people?
I get an idea.
Another herd crosses at the light. I run to them and loud, I swear at them in Italian, “Figlio di puttana!” (Son of a whore!) But I get no response. They just stare at me like I’m crazy. Again I go back into the niche. The light change. Again another herd. Again I run to the mass of people. I yell, “Cornuto!” (Cuckold!) But nothing!
Back, away from the wind. Am I hopeless? Am I to die here my second day in this country? I should find a policeman. But where are the policemen? I am so desperate but I am also so angry that there is no compassion in this new country. When the next bunch of people cross the light, I run at them like a pazzo. (Lunatic).
I scream at them, “Va fa’ in culo! Va fa’ in culo!” (Fuck Off!). And then a miracle happened! A big man jump from the crowd and grab me. He say, “Ma come ti permetti?! (How dare you?”) and slap my face.
Oh, I was so happy!
I start to cry.
I grab his arm tight and tell him, “I’ve been looking for you.”
I tell him I’m lost. I show him the paper. I tell him I need to find this place. His angry eyes become soft. He take the paper from me. He say, “I know this place. It’s just down here. I will take you, paisan.” (Countryman)
Oh, my heart was full of joy. I keep hold of this great man’s sleeve and we walk to my destination. I could see by the way he walk he was a proud man, with his back straight and his chest out. I could feel his confidence. I say to him, “Scusi. What is your name?” With a nod of his head he say, “Salvatore.”
I look to the sky. How could this be? Of all the people who could help me on this terrible cold day it should be someone named Salvatore, which means savior in Italian.