The wind blows and throws the scarf in my face. Rain pummels the cars as I run to my navy blue Audi in the airport parking lot. Dad will probably be in the PIA lounge now. I wish I could have stayed longer to say goodbye to him but I have an assignment due tomorrow.
I navigate my car through the winding airport exits and start onto the 427. Cars fill the highway, bumper to bumper. I check the blue numbers on the dashboard. 5:07. Damn.
But I can’t do nothing else and wait. The cars inch forward like worms on a rainy day. I hunch forward and clasp the steering on top just like Dad does.
I rest my chin on the steering wheel and blink. The rain continues to lash out against the windshield. My wipers swish back and forth just like the constant movement of my eyelids.
I wipe my face and rub my eyes. The middle lane opens up for a second and I slide my car in between.
I might as well put the parking brake on and relax. The cars stand still so I close my eyes. I cry.
My sniffling reverberates through the otherwise silent car. I reach for the tissue box on the floor of the backseat. I blow my nose and wipe my eyes. The whole highway is watching you, I try to tell myself, but this makes me cry even more.
Suddenly a honk interrupts my crying. I drop my used tissue and jerk to see who has honked. A man, in the black Escalade next to me, gestures for me to open the window.
Hands shaking, I open the automatic window. I wonder what has happened to my car.
A middle-aged, South Asian man smiles at me. “Are you okay?” he shouts across the space of the two cars.
I furrow my eyebrows. Isn’t something wrong with my car? “Excuse me?”
“What’s wrong? I’ve been watching you cry for some time now.” He speaks with a thick accent.
Random strangers care more about my well-being than my own family. What a concerned uncle, I think.
The cars inch forward.
“Please tell me, you look so sad and I want to help you.” He smiles just like all the other uncles I know.
“My dad just left for Pakistan.” I wipe my nose and hope I don’t have any snot hanging out. “I’m sad because he left.”
The Uncle nods and inches his car forward. He suddenly switches to Urdu. “We’re from the same country, beti. Let me talk to you.”
I try to smile.
“So tell me, how long is he gone for?”
“A month,” I answer. My fingers itch toward the automatic window button. He keeps talking even though his lane has ended.
“Acha.” He nods. “Listen, I want to know details so follow me.” He turns on his signal and squeezes his car in front of mine.
“What?” I try to say but the man disappears from beside me. Is this a joke?
Traffic moves now, so I accelerate. I don’t plan on following him, but we happen to be going in the same direction.
He drives too slowly so I change lanes. Within a few seconds, the man draws his car closer and opens the window. “Where are you going?” he calls to me. I can still hear him through the closed windows. “Follow me!”
He waves his arm out the window but I stare ahead. My heart pounds. What is he doing?
I near the exit to Sherway Gardens. Just as I start to move towards the right, the black Escalade slides in front of me again. His arm swings out of the car again and his gestures become more spirited.
Drivers whizzing past my Audi turn to stare. The man’s arm movements become more violent. I want to slide down into my seat and disappear.
I switch into the right lane. He follows me. I switch again back into the middle lane. His black car chases after me. I increase speed. He also increases speed and gestures.
Fumbling with my phone, I call my friend Maryam. I will probably get caught and get pulled over and thrown in jail but at this point I welcome the police.
“Hello?” Maryam answers on the first bell.
“Maryam, this-guy-is-following-me-and-I-don’t-know-what-to-do. Help me!”
“What? Are you sure?” Maryam says. “Why would he do that?”
I swerve my car into another lane but he follows swiftly. “I don’t know! He just started asking me about my dad and then starting following me and I don’t know what to do because I keep changing lanes but he keeps following me!”
Maryam breathes heavily on the end of the line. “If it’s that serious, call the police, Zainab! He could be a psycho, if he’s following you.”
“No, I don’t want to call the police.” I stop trying to change lanes. I switch the phone to my left ear so I can wipe my sweaty palm. “I don’t know what to do.”
The exit to Mississauga Road nears. Should I take the exit home, run inside and tell my mom about the man?
The car begins to swerve to the right but then I jerk back into my lane. No, I can’t jeopardize my family like this. What if he really is a psycho, like Maryam says, and follows me home?
“Ok, how about this?” Maryam says. “Why don’t you go to the police station near South Common? That way, if he does anything you’ll be protected, right? Zainab?”
“Oh crap!” I slam the brakes as traffic slows down again and fly into the steering wheel. The seatbelt presses against my chest tightly.
Gasping, I say, “Maryam, can I call you back?”
I hang up. The black Escalade draws closer to me and the man gestures again wildly.
Who else can I call? I could ask Irtiza and Umar for help, but they’ll probably beat the man up. No, brothers are useless.
I can call Shehri! He isn’t my brother, but the next best thing: my cousin.
“Shehri? There’s someone following me on the highway. It’s been forty minutes now.” I don’t waste any time on preamble.
Shehri doesn’t ask any questions. “Yeah? Come to UTM and I’ll meet you outside, okay?”
My heart rate slows down slightly. “Okay, stay with me on the phone while I get there.”
I change lanes rapidly towards the Erin Mills exit and ignore the honking cars. Maybe I’ve escaped?
But as soon as I have the thought, the black Escalade appears in my mirror. I accelerate and sped towards the lights, cursing as it changes to red.
The Escalade pulls up beside me. He honks several times but I blink and stare ahead. The light is has been red for fifty-eight seconds now.
The honks get more frequent. Finally I pull down my window. “What are you doing?” he shouts across the lane. “I’ve been following you for so long. Stop over there. We have to talk.” He points to Sheridan Mall as he leans out of the window. His thick eyebrows furrow and he wags a finger at me. He doesn’t look like any of my uncles now.
I shake my head. Trickles of sweat drip down my neck. The rain outside has turned to sleet. “No.”
“You made me drive all this way! And now you’re saying no?”
“S-shehri? Can you just come to Sheridan Mall please? Forget UTM.” My voice shakes as I whisper into the phone. “Okay, I’m going to turn into the mall.”
I drive in front of Pizza Pizza and stop there. Lots of people walk around. If he kills me, at least there will be witnesses.
“Okay, keep me on the line while you talk to him. And Zainab?” Shehri says.
I put the car in park. “Yeah?”
“Don’t get out of the car.”
“I know.” I close my eyes. “I just want this to end.”
The man drives up beside me and parks parallel. He gets out of his Escalade. He wears a black suit.
I open my window slightly.
He leans forwards and my hand hovers over the automatic button. If he tries anything, I know what to do.
“Can you just tell me why you were crying?” he says.
“Because my dad left, I told you.” I flex my fingers as he leans in closer.
He nods. “Acha, I see. It happens, don’t worry he’ll be back.” He smiles as if consoling me. “What is your name?”
I can hear Shehri on the other end of the phone, but I don’t pick it up. “Zena.”
He nods. “Nice name. What is your family?”
“Khan.” I hope Zena Khan doesn’t really exist.
“Zena, where do you live?”
“Brampton.” My heart slams against my ribs. I try reaching for the phone but it falls and the screen turns black.
He smiles and strokes his clean-shaven face. “Good, and what are you studying?”
“Medical.” Uncles always like this answer. The lies come easier now.
His grin grows. “Good! You know, when I saw you crying like that, I couldn’t leave you alone. It would be wrong of me.”
I gulp. My finger stroke the button.
“We should meet up for coffee or chai,” he continues, leaning closer. “I can come to your university.”
“I have a three hour class.” I don’t blink or look away.
“Ah okay. Here, why don’t you give me your phone number and we can meet up then?” He rummages through his jacket and pulls out a card and a pen. “What’s your number?”
I think of the first 7 numbers that pop into my head. “416. 188.8.131.52…9.4.”
He grins again and pockets the number. “Thank you. Okay, I will give you a missed call. Thank you so much, beti.”
I cringe. “Okay.”
“Nice meeting you! Take care!” He waves at me.
I tap the button and the window zooms up. I change gears and drive out of the parking lot.
The phone rings. “Shehri? No, you don’t have to come anymore. It’s over. It’s all over,” I say.
Turning right onto Erin Mills, I push the gas. I don’t look back.