My breath puffs up one last time before I bound into the toasty car.
“Asalmulaikum,” says Farah Aunty, as she turns the wheel and pulls away from the curb.
I shiver, but settle into the warm car and toss my backpack on the ground. “Walaikumsalam,” I answer.
“How was school?” she asks, in her cool British accent. I wish Mama had a British accent.
“Mmokay,” I say, fumbling with the seatbelt. I jam it around until it clicks loudly. “I’m hungry.”
“Me too!” chimes in Ibrahim. He sits next to me and flails his legs.
“We have to pick up Zainab, and then I have to run a few errands. But I’ve made soup for you guys at home,” says Farah Aunty, turning smoothly onto the main road. “Your mum’s not going to pick you up till a bit later today.”
“Soup!” I smack my lips together. “Is it swamp soup?”
She laughs. “Yes, I made your favourite. It’ll be nice after such a cold day.”
I nod, staring out the window at the piles of snow. I doodle my name on the foggy window in big, cursive letters.
“I’ll also pack some for your brothers,” Farah Aunty says. “I think they like it too.”
“Okay.” But I don’t think they deserve any. Before I had left for school today, Subhaan had pulled out the buttons of my Tamogatchi. He doesn’t deserve any special soup.
Mama doesn’t make such yummy swamp soup, and Ibrahim doesn’t pull my hair like Ahmad and Subhaan do. I wish I lived with them.
We finally reach Zainab’s school.
“Asalmalaikum!” she says as she pulls the door open. She has a two thick braids hanging on each shoulder.
“Walaikumsalam,” says Farah Aunty, leaning back in her seat to look at Zainab. “Come on quick, close the door, the cold air’s coming in.”
Zainab and I shuffle to the back of the van, grinning at each other. “Guess what we’re eating today?” I ask her.
“Yes, swamp soup!” We high-five, giggling in our seats.
“All right you giddy girls, buckle up,” Farah Aunty chides from the front of the van. “We’ve got to go to the store now to pick up some groceries and then we’re going home. Ibrahim…”
I stop listening and turn to Zainab. “Do you have lots of homework?”
She rifles through her bag and pulls out a crumpled piece of paper. “No, but I got a sticker today on my homework. Mama, I got a sticker today!” she shouts to the front.
“Good work, beta. There’s no need to shout.”
Zainab rubs the sticker. “Look! It’s the smelly kind. Smell it.”
She thrusts the paper under my nose. I wrinkle my nose and sniff. “It smells like candy! That’s so cool. I wish I had one.”
Putting the paper back, she grins and reveals the gaps in her teeth. “What do you want to do when we go home?”
“Watch Two of a Kind!” I say, spit spurting out of my mouth. Mama never let me watch TV when she picked me up from Farah Aunty’s. She always forced me to do homework. “I think we’ll be home by then.”
“I want to play Barbies,” Zainab mumbles. She pouts.
“Well, I really want to watch the show! I love Mary-Kate and Ashley, don’t you? I thought you were a fan?” I stare at her with wide eyes, as we turn into downtown Hamilton.
“I am a fan!” Zainab protests. “Look, I got a book from school.” And she pulls out a novel from her backpack with the twins on the front.
We pull up in front of Mecca, the store that Uncle owns. Farah Aunty unbuckles her seatbelt and turns around to face us. “Okay girls, you need to mind Ibrahim because I just need to pick up a few things for home. I’ll be back in a few minutes. And don’t fight.”
With that, she pulls the keys from the ignition and leaves.
We all unbuckle our seatbelts to stretch our legs. Ibrahim immediately waddles to the front of the car. With the car on, he can’t go up front.
“Well, I watch the show every day when I go home from your house,” I inform Zainab. I glare at her. “So I’m a bigger fan!”
Zainab wrinkles her nose. “But you told me your mom never let you.”
“Well…well now she does! Because she knows I’m such a big fan. I even have a book about them,” I say, crossing my arms.
“So do I!”
I flip through her book, trying not to peer at the pictures. They’re brand new.
“This is nothing. I’m older, so I know, this isn’t about them. It’s just about their characters,” I say, closing the book. “My book is real. And I’m a bigger fan.”
Zainab pulls the book out of my hands. “Fine we’ll watch the show! But I hate you. And you can’t play with my Mulan Barbie anymore.”
“I don’t care. I hate you too!” I plop my bag in between us and shuffle to the window. I accidentally elbow her in the process.
Zainab sticks her tongue out. Spit shoots into my face. “Ew! That’s so disgusting!” I shout.
“You’re disgusting,” she retorts. Elbowing me on purpose, she angles her body completely to the window. I copy her.
After Zainab and I have elbowed each other, shouted insults back and forth and moved to different places in the car, Farah Aunty comes back. “All right, now we can go home,” she says, storing the groceries in the trunk seat. “Here, Uncle gave these to you.”
She passes around chocolates to all of us. They have animal-stickers inside. I wish my Daddy would send me chocolates, but he’s all the way in Pakistan.
“I love these,” I say, ripping mine open to look to see which animal sticker lived in the wrapper. “Thank you, Farah Aunty.”
“You’re welcome. Ibrahim, get back to your seat,” Farah Aunty says, as she closes the front door and puts on her seatbelt. “And what happened to you two?”
“She said she’s a bigger fan-”
“I wanted to watch Two of a Kind, but Zainab said no and-”
“Enough.” Farah Aunty holds up her hand. “You girls fight too much. Come on, let’s go home now.”
She starts the car and backs out of the sloped parking lot. Zainab and I laser-beam glares at each other, munching our chocolates.
“We’ll unpack the groceries,” says Farah Aunty, changing lanes, “and then I’ll warm up th-”
Suddenly the trunk flies open behind us. Zainab and I scream. “Ahhhh! We’re gonna die!”
Farah Aunty slams the brakes. We fly forwards against our seatbelts. “What on earth!”
With cars honking behind us, we turn to see vegetables, fruit, bread, chocolates and a blanket strewn across the road. They have all spilt out of the trunk.
Farah Aunty pulls to the side of the road. She takes off her seatbelt and gets out of the car.
Zainab and I turn in our seats, to peek over the top of the seat. Farah Aunty picks up the bigger groceries directly behind the car. She tosses it all in and closes the trunk.
Getting back in the driver’s seat, she turns to us. “Who did that?”
I shake my head and so does Zainab. Ibrahim giggles.
“Ibrahim?” Farah Aunty asks. “How did you girls not notice him pressing the button to open the trunk? Why weren’t you paying attention?”
Zainab and I turn to look at each other. We had heard Ibrahim pressing buttons, but we had been too busy fighting to notice.
“Ibrahim, you are in big trouble when we go home,” Farah Aunty says, pulling back into traffic.
Every car stares at us as if we’re crazy. Farah Aunty ignores them and keeps driving. But I slump down lower in my seat.
I wish I was somewhere else.