385 Rexdale

(I wrote a story for Xtra! recently about a gentleman, Alvaro Orozco, who is facing imminent deportation. Some people have asked me what that was like. Here, I took some time to answer.)

At 389 Rexdale, a ragtag market stand full of undetonated explosives advertises its “Fireworks Blowout Sale.” Tinsel and flags line the thin patch of lawn beside the street, drawing attention to the tent with bold primary colours.

385 is a brown brick structure just two doors down; it is almost modest in its imposition. In front lies a parking lot. The low-roofed structure does not command one’s attention or strike a presence. It could be just another worn-out warehouse or badly-designed office space. It’s the Rexdale Immigration Holding Centre.

Getting to the Centre from the city means taking a bus which covers swathes of urban highway. I look out the window and see rows of prefabricated box-shaped shopping. There is a Payless Shoe Source; a miniature drive-through branch of your local Scotiabank; a few gas stations. Five minutes ago we had driven past St George’s-on-the-Hill, one of Toronto’s most prestigious golf courses. I saw a man in a pink polo, his hair tousled, strutting along the grass. He seems almost a lifetime apart from this place.

Inside, the Centre almost seems to evoke cheerfulness. I wonder what the architects were thinking when they chose pale green for the chairs in the waiting room, or orange stools for visitation—with big yellow phones hanging on hooks in front of glass panels. These colours belong in the nursery of a child whom two lesbian mothers are trying not to indoctrinate into gender binaries. This is not the palette of a state which fears those inside might run away before being told when, exactly, such behaviour is permissible.

The rows of chairs wait for rows of stools and phones where rows of failed claims, tired dreams are consoled by rows of friends, family still outside, still safe. Their visitors are the ones who have nothing to fear, who flash a Canadian passport knowing full well that if lost it is replaceable. These are the voices I hear on all sides, insisting things are fine, as though attempting to assure themselves of their own security.

But we are all insecure.

I leave the building and walk down the street to the one bus stop that can take us out of this place. 10 minutes later, I’m still waiting, joined by four people I just saw in the building. Visiting hours are clearly over.

“Any idea when the bus comes?” I ask.

“Not often enough.”

The Haligonian in me wants to share everything here, explain my exhaustion, ask these strangers for a hug—but they are still strangers and this isn’t Halifax and each of us now looks too tired for feelings. I want to be home. I want to be left alone.

I settle on asking the gentleman to my left what’s in his bag. It’s an absurdly large bottle of St. Lucian rum. “You should try it some time,” he says. Maybe I will, if I get the chance.

“How was your visit?” I ask him tentatively.

“It was very nice.”

I try not to show my shock or confusion that one would use those words to describe anything here. I have obviously pried too quickly. Or maybe it was nice, very nice, and some people are just capable of seeing their experiences more positively than others.

A young woman runs by the bus stop holding a textbook with one arm. She is wearing low-slung jeans, and her hips bounce from side to side as she moves. I find myself one of three men, transfixed and looking. I comprehend leering for a moment, now. Her body is our only entertainment.

She is reduced to a doll’s size. We are still looking.

The bus turns a corner and approaches our stop. We step up, sit down, exit this place with one brief act of entry. It was that same act—stepping onto a bus, preparing to sit, getting somewhere from somewhere else—that brought him here, if I recall correctly.

The rough fibers of the polyester seat itch against my skirt. The men of the old circus tent set off their fireworks, creating a sample show of noise and light against grey clouds. Explosions pop, brash against the din of this passing vehicle.

We are all insecure.

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