Wingspan

In 1966 Scotland, Catholics must indicate religion on job applications, thwarting another work opportunity for them in Presbyterian Scotland. Billboard, radio and television advertisements invite worker Scots to go to Canada. In Glasgow’s Canada House, my father enquires about this place: Canada. A tall man with a soft Canadian accent rolls a map of Canada before my father and asks him where he wants to live and what sort of work he would like to do. Scotland has no place for him while Canada is a Proverbs’ bride offering hope, prosperity, and the optimistic future that has been denied him in his sectarian homeland because of his religion.

We live in newly constructed apartments on Hamilton Road in London, Ontario. A Dominion grocery store stands behind the apartments, its neon-lit red maple leaf brandishing its mocha-colored brick, and the Thames River flows nearby. At Easter, as I hunt for chocolate eggs, I find a bird trapped in the gold draperies over the glass patio doors. It swoops above my head and I feel air on my face from its frantic wingspan. I yelp and run down the hallway to my parents’ bedroom, my tiny feet padding the cold linoleum. I sneak to my father’s side of the bed, and poke at his bare shoulder. My dad opens his big eyes and wants to know what’s wrang. I tell him there’s a bird trapped in the house.

“Och,” he says. “That’s a wee birdie yer mammy brought hame way her last night, hen. It has a broken wing.”

“Its wings are working now,” I tell him.

My dad climbs from his bed, and takes my small hand in his hard palm as we walk together into the living-room. The bird careens at a rapid speed above our heads.

“See, Dad?”

“Aye, pet. I see right enough.”

My dad opens the patio door.

“Fly away, little bird,” I say.

“The wee thing’s frightened, darlin’. He’ll f’un his way oot when he’s ready tae gae.”

The cold air from outside invades the apartment and I shiver in need of a pee. My dad asks if I want cereal, and I say ‘yes’. He pulls a small, blue plastic bowl from the cupboard and fills it with Cornflakes, sugar and ice cold milk.

“Sit up here, pet-lamb,” he says.

I climb onto the stool next to the countertop. On the chipped formica lies a shoe box, holes pierced in its lid. Inside the shoebox is a terry facecloth. I want to know what the box is for.

“Yer mammy made the wee birdie a bed.”

My dad asks me if I managed to find any Easter eggs, and I shake my head no. I look up at the bird as I eat my cereal. He flies too fast for me to get a good look at him. I don’t want to be afraid, but I cover my head with my hands each time he plunges past.

“Och, he’ll no hurt you, hen,” my dad says. “He’s a harmless, wee sparrow.”

The bird finally finds an opening through the gold drapes and escapes into the April sky pregnant with the promise of an icy, Easter morning rain.

“That’s him away,” my dad says.

“Where to?” I ask, relieved the bird is gone.

“He’s away back hame,” my father says, following the bird’s flight with his bright, blue eyes. My dad turns, winks at me and smiles.

We’re home already, I know. Canada gave us the life denied us in Scotland.

 

 

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