Breakfast Television told me last Wednesday that the rain was light but would soon taper off. Unfortunately, they were quite mistaken. I spent most of the morning frantically moving from library to library at the U of T campus collecting my weekly course readings. Then, soaked and miserable, I made my way up St. George with an umbrella clutched in one hand and a stack of books lodged uncomfortably under my other arm. Tim Hortons at Bedford and Bloor appeared on the horizon, an oasis of comfort and coziness in a frigid and soggy city. One medium hot chocolate, a bowl of chicken noodle soup and a BLT, please. Mmm. I don't mean to plug Tim Hortons here, but it sure felt much better sitting in a warm place eating lunch than standing outside in the rain. I found a table by the window and quietly ate my lunch before breaking out a book.
Tim Hortons is not the greatest place to try to work. On a Wednesday afternoon it can be crowded, filled with hungry customers looking for a double double and a cream-filled treat. The overworked employees behind the counter have to shout repeatedly to their absent-minded patrons, "Next in line, please." Most of the time I can tune this out and continue to reading.
I leaf through the pages of French Rural History for a half-hour after finishing my lunch before a small middle-aged white woman stops at my table. She taps the table to get my attention.
"Excuse me. Are you finished?" she asks.
"I said, are you finished? Because if you are, you should leave."
"Well, I am finished, but you're welcome to sit down at this table."
"No. I'd like to eat alone and I'd like you to leave."
I'm not sure what to make of this situation. My mind is still lost somewhere in 15th-century France, and this woman is demanding that I leave the restaurant. Since she's been too rude to accept my offer to join me, I decide to stay.
"Actually, I think I'm going to get another hot chocolate. You have a nice day," I say with an enormous grin on my face as I get up to buy another drink.
"Don't play games with me," she suddenly yells loud enough for other people in the store to notice. "Why don't you get out of here and go back to your country!?!?"
Silence. Everyone in the store stops and turns to see who has uttered this all too common question. I suddenly remember the first time someone said this to me. I was nine years old, playing street hockey with some boys in my neighbourhood. I scored a goal, and one of them told me I should go back to my country. I swung my stick and struck him across the face. With two missing teeth, he was too busy running home crying to find out that my country is Canada.
I got in far too much trouble that day to think violence is ever an answer. So today I turn, walk up to the bigoted troll and plant myself less than a foot from her face.
"And just what country would that be?" I ask.
"I don't know, Pakistan? Stupid Pakis are so rude."
"Actually, it's Canada." I turn my back to her and order another hot chocolate.
Shaking inside, I return to the table with my hot drink and open my book. Then the manager, invoking the 20-minute time limit posted near the counter, comes to tell me I cannot read there and will have to leave.
I take one sip from my drink, put the lid back on and leave it on the table. Humiliated, I gather my things and leave before the tears well up in my eyes. As I walk out, I kindly say good-bye to the women working behind the counter. There is certainly more multiculturalism there than at the tables. Not a word has been spoken by anyone who witnessed this scene.
"Why don't you go back to your country?" Apathy tacitly condones the question.