(I started this about a month ago, immediately after the walk; and worked on it again over the last few days.)
The sun rose a few hours after we arrived in Montreal. As everyone went back to sleep for the early morning, I got R, and L into their stroller and headed out for a walk.
We went up Redpath and took a right on Dr. Penfield. The silence was stunning. Not one of us made a sound for many long minutes. We listened to the wind blowing through the trees, and to the birds chirping.
When we got to the statue of the two goats head to head, in front of the Stewart Biological sciences building I broke the spell. L and R would have to hear a part of our story here, at McGill.
Maher and I met on a snowy winter day at the indoor running track in the gym. He was running and I was on crutches. A mutual friend introduced us. I was there to support Sarah and her team in their indoor soccer game. Maher loves to tell the next bit of the story. In his version, our mutual friend Assad and he invited Sarah and me to join them for dinner. We didn’t show.
L and R didn’t hear that part of the story. It was a little simpler. They now know that I spent many hours and months in the Biology building, behind the goats that attracted their attention.
We kept going along Dr. Penfield, past the law building, the reservoir, past the Shatner building (which might have a new name now?), the McLennan and Redpath library where we spent many days, even nights during the exam period. They were tired, but itching to get out and play. I was excited by how easy it is to find soft green spots to hang out it on. We stopped to play with the birds and squirrels on the grassy patch right in front of the Macdonald Engineering building. A had a sudden flash-back memory of children playing there. Now I realise why. It’s the fenced-off only park area on the lower campus. I needed to contain the two children because I was alone, and they were in a discovering mood. The spaces around us seemed expansive.
Back to the story… They learnt that Maher studied in the Engineering building across from our little park. It was also close to where we were playing that Maher broke into loud song one day, before defending his honour’s thesis. He told Sarah and me that singing Oum Kulsum was the only way he could control his nerves. I was a little self-conscious at first, but then his beautiful, strong voice mesmerized me. I forgot all the students and teachers walking by, hanging out, and looking at us. I think a number of them sent him smiles.
I remember waiting for him on the stairs right across from the park we were playing in, ready to celebrate after his last exam ever.
L and R chased squirrels and pigeons in the wet, grassy area. They were intrigued by two squirrels that weaved around each other as they scurried up a tree. When one of them came back down and approached us, R waved, “allo”. A passer-by wearing a black and white long-sleeve hooded, checkered shirt beamed a smile. “Hello,” he said, “and good morning!” I smile, wave back, and reply, “good morning.” I imagine he is returning home from one of the infamous after-hours club. By then the squirrel had run back up his tree.
It’s a stunning tree. The trunk split into three branches, two of them curve around each other and extend outwards; an easy tree to climb. I remember people sitting in it. We picked a few leaves from under the tree; the ones that L chose were from another. Maple leaves. She handed me one. When we all had one in each hand, we did our Dance of the Leaves. This time we added a new sequence to the usual twirling and leaf swishing. The song goes “Up, down, up, down, up, down and around.” It’s simple, and lots of fun. Raise both arms and leaves up as you sing UP. Bring the arms down as you sing DOWN, three times, and finally turn around as the leaves swish to AND AROUND. We loved it, and did it over and over in the grass.
By then, they were quite tired, their feet cold from the wet grass, and both ready for some milk. I took off their wet shoes and socks, handed them their milk, and we continued on our way.
We went out the Milton gates and walked by familiar apartments, ones that my cousin had lived in, other friends’, not far. We saw Lola Rosa, the vegetarian restaurant where one of Maher’s engineering professors hung out every day for lunch, at least every time we went. The rumour was that he was deeply in love with Lola, the sexy owner.
It was about 7 am now. People were still scarce on the Saturday morning Street. A man riding his young son on bicycle in a front bike-seat smiled at us. The two or three other people we walked by also noticed us out so early in the double stroller. Some smiled, some greeted us with a chirpy “Good morning.” It felt good to be there. We walked all the way to the Second Cup on Park and Milton.
It was my favorite 24 hour café to study at, daytime or overnight. I drank a few too many hot chocolates and ate a few too many carrot cakes there.
We crossed the street, over to the blue-walled Iraqi restaurant that always played classical music, and smelled of burnt oil. It attracted the late night chess players, and other “intellectuals.” It’s a breakfast café now. Maher, Nanu, and a number of my friends and I ate a number of delicious shawarma’s and salads there; sometimes over our text books, but mostly reading the street press, procrastinating.
I contemplated continuing on Milton all the way to St. Laurent Street, but realized that L and R were too cold, and almost asleep. And the story I was telling them had turned into my nostalgic walk. I had already strayed quite a ways from our apartment. I sped up; walked down Park towards Sherbrooke. Oh, our Japanese restaurant that served the best fish soup I have ever eaten was still there, right next to the 25 hour Pakistani depanneur where Maher bought my birthday cupcake the first year we met. It was after our trip to Mont Tremblant. Nothing, nothing at all was open on Christmas day in Montreal.
An early bird dressed in a hooded sweatshirt walked into Chez Cora for his breakfast. It’s quite possible he too, had not slept all night.
The cold was worrying me. The wind on Sherbrooke was typically strong. R was asleep. His feet ice blocks.
A few blocks on I decided to avoid the wind by going through the student ghetto again, and across the campus, back the way we came.
I laid R and L on the mattress next to our bed. The household was slowly waking up. My parents and D2 would have to wait until the evening to play with L and R.