Friday, September 23, 2005
So, it’s 8:20 Am and I am sitting here at Place Bonaventure in Montreal just waiting for my train to Toronto. Toot Toot. When I changed my ticket over the phone the guy told me that the train left at 9:00 AM and I had to be here at least 45 minutes before to collect my ticket, anything could go wrong, you know. So, I made it here just after 8 ready to get my ticket, only to find the train actually pulls out at 9:40 AM. Fantastic.
Now I am sitting at a nice little café watching people go by. I have to say Place Bonaventure beats union station hands down. Union’s hospital lighting must have been installed in an effort make the waiting area as ugly as humanly possible. The walls look like the skin on someone suffering with a bad case of food poisoning. I guess that’s good for the departure area. It really makes you want to leave. But here at Place Bonaventure, there is a lovely little French café that sells fresh fruit smoothies and passable coffee. There is a good food court and you can do some light shopping. The whole place is wireless as well. My little airport icon tells me that I am locked into a high-speed network.
Of course I love any port for travel. I love airports, bus stations and train stations. I love watching people go by and I always wonder where they are going or why. Today is not so exciting. Most of the people are commuters walking up to Boul. Rene Levesque or VIA employees waiting for their shift to start or to end. There is a table of middle-aged men cracking jokes en Francais beside me they seem to be having a good time.
I remember sitting at the bus station waiting to go home with my mom and sister in New York City when I was 16. We had travelled to New York on a bit of a whim. Well, I guess it was only a whim on the surface, in actuality uncle Richard’s wife was dying of cancer in the basement bedroom of their Brooklyn home. My mom told me before we left, but I didn’t really know her I couldn’t even point her out in pictures. In fact, if I were to ever think of her it would be as ‘Tyrone’s mom’ not that she ever actually entered my thoughts beyond my knowledge that she must exists as proven by Tyrone’s existence. He had spent last summer with my cousin Dion in Burlington. I knew Tyrone. When I was in my teens the American family was almost unknown to my generation although we always heard stories about them.
We got to NYC with my uncle Maxey and I think we were to take a train back – that can’t be right – in any case, our return to Toronto was delayed by some very eerie circumstances. Tyrone lived in a Brooklyn brownstone. It was two two two houses in one. He and his dad lived in the top house. His grandmother, whom everyone just called ‘mom,’ lived in the bottom house. She was hilarious and her Barbadian accent, despite my best efforts, I could never replicate, and I’m good that that kind of thing. There was no yard and they were just one street away from the famous Flatbush.
One afternoon I went to see Tyrone’s mom in the basement. My mom prepared me by saying that on top she looked like one of those starving African kids on TV but really puffy on the bottom. Her description was 100% accurate. When I stepped into her room, she looked at me, smiled and told her mother sitting beside her that she remembered me. My mom said that it was pretty remarkable that she’d remember my sister and I. My mom looked so sad after we saw her. Perhaps she regretted bringing us. I had never seen anyone who looked like that before, nor have I seen anyone like that since. I could, at this moment, recall exactly what she looked like. It is almost 15 years later and I could describe her to a sketch artist. I could even describe the whole scene. I know where my mom and sister were standing and I could tell you where Tyrone’s grandmother was sitting. I can describe for you exactly how softly she said “ah yes, Carmen’s daughters. The small one, the big one…” while she weakly pointed in our direction her eyes half open. Her pointing and smiling, starving on top and bloated on the bottom, she is burned into my brain. She is a Polaroid in my head.
We stayed in Brooklyn for a few days even going into Manhattan to shop and eat a bit, but the night we were to leave things got a little strange. We had packed everything up and gone out to the car that was to take us to whatever port of departure we were going. The tires had been blown out – all of them. Then my cousin, Nicole, ran in to the house to grab her car keys, she was moving quickly because, as is the Guyanese tradition, we were running pretty late. She got to her car to discover the air was also out of her tires.
My mom decided that we would just leave the following day so we all went back into the house. The flat tires were the talk of the evening as my mom, uncle Richard and a large collection of distant cousins in town from Montreal and Jersey City found places to bunk for the night.
The next day I was the first in the shower and standing in the hall outside my uncle’s room I could hear the whispering coming up the stairs. Tyrone’s mom had died through the night. Her mom and my mom walked through the house covering mirrors with old sheets. I don’t know who signaled the neighbourhood, but very quickly their house filled up with crying relatives and neighbours, supporting friends and family. We didn’t leave that day either, but we made our way home on the next. I had never seen so much fried chicken and macaroni pie in my life.
For some reason, probably because it was our only choice, we decided to take the bus home to Toronto. Sitting at the Port Authority we talked about how dirty the city and bus station was and how cool the Guggenheim looked. During a conversational lull this young Irish woman – well looking back she must have been young I mean I was 16 – started talking to me out of the blue. My sister scowled, she inherited my mother’s automatic mistrust of strangers. She told me that she travelled to the US for the sole purpose of spitting in Lady Liberty’s eye. Missing the metaphor completely I told her that it was probably impossible given Lady Liberty’s size. She actually thought I was making a joke and offered me some of her Sprite – right out of the bottle. ‘No thanks’, I said. ‘I’m not a frickin’ animal’ I thought.
Whenever I am in a train station or bus station or airport, I think of that trip to New York.