Saturday, January 7, 2012

A STRANGER WHO, THANKFULLY, WOULDN'T LEAVE ME ALONE -- Memoir

 

 

[ * There are 18 pieces of writing on the mystical path in this blog:
essays, articles and poems. The "blog archive" or Table

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'Fresh Snow, Fresher Air'     © 2017 by N. C.

 

© Copyright 2017 by Neall Calvert


ON NEW YEAR'S EVE AT DINNERTIME I realized I no longer wanted to attend a party fifteen kilometres across the city. This year, the spirit of the holiday season and I hadn't connected. Right until the last minute I had debated, then chosen solitude and an hour-long walk through uncommon snow and crisp temperatures.

I got underway around ten-thirty, and halfway along my scheduled route through southwest Vancouver (Canada) my eyes were drawn to an ornamented second-storey balcony. Beneath a colourful, warm halo cast by Christmas lights stood a tall row of glowing figures. It was the Pantheon of Christmas: At either end a big lit-up Santa; then, towards the middle, white, golden-haired angels blowing trumpets; next, two radiant Frosty the Snowmans; then gigantic red plastic candles with imitation yellow flames; and in the centre, a bearded Joseph and a Mary with the Christ child on her lap. 

Taking in the figures, I began to relax. It seemed that everyone important was here: Santa, the twinkle-eyed supervisor of a massive annual festival dedicated to gift-giving; the angels, trumpeting a promise of joy; Frosty, the plump, smiling sojourner demonstrating the possibility of happiness despite life’s impermanence; lit candles, symbols of the eternal light within us; and the holy family, reminders of innocence, caring and sacredness. The Christmas season wouldn’t be the same if any one of them were missing . . . I seemed unable to look away.

At last I moved on, but fifty yards down the street another walker caught up with me. I thought he would overtake me and continue on, but he kept pace, and then began speaking. Given the personal quality of the things he was recounting without any prompting, the situation seemed strange, so I kept moving steadily. My duffel coat’s hood, warding off the cold, kept me from seeing his face. The stranger walked by my side speaking nonstop as I traversed my usual route through the neighbourhood. At each successive intersection I expected he would break off to make his way home, but I was mistaken.

There was no continuity to his stories. As soon as he finished one he would begin another. They were linked only by a voice that—at age thirty, I guessed—held considerable resonance and charm.

The man spoke of being seated with his father, who had since died, in the elegant Orpheum Theatre in Vancouver years ago, listening to a huge Ukrainian bandura orchestra playing Cossack music, and witnessing for the first time his father weeping; of hearing an interview with Yul Brynner in which the famous actor declared that making the movie Taras Bulba about the Cossack leader had changed his life; of how healthy it would be to live out under the great blue sky, as the Cossacks had done, rather than in a busy city.

Several times the man asked why we don’t appreciate what we have, when we have it. Why do we always need to move on, and try to get more? He spoke of blissful childhood memories from Winnipeg, and wondered why one had to let go of one’s innocence in adulthood. He mentioned he would be visiting his mother in the hospital again tomorrow. He spoke of giving to people through volunteering, and wondered if he was giving too much to others, and not enough to himself.

By now, due to the warmth in his voice, I had begun to occasionally respond. The fellow speculated whether one needed to accept the world as it was in order to be at peace with oneself, or whether one needed to try to change it, even though that might be difficult and exhausting.

We left the quiet residential area and approached the busy intersection of 70th Avenue and Granville Street, where I intended to get a snack at the Marpole 7-Eleven. I tried to disengage—with no luck. The man kept right on talking. And something about the resounding, clear tone in his voice was keeping me entranced.

At one point there was a disturbance behind me—shouting and the footsteps of someone running. Just part of the evening’s festivities, I thought—even when a car door slammed and a maroon Corolla, tires howling as they spun wildly, flew right by us, then screamed out of the parking lot into the street, fishtailed and disappeared.

I finally insisted it was time to eat something. When I entered the store, I saw that it was in complete disarray: Shelves of foodstuffs had been trashed; postcards and boxes of soft drinks lay scattered across the floor. The woman clerk, her eyes wide with fear, stood transfixed two metres back from the counter. The male clerk took care of the few customers, several of whom were speaking animatedly on cell phones.

A broken wooden baseball bat lay on the counter. It was the weapon with which a man had just destroyed sections of the store. He had then threatened a customer with it and demanded his car keys. The miscreant had then taken off with the car—the one that had sped by less than a metre away from Orest and myself.

That was the stranger’s name: Orest. He lived six kilometres away, he had said, and tonight he was “riding the buses” and would continue doing so for a while yet. (Public transportation is free here on New Year’s Eve from five o'clock till the end of service.)

When I returned outside bearing nachos with steaming hot cheese sauce, Orest was still there. I said I had just two more blocks to go. He walked me right to my door, and since it was now eleven forty-five and I wanted to spend the transition to the New Year at midnight quietly, I was firm in stating that I would be going. We shook hands.

Only on New Year’s Day did the events of the previous evening sink in. . . . Had I not—fascinated by the unusual qualities in Orest’s voice and his heartful, stream-of-consciousness wordplay—been standing outside the 7-Eleven, I would have been inside, and in danger, just when the frenzied malefactor had been ransacking it.

Bless you, Orest, guardian angel, wherever you will ride this New Year’s Eve.


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