"Respect yourself and
others will respect you." - Confucius
I was living
in a small apartment complex where there was a young woman who lived below who
had focused on her career instead of her social life and dating. She was
attractive but she had a severe look on her face. There was a nosy old woman in
the other apartment beside her who made it her business to interfere with my
courtship. I made an effort to get to know the young woman but my advances went
unanswered. I blamed it on the nosy old neighbour and, for that reason, lost my
temper. With a baseball bat I bludgeoned the old woman to death. When I struck
her head it burst open all over the apartment. After killing her, I left the
apartment where I saw a view of a graveyard in the distance across the sea. I
found a small boat and rowed to the far shores but was pushed back by a huge
tidal wave. I was able to surf back to the apartment. When I returned I met the
young woman and she was very warm and invited me to her place for dinner. I was
overjoyed but then I remembered the murder I had committed and the blood all
over the old lady's apartment. When I arrived for dinner police cars were
parked in the driveway. I wanted to walk past the police and play dumb but I
was sure there was plenty of evidence pointing to me as the murderer. I was so
determined to see the young woman that I walked past the police cars to her
door. I stood there unable to decide what to do. Then I woke up.
horizontal and blinking in astonishment, a deep cringing guilt murmurs
somewhere in my person. I'm positive I have never killed someone in my dreams
before. What did it mean? Who or what did I want to kill?
"You awake old man?"
"I'm awake if there's
coffee," I groan from the couch with blood on my hands.
"I need to push
off now. There's coffee in the kitchen for you." Danny takes his bag and flings
it over his shoulder, holding his coffee in the other hand.
you to let you know what happens with my search."
"Yes, keep me
in the loop old friend."
"Good luck with
the marathon and the thing," I say.
Still shocked by the dream, I choke up because somewhere in the back of my mind
I'm aware that this will be the last time I see Danny for another long stretch
The pot of coffee done, I take Danny's mountain
bike down the front steps and cycle along the empty side streets designated
with bike lanes. Air sprinkled with the sea, sluggish and happy, lush in its
richness like flavoured oxygen with the power to heal long-abused lungs.
Comparing the well-paved streets of western Canada, riding in Hong Kong was
like pedalling up and down the tops of volcanoes sticking through the surface
of the South China Sea, rounded, crowded obstacles calling on gravity to slow
the legs on streets way too narrow. Crossing the Burrard Street Bridge, I enter
English Bay and follow the bike path to the Ministry of Transportation. My
driver's licence had expired a year before so renewing it is a necessity
government office is cool and empty, the grey walls barren and unpropitious. .
The woman behind the counter is shockingly obese, maybe 300 pounds. It feels
eerie inside the transportation office, as if it were a stage for actors going
through a familiar script-reading towing the party line. I expect a gruff
greeting - as is usual in Asia - but am surprised by the affable greeting from
the woman with many chins under a dyed canopy of short hair. She instructs me
to another counter where drivers licences are renewed. Walking there I see a
sign behind her. For a second I think it reads:
COMRADES, STATE YOUR BUSINESS BRIEFLY.
PROLETARIAN EFFICIENCY IS THE DISCIPLINE
OF PEACETIME REVOLUTIONARY CONSTRUCTION.
A sign I had seen many
times during the course of traveling through communist China, for a moment I am
confused. I hang, perplexed by the words ‘proletarian efficiency' - an oxymoron
to the extreme - and a classic piece of communist propaganda. For a moment I'm
lost in thought, but when I look closer at the sign with my eyeglasses on, I
see that it reads:
IN ORDER TO FOSTER AN ENVIRONMENT OF MUTUAL RESPECT, THE
MINISTRY OF TRANSPORTATION WILL NOT ACCEPT OFFENSIVE BEHAVIOUR OR THE USE OF
I don't remember signs
like this being here seven years ago, but at least it isn't a crowded room with
spit on the floor. A flitter of anxiety nibbles at me at the thought that
Canada has moved closer to a socialist totalitarian regime. It is an anxiety
long known to me but that had become dormant since I left the country. It is a
fear of mine that constant policing and laws of morality have replaced the laissez-faire
freedom of my childhood. This being the most likely reason for Remy to embrace
the Indian way of life.
startlingly obese, short-haired woman behind the counter asks me for ID. Now
photographed and officially living at Danny Rourke's address on Water Street in
Vancouver, I'm now back on the Canadian grid. In five minutes I have renewed my
licence and am given a temporary card that is valid for three months. It's like
Swiss efficiency compared to doing the simplest administrative tasks in Asia
where getting my ID card requires personal data such as yearly income and blood
I cycle to
the waterfront where I see Alexa stopping on the corner in front of the Wharf.
Perfect timing. When I pull up on my bike, we are both smiling and speechless.
After our embrace she steps back and looks at me deliberately, seeing new lines
on my face and noticing my bad eye. Alexa's hand reaches out to the front of my
shirt and pulls me towards her.
you been?" The tone of her question
has a disapproving, almost maternal tone. Cross but happy.
different shores and many new vistas," I reply. People try to walk past us on
the sidewalk so I suggest we ride. I lead the way down a shaded side street
that runs parallel to Stanley Park where I jump the curb, pedal past
pedestrians and find the bike trail leading into the park. We pass some
roller-bladers and a cluster of Chinese walking with baby strollers along the
shoreline. We soon find peace beyond the rowing club past the old cannon on the
east side of Stanley Park. We try to talk as we ride but there are too many
people, many of them immigrants from Asia, which causes me to crave escape from
the city. Too much of that. Saturation point. Time to find my own space full of
trees, peace and quietude. On one of the fields there is a game of cricket
being played, so we find a place to watch from the boundary of the pitch
despite the grass being covered with Canadian Goose shit. The players look
sharp wearing the requisite whites in front of the Tudor-style clubhouse on the
hill behind the wicket keeper.
"So what are
you going to do now, mister super-traveler of the world?" The smile on her face
is girlish. Her shirt flutters in the salty breeze, still lithe and firm under
her blouse. Her light brown hair in the breeze is like a curtain of silk
caressed by the invisible hand of God. Her ocean-blue eyes sparkle in the sun
so eager to hear my plans. If anything, Alexa's beauty has become more
pronounced after seven years.
writer's retreat in the woods where you'll come and live with me to help skin
beaver pelts. I will need leather garments for this excursion." A blush appears
on her cheeks, but as she turns her head to the cricket match there's a crease
in her brow. I stroke my droopy moustache and think of why someone as beautiful
as Alexa would be stressed.
these days?" I ask. "How's your photography?" She brightens.
well. I'm about to open a new gallery in Kenya." The words stay there in the
stirring coastal air, heavy and leaden and dull. For a moment everything is
quiet under the afternoon sky, but it's interrupted by the crack of a cricket
bat, followed by a roar of clapping. Both of us look over at the batters
running between the wickets when we see the ball rumbling fast along the ground
towards us. The ball hits an incongruity on the field that causes it to veer
directly towards me but I don't move. With Alexa directly behind me, calm as
melted butter, I raise my hand to catch the ball when it's officially out of
play. Before the throw the ball to the player in front of us I study her face.
I see it: that look of love, of pride, of faith and security, firm in her
emotional commitment to me. There is yearning there, a loss - an unrequited
love 20 years old. A profound sadness stirs in my heart and I begin to feel a
sense of loss.
going off to Africa to do what exactly?"
a gallery there to benefit orphans from the civil war." There is hope on her
face. Too much compassion can kill a woman.
are in need and I can help them."
Kenya? What's your particular connection to Africa?"
liked Kenya and there are starving children there. It's a project I'll see
through." She says it to me as if I have not seen the nobility and selflessness
in the deed, as if I'm stupid and backwards. What I see now is one of the seven
deadly sins in her eyes, pride that has now replaced the compassion.
marriage and having kids?"
them? Why have kids with all these starving children in Somalia and Kenya? I
can help. You've seen it on TV. I'm not doing anything here in Vancouver so why
not go make a difference in a place that really needs it? Canadians are well
provided for. I just think having kids is selfish when others don't have enough
to eat. I don't want to have kids because the world is overpopulated."
"The world is
over-populated in third world countries, but how does that translate into you
not getting married and not having kids versus spending your last years in your
thirties in disease-ridden Africa where it's very likely you'll pick up a
disease or parasite, like malaria or dengue fever, that will last for the rest
of your life? A friend of mine who joined Medicines
Sans Frontiers had five different diseases after nine months in Kenya and
was forced to leave for Hong Kong to recover. Nine months in Africa wrecked his
health. You should see him. You should hear what he has to say about it. It's
very serious business."
"I know you
care," she says, reaching for my hand. Her hand gives me a jolt. A deep
stirring love mixes with the exasperation I feel at the tragedy about to
happen. I'm more ticked off at the power of television that at her ignorance.
The fundamental thrust of it is honourable but the sacrifice outweighed the
effect. Misfortune and calamity only inches away.
Back on our
bikes we ride around the perimeter of Stanley Park. After we round the western
tip past the jagged rocks, we stop for fish and chips on the beach in English
"Did you hear
about Daphne?" she asks as we're sitting at a table on the patio beside the
water. I was hoping she could fill me in on our mutual university friends.
haven't spoken to her in years. How is she?"
"She had a
miscarriage." Something in my stomach drops. An ugly bile winnows upwards from
my guts, repugnant and distasteful. The evil-flavoured choleric taste on my
tongue incongruous beside the sandy shore. Askew social basket. At first I
think I have mistaken what she said because I see a twinkle in her eye. I look
at the ocean realizing my appetite has left me. There is nothing I can say. I
change the subject to Danny and his Ironman.
right over there," I say pointing to Kitsalano across the water.
with Danny?" She knows I am but asks me anyway.
pad. Cool neighbourhood near the pool and park. Looks like he's been training
hard." Between the three of us we've shared a lot of laughs.
"Is he gay?"
she asks, eyes wide open.
"No, I don't
think so," I reply, startled. Just because Danny's single and handsome, she
thinks he's a homosexual? Clearly I'm not use to the societal norms of Canada
yet. I reach for one of her French fries and dip it into the mayonnaise on her
think you should come stay with me in my writer's retreat to help me skin the
deer I'll need for my food during the winter months." I reach for her hand.
"When are you
leaving?" she asks in a disapproving tone. I think about her question as I look
out to the ocean, and then make a decision.
I'm going to take a bus up to Prince George tomorrow morning to meet Remy."
"How is your brother Trapp? Is he OK or is he
still drinking a lot?" I am put off by the question, offended by her bluntness.
"He's all right
but I haven't seen him in a while. But that's part of this journey: to find a
home and to get to know my twin brother again." I'm not sure if she can sense
the tension in my voice, but I can. "It's been way too long since we've hung
out for a long period of time." I didn't want to mention that he now thinks he
is the long-awaited Messiah, that he has lost touch with reality and that he
believes he is the only one able to save the world.
time you two were together you had a fight, didn't you?"
memory," I reply, "but that was a while ago now - over seven years. Water under
the bridge." In the silence only the soft waves kissing the shore are heard.
The kiss, the touch, the caress that never comes.