Why Canada is Important to me
We stepped off the ship in Saint John, New Brunswick on Easter, April 22, 1957. We were at last in Canada – our new home! I had turned nine years of age, while waiting to be processed in various Austrian refugee camps, since that Christmas. My father had chosen this country as our destination: the land of freedom.
Canada had opened its doors to thousands of Hungarians following the October 1956 uprising there against tyranny, and the subsequent escapes. My family was among them. Father had been a political prisoner for nearly seven years, without trial or sentencing. Released on three separate occasions, each time there was a shift in the government, he at last saw no alternative but to leave his homeland or be recaptured again, indefinitely. I cannot begin to discuss my mother’s and father’s experiences; they have their own stories. I can only speak about mine.
Two Immigration Officers drove us to Minto, New Brunswick, then a small mining town. My father’s choice again – as he wanted to work immediately. Never having been driven in a car, I was sick during the entire journey (as I had been on the twelve-day ship crossing of the Atlantic). We were first billeted with a man called Walter. A while later, we were allowed a company house. The Anglican Church’s congregation and its compassionate Minister ‘adopted’ us with friendship and basic assistance.
I remember the neighbourhood children gifting me a pair of blue jeans – something I had never seen or owned before. They also took me to school. I spoke no English. The teachers didn’t know what to do about me. Back then, the solution was to place me into a Grade One class, nearly three years behind where I should have been. Nevertheless, it was there that my English speaking and reading lessons began. By the time summer holidays arrived, I was communicating fairly well. I still remember my first complete English sentence I spoke to a friend: “I will meet you at your house at five o’clock.’ I also remember the pride on my mother’s face as she heard these words. The next milestone for me was the birth of my brother, automatically a full fledged Canadian Citizen.
Our day didn’t come until 1962: a most memorable occasion when I, along with my parents took an oath to this country and received our Canadian Citizenship papers. By then we were back in Saint John, where my father worked as a bookbinder. I know we were poor. Yet, through hard work, they were able to save a down payment for a new house. I again had to switch schools. This was an occurrence that continued for a number of years, including when my father relocated us to Ottawa.
From this point on I have a clearer memory of events, and a better appreciation of being Canadian. I enjoyed school, which I had not, in Hungary. I was a good student. I was able to attend university through bursaries and grants. I also obtained summer jobs which helped pay for the rest of my education. No surprise – I was majoring in English Literature. And while at university, I met the love of my love. After graduation, I also had the good fortune to acquire a job with the Federal Government at Health Canada.
Husband and I travelled together for the first time to Hungary in 1978. I became aware what ‘freedom’ really meant and, how my life was blest with opportunities because I was brought to Canada; in Hungary, such prospects would never have been available to me. Upon my return, I unabashedly wrote a letter to our then Prime Minister, Pierre Elliot Trudeau, declaring my pride in being a Canadian Citizen, and that it was now I, who made the choice to live in this country.
My career as a Federal Civil Servant continued for thirty years until my retirement. I benefitted from a number of promotions working in social service programs. In the second half of my career I was a national program and project manager. My learnings over these years were unparalleled. This was a country that valued the wellbeing and welfare of its citizens – from the young to the elderly. Contributions were provided to vast and varying community groups, organizations and institutions to assist with alleviating family violence. Overseeing national projects, I travelled to each of the provinces across Canada from St. John’s, Newfoundland to Victoria, British Columbia. I experienced ongoing occasions whereby I met men and women of diverse cultures, nationalities, faiths and political philosophies – each committed to help make Canada a safer place for families.
Shortly after retirement, Husband, the Reverend Duncan Scott Kennedy and I moved from Ottawa to Cornwall, Ontario. He had come full circle, back to his Scottish roots in Glengarry. And then without warning, the love of my life suddenly died, all too soon.
Thus, it was that another chapter of my life began. It is in this community, where the friends I have met, the organizations I have joined, the column I had written for Seaway News over a decade, have all given me the sense of belonging – of having come home.
I took all these events as a sign to begin my new adventure – as a writer. Three of my books have been published: “The Women Gather”, “Reconnecting” and “Echoes of Footsteps”. Through each of them, I have been blest yet again, by having the freedom to voice my innermost views with a hope that others may also take something away from my stories.
As I look back on my life’s journey, I remember the day I stepped off the ship onto my new homeland, sixty years ago. Still to this day, Canada continues to open its doors to refugees seeking freedom. They are boldly welcomed to become part of this country’s cultural mosaic, enhancing not only their lives, but also that of generations to come.
Written in the Stars
She had tried to reach him for days. In fact, she had already warned him two months before. He hadn’t listened then, and apparently, he was shutting her out now.
Several years before, she had unearthed interesting information about him. Although these might have been well kept secrets, they were not as deeply tucked away as they have since become. For example, it was never discussed that his first wife held serious superstitions. No surprise. People from Eastern Europe are still very much enmeshed in ancient folk lore, fantasy and ritual. Add to this, his own grandfather was born in Germany. With these two significant links, it is small wonder he too has fundamental ties to outer world related peculiarities. Not only has he become an avid student of the occult, but he is also an accomplished numerologist.
It was reported that the number 45 is of grave concern to him. He had been recorded to say the following: “Most people know that 45 is the smallest triangle number, after 1, which can be written as the sum of two squares. This is generally considered a worrisome sign.” He went on to relate that it is the .45 caliber revolver which has been the most often used weapon in assassination attempts against U.S. presidents. A reporter further pursued his fear of the number 45. Was his apprehension a foreshadowing of him becoming the potentially ill-fated 45th leader of the free world?
Given his seemingly superstitious background, she simply couldn’t understand why he was not responding to her contact attempts. She considered using Twitter, but 140 characters would not be sufficient to warn him. And besides, he wasn’t one to read Twitter as much as to write it. So, the challenge was on: a delicate dance to engage his attention.
Shortly after his birthday in June, she had warned him that thousands of witches throughout the world united to cast spells against him. It wasn’t that she wanted to scare him, merely to advise that his actions resulted in consequences. Yet as he ignored her efforts, who could she engage to convey her message? There were too few now, whom he trusted to be at his side. If any. And it was unlikely he would want it to be known about consulting with clairvoyants and astrologers ˗ like herself.
The environment in Reagan’s time had been quite different. Nancy, in fact had been the one to seek her out, heeding her advice through the President.
Perhaps that was the route by which to proceed. She needed to reach the current First Lady. After all, here was another Eastern European who might prove to be sympathetic. The time was drawing too near. She had to somehow warn him about the impending effects of the blood moon and solar eclipse.
She had read when eclipses occurred, ancient peoples believed the world would come to an end or that a great evil would follow. Myths often involved a beast trying to destroy the Sun with the fate of Earth hanging in the balance. In Transylvanian folklore, an eclipse was said to stem from the angry Sun turning away and covering herself with darkness, in response to men’s bad behaviour.
She was aware that some astrologers were saying the attainment of his exalted position was written in the stars ˗ because he was born during a lunar eclipse. She knew this factor made him more susceptible to the power of eclipses; even more so to the rare total solar eclipse.
She already witnessed the devastating effects of this imminent eclipse. Wasn’t the country being torn apart, by what might culminate in a civil war? She was desperately determined to make him understand: He was on the verge of a major reversal of his previous good fortune ˗ unless ˗ he stopped twittering, talking and stepped back to listen and respect the advice of intelligent counselors. But just as his astrological chart was filled with ‘fire and fury’, which in the past had facilitated his rise to power, she also realized it might be these very characteristics which could potentially dictate his defeat. Would that be such a terrible tragedy? she considered. Well – perhaps not.
From Acts 2 she remembered: “I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy. I will show wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below, blood and fire and billows of smoke. The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord.”
And with that insight, she stopped fretting, closed her laptop and waited for the momentous solar eclipse to foretell ˗ whatever the future would bring.
That which lies within
She doesn’t know my secret name; nor therefore, the power of its magical spell. I told her once, shortly after I came to her, in this my sixth life. Sometimes when she stares deep into my eyes though, I sense that she knows. For a minute-second of intense concentration I grasp that she connects to the magic. But then it is gone.
I came into existence in my natural form, from somewhere long ago. Then I was revered. I was worshiped by Pharaohs. Even when they buried me in the far-reaching caverns of their tombs, my blood flowed thick and alive. All that is still in my memory, keeping me nurtured through these voiceless days of waiting for adventure.
Admittedly, the time I spent in China was less than agreeable. I was confined to hiding in constant terror of being captured or worse still ˗ of being consumed. Once that happens to the likes of us, there in no revival. “Oh, how the mighty can fall,” was the lesson that churned in my being, when I stowed away in the bowels of a merchant ship leaving Canton to whatever destination. I didn’t care.
Then, my fortune turned as I stumbled into my third life. I came under the protection of a young Indian Prince, who like me was searching for his identity. It was he who was kind enough to gift me a talisman. And together we explored our inner worlds. Together we invented other entities. I became a fearsome, fire breathing dragon and he ˗ a timeless prophet. The blood of that dragon still burns in my being as I remember my Master’s last words: “Ardently do today what must be done. Who knows? Tomorrow, death comes.”
My subsequent keeper was a young Libyan Princess. She was a tragic beauty who was enchanted to become the monster Medusa. As she clung to me in her last moments before she was beheaded, she turned me into Pegasus, a winged horse. Countless tried to ride me in the sky, but met their death. When the mighty god Zeus attempted to retain me in the night sky among the constellations, I escaped back into my natural state, with the help of Buddha’s talisman.
I was next adopted by a great Scottish Wizard. He took pleasure to indulge in my desires. As I enjoyed being a creature of flight, I combined my past lives and took on the form of the proud Phoenix with peacock like colouring and the wing-spread of an eagle. My daily ventures were high and far, always returning to my perch. The Wizard assured me that as a phoenix I could live forever: first bursting into flames and then rising from the ashes. A glorious notion. But then he died. I took my talisman, donned my natural state and departed.
In this my current sixth life, I am the familiar of a white Witch. Like me, she struggles with her identity. We are thus kindred spirits. She knew what I was when I came to her. Defiant. A decade of captivity under her intuitive spells has calmed my burning blood to accept her quiet, thoughtful ways. For now, I remain her faithful Cat.
I humour her each day as she harnesses me and my talisman for our walk outdoors. For now, that’s all I live for: to stalk sprightly squirrels, to hiss at chirping birds, and to show my savage fury at others of my kind, who dare infringe upon my territory. Memory of the untamed cannot be eradicated.
In my time, I have assumed many identities, all the while searching for who I truly am. Magic has allowed me to become fierce and bold. But it is that which lies within my inner being that preserves me as trustworthy and dependable. And this is what I bring to her.
If the truth be told, the days of magic are fleeting. My Mistress’ belief in her powers is erratic as she grapples with the mundane. That is why I think she has difficulty remembering my secret name. Sometimes she confides in me that she fears the hovering shadows which envelope not only the thoughts but also the deeds of human beings. I know something about those dark days of the soul. At night, as she holds me close, I try to transfer the fire of my dragon-soul into her. I try to convey my Pegasus strength and potency. How can I help her become a Phoenix? How can I let her know that magic comes from within our own secret name? I know. I have been a god – worshiped by Pharaohs. I cling to my talisman. I will have other lives.
The Clock of Time
How many rotations to turn back the clock – to halcyon days? And once there, how long could that time be maintained? A day, a week, a month – maybe forever?
It was a house warming gift – way back when at the old house – where the afternoon sunshine glowed onto the wall-clock’s round face, from the wide picture window. The noise of each tick-tock was noticeable at first, until the sound became one with the rhythm of family life. Sometimes it was drowned-out by the young boy practicing on his chanter. Other times, it was muffled by the repetitive plunking on the ancient keyboard of the girl typing her university essay ….
But what the clock also observed were not always sheltered, serene days. Two adults alone. His breath stopped one day, while smoking that last cigarette on the living room sofa. And she, having outlived him by a quarter century, now hobbles lonely through empty rooms, searching – for messages from him, from another plane.
“The clock ticks. The years pass. We age and die. Time is the only thing we can be certain of.” But Dr. Robert Lanza further asks the question – “Does Time Really Exist?” (Psychology Today, Feb. 6, 2012)
Conventionally, time is divided into three distinct regions: the past, the present, and the future. Using that representational model, the past is generally seen as being immutably fixed, and the future as indefinite. Within this instinctive comprehension of time is the philosophy of presentism, which argues that only the present exists. There is still another perspective of time: a philosophical approach called eternalism, which takes the view that all points in time are equally real, meaning: temporally distant objects and events are as real as those currently present to us. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eternalism_(philosophy_of_time)
Are there moments in time, to which we can return, not as a memory but as real time, as a real experience? Are there moments in time which are etched into the universal subconscious and which exist on another plane? Can we move back and forth at will, remaining here and there, repeatedly?
August 6, 1945, 8:16 am, an American B-29 bomber, the Enola Gay, drops the world’s first atom bomb, over the city of Hiroshima. Approximately 80,000 people are killed as a direct result of the blast, and another 35,000 are injured. At least another 60,000 would be dead by the end of the year from the effects of the fallout.
The car turns off Main Street at Dealey Plaza. It is about 12:30 pm, November 22, 1963. Passing the Texas School Book Depository, gunfire suddenly reverberates. Bullets strike the President’s neck and head and he slumps over towards Mrs. Kennedy.
8:46 am, September 11, 2001 Mohammed Atta and the other hijackers aboard American Airlines Flight 11 crash the plane into Floors 93-99 of the North Tower, World Trade Center, New York City, killing everyone on board and hundreds inside the building.
Shortly before 10:00 am, October 22, 2014, witnesses watch Zehaf-Bibeau arrive at the National War Memorial in Ottawa, carrying a rifle. A series of shootings occur killing Corporal Nathan Cirillo, a Canadian soldier on ceremonial sentry duty.
May 22, 2017, at 22:31, the 22-year-old British Muslim Salman Ramadan Abedi detonates a shrapnel-laden homemade bomb at the exit of Manchester Arena, England, following a concert by American singer Ariana Grande. Twenty-three adults and children are killed, including Abedi, and 119 are injured, 23 critically.
At 00:15, Monday, June 19, 2017: One man dies and ten others are injured as a van drives into worshippers at Finsbury Park Mosque, north London. The man driving is yelling: “I’m going to kill all Muslims!!”
The question has often been asked: What were your doing when a particular event took place?
In the past, and depending on the age of the individual, most could identify the moment and pinpoint exactly where they were, and what they were doing when a devastating incident took place?
What is it that pulls us together on this journey? Does a part of our very being, actually return to the event time reality, as well as to our own event time – at the moment when we think of these happenings? Is part of our being, actually participating on an eternal universal time plane? And why is it that our time travel seems only to recall horrendous world events – rather than joyful celebrations? Is the universal clock trying to tell us something? Are our returns to these distressing flash-backs intended as lessons for humanity, from which to learn? What are we learning from them?
These days, catastrophic images bombard us, moment by moment, on the digital media. Are we losing our empathic connection with each other? Are we becoming more and more desensitised and indifferent?
“The clock ticks. The years pass. We age and die.”
He was sometimes known by the name Rapha Olam. No one knew when he was born. No one knew where he was born. What is known, is that he leaves with us a mark of timeless remembrance which no one will ever be able to match.
Those who recall his early days speak of him being exceptionally idealistic; others saw him as far too naïve. He unconditionally accepted that everyone could be a perfect human being and could exist in a state of absolute harmony. With time his optimism shifted. As many young men, he joined the military. Occasional letters were received by friends from such places as the Middle East, Africa, Greece, Italy, Spain, Eastern Europe and later America.
Some decided the military was a means for him to explore the world. Others felt that he was fighting for just causes. Still others dismissed his escapades; he was merely a mercenary soldier having no loyalty to anyone. Years later, when he was reported to have been released from Guantanamo Bay detention camp, chronicles about him altered, yet again.
Supportive friends passed on his letters. This time he was establishing communes in various parts of the world. He had the uncanny faculty to befriend all manner of individuals, regardless from what culture, swaying them to his way of thinking. Once more, he seemed to revert to his youthful convictions of universal serenity. But ‒ there seemed to be a frantic edge to his methods. Nevertheless, his skillful abilities and inherent gifts enabled some communes to flourish as well as proliferate. Even theological articles embarked on endorsing his remarkable approaches. Not everyone, however, was on side. Serious allegations about him surfaced from a number of scholarly circles: he was either smeared as a two spirited homosexual, or he was scorned for being of the transgender persuasion, in either case mesmerizing the masses.
Some friends were disturbed that he didn’t deny their accusations. Most loyal friends, on the other hand, didn’t care and ignored the bad press. They were aware that he had never married. Through some of his communications, they knew he had had affairs. Likely many. A number of women came forward to acknowledge his progenies. One legal certificate was produced which identified him as the father of a son. He owned up to that. Sadly, too late! This discovery document was only unearthed after the son had been brutally murdered by thugs. Olam was photographed at the funeral service, standing beside the tiny woman whom he barely recollected. Head bent low, he mourned the son he lost ‒ without knowing what he was about.
The final blow came when Time Magazine’s leading article questioned whether it was he, rather than his son who had died. Eventually, a close friend was delighted to receive his post card with only the sardonic caption: To quote Mark Twain, “The report of my death was an exaggeration.”
After that, only a few sightings of him were recorded by friends. He was traveling again, this time to help at major catastrophes. He was seen at the Twin Towers, moving debris to pull out bodies from under the rubble. Later, there were photos of him in Sumatra following the tsunami. Then, back in the US, he helped with the victims surviving hurricane Katrina. And, he was last sighted in Haiti, after their earthquake.
Those letters from him were brief, but heart wrenching. It was as though he couldn’t understand and certainly couldn’t accept why these disasters continued to occur. But more so, his words were agonizing descriptions of the cataclysmic events, as though he somehow was responsible for them – yet helpless to prevent them.
Then he simply disappeared. With no trace left of him, declarations of his death again arose. We ‒ his friends ‒ do not accept this! Therefore, we are holding a commemorative celebration to honour the existence of Rapha Olam, at All Faiths gathering place. Tell everyone to come and bring all messages you have received from our long time Friend. We leave you with his words, by which he concluded each of his correspondence: “I AM – with you.”
How wide is your world?
Sometimes my world includes only my house and my cat. Sometimes it includes my neighbours: the man who mows my lawn; the one who shovels my driveway; and the others who keep my house safe. Sometimes, it opens out to my church, my club and my college. Sometimes it moves farther out to the country, to the farms of friends. Sometimes, it spreads even further, to the city ‒ to all the people I’ve known and to all the places where I spent most of my adult life. Sometimes, on rare occasions, my world stretches across the ocean to another continent where relatives still dwell. And sometimes, my world reaches far into the galaxy, and even beyond into the distant universe, trying to touch the Eternal.
These days, whether we like it or not, our world extends outside our narrow, self-imposed borders. Like it or not, we have been made aware of the struggles of countries that fight for their principles to gain control of their own destiny. I have to admit that I don’t know enough about the sides and I’m often not confident enough about which side to take. I have to admit that I cannot begin to understand the religiously and politically driven conflicts which have pervaded the philosophy of various foreign movements and governments for decades ‒ if not for centuries.
What I do know is that we have a freedom in this country which we must appreciate and preserve. It is this freedom which brought my family to Canada many decades ago. How very grateful we were that Canada opened its doors to refugees and immigrants who sought a new life of peace and liberty. Is it any wonder then that displaced peoples from all parts of the world want to come here, today, to this land which proudly boasts of democracy.
In the past, we considered ourselves special because we supported and valued our vast mosaic of cultures, not as a melting pot, but rather as an enhanced entity thanks to a variety of traditions, values and beliefs. Regrettably, I now hear too many comments about the need for new comers to blend in, to conform to our unwritten conventions of clothing, conduct and conviction.
For those whose families have been here for generations, and even for us immigrants who have lived here for only decades, it is probably natural that we are protective of our turf. Is this not what all countries experience? But, if we are indeed the forward thinking people whom we profess to be, then we have to embrace the changing face of the Canadian landscape.
The wide world is coming to us: through the written media, through the television screens − and in ships and airplanes. As we continue to uphold our belief in democracy and our position of acceptance, our principles dictate that we continue to support those who have come to join our midst. Make no mistake, demographically, socially and economically speaking, the future of our country needs the contribution of our immigrant population. Yes, we have to acknowledge that the changes will bring tensions and challenges. Just remember! Ethnic diversity will also bring opportunities and achievements to us all and to future generations.
Our job is quite simple really. It is to practice what we were taught as children: “Treat others as we would like to be treated.” After all, it was not long ago that many of our ancestors were also immigrants to a new growing settlement called ‘kanata’.
(From my new book “Echoes of Footsteps” page 154)
At Our Doorstep
Pastor asked from the pulpit:
“Has the Anti-Christ come?”
Is this the last hour?
Can one Deceiver rock the planet
Through fanatic nationalism,
Spreading Its sinister arms to all those elsewhere?
Seen before, so often, so often…
Back in the day ‒
Viewed now on black and white films,
The transmission of unscrupulous orders,
Marching through Europe.
And Europe saw it again.
In this time, in this hour.
Hordes streaming from far-off,
Meandering through distant lands.
Meeting closed borders.
Oh, but not here!
We want them to come.
Begin anew, like before.
A mosaic of humanity.
A memory of our very roots as pioneers.
What has changed?
From where has It crept in again?
And we didn’t believe
It could take hold.
We are a civilized western world.
Spoof, skepticism, rebuff against the audacity.
No, not possible.
Why were we so naïve?
Promises to the downtrodden…
Beliefs silently held
Now ‒ given permission to bellow
From a place of possibility.
Its supporters cannot be denied.
Remember the Jasmine Revolution of Tunisia?
And then again in Tahrir Square, Cairo?
The social media revolution
When the masses united, fused, conquered!
Watching from afar
Through the same cyber lens,
Words of sarcasms, anger, defiance ‒ dismay!
Marching in throngs, the women gather,
Joining and chanting.
Now too late, far too late ‒
The corrosion, implosion begins.
And as we observe in our own safe haven
Another massacre, this time in a sacred house!
At our very own doorstep ‒
Has the Anti-Christ come?
The creation of poetry
There is no way of knowing, when the art of poetry first began. It is assumed that the origins are steeped in an oral tradition, frequently employed as a means of recording history, storytelling to an audience, perhaps sung, often paying tribute to deities. To aid memorization, there was already a form to these, including rhythm and repetition.
When written composition began, it meant poets began to write for an absent audience, though likely scholars. The earliest written work may have been The Tale of the Shipwrecked Sailor which is a story of an Ancient Egyptian’s voyage written at about 2500 BCE. The Epic of Gilgamesh from ancient Mesopotamia, was impressed in cuneiform around 2100 BCE. These are considered to be distinct stories. Later came The Vedas, which is a collection of hymns and other religious texts composed in India between 1500 and 1000 BCE. The oldest existing collection of Chinese poetry, dates from the 11th to 7th centuries BCE. It is one of the “Five Classics” traditionally said to have been compiled by Confucius. The Greek Odyssey dates from about 800 to 675 BCE.
Then, moving right along to a personal favourite – Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales was written in 1380 CE. And then further on, to my much loved Romantic verses: the poets who spring to mind include William Blake, William Wordsworth, Lord Byron, Percy Bysshe Shelley and John Keats. Modernist poetry in the English language started in the early years of the 20th Century among many, W.B. Yeats who used symbols from ordinary life. Canadian poet Dorothy Livesay’s work was first published when she was only 28. I happily sat at her feet, as she held her audience captive in salons.
The word ‘poetry’ comes from the ancient Greek word poieo (ποιεω ) meaning ‘I create’
Poetry is an art form, using language in a more concise, tight manner than prose, which is expansive and less condensed. Poetry conveys feelings, emotions or ideas applying such devices as alliteration, internal rhyme and also relying on imagery, word association, as well as musical language like dissonance. The interactive layering of all these generate meaning as to what marks poetry. It is to be noted that English and European poetry often use rhyme, generally at the end of lines in such formats as ballads, sonnets and rhyming couplets. Just as the Greek classic poetry, however, much modern poetry does not use rhyme. In more recent times, the rise of poetry reading have led to a resurgence of performance poetry, which dates back to the very origins of the art form.
Poetry is something I have always written, experimenting with various traditions, such as ballads and sonnets and even Haiku. For me, poetry is fundamentally about expressing a particular idea, about a particular matter, in a succinct manner, using techniques associated with writing in general. I’m a story teller, and thus my ‘style’ demonstrates that technique. I have compiled a selection of poems written over many years, in my latest book “Echoes of Footsteps”.
She was glad to see him. The morning tour guide had left the group at Grand Place. It was the intoxicating aroma which had drawn her to the Neuhaus chocolate shop. While heading back outside with the delectable package in hand, Sophie had bumped into him. He politely asked if she minded him tagging along.
“Not at all!” she had answered, much to her surprise. She generally liked being alone.
But from the time she had boarded the tour coach in Calais, she had noticed something about this man that had intrigued her. Perhaps a long ago memory? Now in Brussels for an entire day, it might be nice to wander about with a companion.
“Will you join me for lunch at La Brouette?” he had invited.
Her feet already hurt. She hadn’t been prepared for the cobble stones. She agreed. The waiter led them to an outdoor table at the bistro’s terrace. John was a charming older man, likely pushing sixty, she considered. Safe – by her standards. He suggested the croque-monsieur and recommended she try the local beer. She thanked him for finding this eatery, from where they had a superb view of the entire square. Before he could comment, they were interrupted by another from the tour, whom Sophie unhappily recognized.
“Good to see familiar faces!” She greeted them almost brashly, plunking her exhausted body on the other free chair. “I was going to settle for a bench and a decadent waffle, but this place is far more interesting,”
Sophie was flabbergasted! Didn’t people on tours respect personal space and privacy? Hadn’t she worked diligently at avoiding this boisterous older woman, from as far back as London? No boundaries! A perfect day ruined.
Alyson was tired of tramping about alone. As soon as the city tour was finished, everyone around her headed off in different directions ‒ all to avoid her. She had no delusions. It was something she had gotten used to on these trips. Even the shared roommates, arranged through the company, were relieved to leave her on her own. It was a challenging way to travel; certainly a hell of a come down from the days of gallivanting about with Alfred, her fifth husband. He had left her nothing ‒ but the yearning for adventure. Her friends back home were far too few now: some still married, some widowed like her and others, with little income ‒ or so they said. Well too bad! An excursion a year was her annual resolution ‒ and just maybe, finding another mate. She had immediately liked the look of this man, John Knight, who had helped her with her luggage last evening. She made note of his name when the guide called out their room numbers at the hotel. What on earth was he doing with this young hussy half his age, she wanted to ask him. And such a miss snooty, snob at that! Yes, attractive by all counts, maybe even beautiful with that head of red cascading hair. She enviously remembered her own good looks, back in the day. Now it was more about being bold to attract attention, and counting on people’s good manners to include her.
He couldn’t very well tell her to leave, though it was his first instinct. His young guest was clearly uncomfortable having her there. As was he. John chided himself for having been helpful with her luggage. Dumb move. It was likely an innate habit, from days gone by. How many of these older women had he encountered over the years, feigning helplessness? Right on cue, he had performed the job – now the act of chivalry ‒ expected of him. Women seemed to recognize these types of females, for who they were. Hunters on the prowl? But men, were they destined to fall into their trap? The best he could do now was to engage them in polite conversation about the tour: the silly Manneken Pis, that had become the emblem of Brussels and about the surrounding buildings ‒ the Town Hall, Maison du Roi and the opulent guildhalls. He informed them about the magnificent Grand Place Flower Carpet that would be on display in August. All the while, what he really wanted was to spend some alone time with Sophie. He needed to find out if his hunch was correct. Had he in fact met her years before on another tour ‒ with her father? He had detected a familiarity in her lilting voice that led him to this reflection. Once free of the grappling female, he was determined to invite Sophie back in the evening, to again view Grand Place ‒ all gloriously illuminated in brushed gold.
It was a spontaneous decision. A surprise by all accounts. Wanda hadn’t the remotest notion to travel to China.
Previous trips had been painstakingly planned for months ahead. Not this time. This time she threw all caution to the wind and grasped the opportunity presented.
“Just go!” Her reckless Inner Child had commanded.
And here she was at the Great Wall. She took a deep breath, intentionally feeling the moment. Intentionally storing the feeling in her memory for future reference.
The trip was more difficult than she had anticipated. The stairs, the climbing, the smog! On the positive side, sites were grand and indescribably spectacular. The petite tour guide Gloria was informative, humble yet firm. Meeting times and locations were specific. After all, who would want to be lost in such a vast country?
As was her custom, Wanda traveled alone. For a while, she shuffled along with the crowd heading up the recommended block of the Great Wall. But what was the adventure in avoiding uneven stone slabs beneath her feet? Or avoiding the bumping and squeezing among bodies heading upwards on slippery slopes and steps? She looked at her watch. Two more hours until the meeting at the mammoth visitors’ centre. Too much allotted time! She took a quick look at what had been advised as a ‘must see’ including the flag. Gloria had given some instruction about that flag, her voice drifting far off into the wind. Wanda headed off.
She located a clearing, away from the throng and took the road with a familiar name, which she thought she recognized from her ride in the coach. There was a sign with a picture of food near a low building. She decided to enter. It was dark, long and narrow with concession booths on either side, selling every Asian food concoction never seen on this trip. Each vendor tried to snatch her attention. She walked on and on, descending steep steps every few yards. At last relieved to see daylight, she found herself in a parking lot filled with coaches bearing Asian names. Was this where her driver parked the coach?
“Now, that was some adventure,” she mumbled to herself as she headed back on the road with the name she recognized from before.
It was quite the climb. Reaching the top of the road, she looked around and saw a sign with a picture of people. And off she went in that direction – only ‒ to find herself at an all too familiar entrance. How could this be? An utter, if not eerie surprise! She was once more in the same long food building ‒ and this time she noticed she was the sole Caucasian. Her steps down the stairs were quicker than previously. At the parking lot she knew she had taken a wrong turn. A man approached her and asked, “Taxi?”. Well that would have been nice. But how could she explain – to where?
Determined to trace her way back, she spotted a towering lumber entrance to her right, with animal carvings at the top. Had she seen that before, perhaps from the coach on the way to the visitors’ centre? She was delighted to find various different buildings as well as families walking about heading towards a place around which crowds had already gathered. People smiled. They let her to the front of the group, as she again realized these were all Asian tourists. For the time being, however, her attention was drawn to the small black bear cubs scampering about within the enclosed area; there were also several larger bears, looking quite harmless.
“Another adventure!” her Inner Child reassured. Then reality and a hint of fear hit hard. Where was she?
Out of the gate she went. And up the road with the familiar name. And back to the same people sign – and yes, back into the same food building. There is some quote about the insanity of doing the same thing over and over but expecting a different result. Yet, that was precisely her hope. How could she be in this same place ‒ again? No surprise that this time the Asian vendors looked at her quizzically. All she wanted was to be out of there, in the sunlight, in the parking lot and finally finding the right road. Perhaps third time lucky? She was. Reaching the top of the road, an older couple from her group meandered into sight.
Wanda slowly approached. With as much nonchalance as she could muster through her quivering heart, she greeted them.
The woman was friendly. “Yes. We’ve been looking about, but keeping track of the flag. Time to head back to the visitors’ centre.”
Oh that frigging flag! There it was, now in full sight. She had taken the opposite turn from what had been instructed. She remembered, as she followed the couple.
Back on the couch, her seat partner remarked. “The Great Wall is as I recall twenty years ago. But this colossal tourist centre is new. Must have been designed to impress us Westerners. When I was here before, we were dropped off at a large wooden archway with carved animals on top. And there was a pit with black bears! Too bad all that’s gone.”
Wanda smiled. Hearing this story was the best surprise of the adventure, or was it synchronicity ‒ which she decided to share with no one.