TORONTO AND OTHER LIVES
Published in 2016 in Shanthi Magazine
The heat only increased the moisture on the window of the Greyhound bus at the York Street Station. As the seats filled up and the din died down he numbed out the noises and pulled out a book of short stories to read on this midwinter trip to Toronto. He sat next to the window wishing the seats were farther apart as he wedged his long legs behind the chair in front of him. The smell of diesel began to seep into the bus and the driver closed the door, putting the tickets away in his briefcase. He began his own repetitive journey.
The bus pulled out of the station and after it went under the Via Rail tracks at Richmond Street, turned easterly along Hamilton Road. Hamilton Road below Adelaide was the old working class and now working class Portuguese section of London, Ontario. The in‑town drive wasn't conducive to relaxing or reading so he just gazed out of the grey, cloudy window and watched the dark brick houses and businesses pass by him for a long time. The bus eventually turned south onto Highbury Avenue and headed for the 401 East.
White. Don't focus your eyes and your concentrated stare is clothed in white. Winter snow white. Open your eyes and the white is spelled by bare branches and fields left fallow with stalks of dead plants. Mostly snow. This was an organized snow.
Her car was covered all week with about two feet of fallen snow encasing the white Buick like a marshmallow in a plowed parking lot on the other side of town. He looked down to his lap, opened the book of stories and began to read. As the turnoff to Ingersoll approached, he raised his eyes and saw the exit disappear in a curve towards Highway 19 and become engulfed in the snow that was falling and flying past the bus on the long black road away from her snow-covered car. His eyes focused on the bare rows of Hawthorn branches that lined the 401 and he tried to envision the new spring leaves and their openness compared to the transparent veil of snow and bark. Out her snow‑veiled window would be a white sky and a botanical specimen of Pinus niger, growing outside the patio for forty years or more. Not so along the 401 where deciduous flora outnumbered evergreen. Field after field of planted and harvested snow passed before his thoughts. He continued reading. Flash fiction.
Heat bothered him more than cold. The closeness of the air on the bus and the constant hum of the fans blowing the heat around the fifty‑two seats while all the passengers were wearing their winter wear, seemed ridiculous. Two hours of sitting on a hot bus dressed for the outside weather that no one would have contact with for at least the length of the trip, was not logical, but what did logic have to do with it? The cold and the snow he didn't mind for as long as he could remember. He had grown up on an island province in the far north east part of Canada where there were four seasons: before winter, winter, after winter, and summer. The bus rumbled on. The pages turned. The snow remained. She thought about cleaning off her car. She thought about a lost love who had cleaned the snow off her car on a regular basis. He didn't remain, just in her veil of memories.
The small rolling hills of southwestern Ontario could still be discerned under the blanket of snow as the bumps and furrows on the fields were not wholly blanketed. The difference between the trees and the shrubs was quite distinct now in the grey shadow of the winter sun. The V shaped Maples, the U-shaped Oaks, the crossing branches of the Sumac and Hawthorn soon blended into lines of dark with striations of light between the hedge rows and tree rows lining the highway until the bus rolled past the indolent town of Woodstock. He looked up from the book of short stories as the asphalt ramps and exits appeared more regularly just outside his window. The heaters on the bus continued their useless hum and rhythm and the large green directional signs began to increase along the 401. He would rather be out there. Out in the cool refreshing skin of snow.
She stood on the tiles in the dining room in her pink nightgown and stared out the patio door at the snow. Her apartment was very warm and she liked it that way with a small crack opened at the base of the patio doors. A small cool breeze blew in and swirled around the bottom of her nightgown. Past the tall Pine out her window, past the Russian Olive that borders her neighbor’s fence, past the snow, she set her gaze on the road that ran between her apartment and the farm land on the other side of the road. Snow and bare branches and fields left fallow with stalks of dead plants. Mostly snow.
Four exits and two S curves defined Woodstock, well, along the 401 at least. Little population change since he had lived there as a teenager in the 1960's and in the time it took the bus to pass by the city; he would not have had the time to help increase the population of the town. Four exits and two curves and the bus was past the town but the snow kept falling outside his window. The towns and cities grew closer and closer together and the furrowed fields grew sparser and sparser but the veil of snow remained the same.
He was beginning to read the last flash fiction story and returned his eyes to the white pages with the black lines of words like the fields of snow just past the peripheral vision of his right eye . . ."Happiness replied that she was there all along; going down the road to school, to friends, to parties, to parents. Happiness replied that she and her sister Sadness travel hand in hand. That's life. That's living but certainly not Sorrow . . . for many years Happiness takes over her life and she is seen smiling in a photograph beside a lake tucked away in an album somewhere seeking memories of Happiness and Sadness . . . lean on me from now on said Happiness for I am in the harbors and the small towns, distant cities and even on our street, in your room, and in your heart. Happiness said I am here when you rise and when you sleep. I am the only one here for you now. Certainly not Sorrow . . ."
The bus rolled past Mississauga and Brampton and now all the fields of cold snow were gone. All the lines of trees and shrubs and fields were gone and replaced with more asphalt and green signs and yellow street lights. He put the book back in his carry‑on suitcase and stared out the window as the bus rounded the 427 curves to the QEW and headed toward the bus station in Toronto.
She closed the patio door. She thought about getting dressed, turned slowly to the right and entered the small living room and sat on the edge of the couch in the warm room. She reached over and turned on the light which sat on the table beside her. She reached for the coffee cup she had placed there just the moment before. She couldn't see the snow anymore. It was just a vague memory already. She crossed her legs on the table in front of her and looked at her bright red painted toenails. The message light was flashing on the phone.
There is no real life on the highway, on the 401 or any other highway for that matter. There are living things on the highway though and with the humming of tires and the exhaust in winter you would think that the highway was alive and breathing. Families and individuals in their automobiles, lonely transport truck drivers sitting above everybody else thinking of the ones they love or ones they are just thinking of. Animals sit in the back windows of vehicles and stare out at the snow and the humans and not knowing the language, wonder what is going on.
The real life is back off the highway where it is rarely seen by the people on the highway. Someone probably stands and stares at the highway longer than the traveller stares out the car window at the house or apartment building in their view. He wondered if he was the only one thinking of these things as he looked around the bus at all of the bored and tired passengers getting ready to get off the bus as it pulled up Avenue Road and let the first batch of people off at the Union Station stop on the west side of the Royal York Hotel. The noise of the city overpowered the slow steady hum of the bus. He looked out the window and watched intently as the students and other passengers grabbed their luggage and headed to the train station for their own connections and their own lives.
He thought about the bus being stopped in traffic on the Spadina Ramp just minutes before it drove into the city. He had thought about the woman he had loved and recently lost in the breakup of their relationship and pulled out his cell phone. As he dialed her number back in London, he looked out the window of the bus and into the eyes of the driver of the transport truck directly across from him. He too was dialing a number on his cell. They looked each other in the eye and nodded. The Greyhound bus continued on to the Elizabeth Street Bus Station and he took his carry‑on suitcase with him as he walked out of the bus doorway and into the cold snow‑filled streets of Toronto. He also called his daughter to let her know he was on his way to her house.
She sat on the couch for the full length of a slow cup of coffee and stared at the flashing message light on the telephone. The distant traffic noise had died down and the only sound in her apartment was the hum of the fan on the heater. She put down the coffee cup, placed her bare feet on the rug, stood up and headed for the red flashing message light. She took the phone off the hook and sat back down on the couch, lifted the phone to her ear, punched in the pass code and hoped to hear the smile in his voice somewhere in a transport truck sitting above everyone else, passing cars and buses and other vehicles along the cold black highway.
She had two messages. The snow in her heart began to melt and she would have two road weary smiles in her ear. She put the phone down and walked over to the patio door, opened the curtains and watched the snow fall covering everything with a fresh new coat.