Monday, December 13, 2010

A Winter Morning

Jacques woke up in his bed. He turned his head and looked out the window from his second story apartment. He saw a cloudless crystal blue sky. “Tabernak!” He muttered.

Sabine was sitting at the kitchen table wearing three layers of thermal clothing wrapped in her bathrobe. She poured herself a second cup of coffee as she listened to CBC Radio One. The weather reader presented the good news first. The week long blizzard which had dumped more than 10 meters of snow had finally moved east to The Maritimes. Gaspe was due to receive the final blast of the Alaska express. There was additional good news. It was going to be a sunny for the next five days. The bad news was that the temperature was going to a high of -25 degrees centigrade. With the wind chill factor it felt like -40 degrees.
Sabine, a native of Victoria, British Columbia regretted the “deal steal” duplex she got on the Plateau du Mont Royal. When she found the flat the previous July, the 4 ½ room apartment for $350 seemed too good to be true. The flat had two balconies on both sides of the building. Last summer was the best summer of her life. She boasted to her family and friends back in BC how wonderful life was in Montreal. Though Sabine was well aware of Montreal’s frigid winters, she expected that she would have sufficient heating to keep her cozy and comfortable. However, she didn’t expect that her electric heating would be exorbitant. In December when she received her Hydro Quebec bill for the month of November, she thought it was surely a mistake.
Never mind the fact that she could neither read nor speak French, Canada was officially a bi-lingual country. Though Quebec had a referendum on separation in 1995, the result was to remain a part of Canada. When she dialed customer service and pressed 2 for English, she was taken aback that the agent on the other side of the line could barely speak English. The agent told Sabine in no uncertain circumstances that the bill of $200 was valid. Sabine understood why her Plateau 4 ½ duplex was so inexpensive. She realised that she would have to cut back on heating and invest in layers instead.
James lived in Notre Dame de Grace on the West Island side of the city of Montreal. The neighborhood was colloquially known by its initials NDG. Residents from the central part of the city weren’t terribly keen on NDG. For many central residents of Montreal, NDG stood for No Damn Good.
Many different neighborhoods of Montreal have both their formal and informal names in addition to their French and English pronunciations. Two poor neighborhoods at the bottom of the island, St. Henri and Verdun are informally known as Shit Henry and Verdump. One West Island suburb where the international airport is located is formally named Dorval. Informally, it’s called Boreval. Racism exists in Montreal as in every city in the world. Two neighborhoods comprising with mostly of people of colour have off colour names. Montreal Nord, which is predominately populated with Haitians, is known as Montreal Noir. Aside from the racial component, Montreal Noir is also used to make fun of the Quebecois dialect known as joies. On the West side of Mount Royal lays a district where most of the residents are more recent immigrants to Canada. Before it was where Montreal’s Black Anglophone community lived in mass numbers. Officially it’s called Cote des Neiges. Informally, it’s called Cote de Neg.
Jacques lived in a gas heated apartment in Outremont. Outremont is the Francophone Bougiesois part of the city. Westmount south of Mount Royal and West of Montreal’s city centre is the Anglophone Bouseoige part. Westmount has always been and will always be the richest district in Montreal and the Province of Quebec. Up until the 1970’s, Westmount was the richest neighborhood in all of Canada. Outremont is the oldest bouisegoie Francophone community in Montreal.
Outremont lies directly Northeast of Mount Royal. Up until 2002, it was a separate municipality with its own police department and city government. Like many other communities on the Island of Montreal, it was autonomous even though it shared the island with the city of Montreal. Though, like Westmount, it’s completely surrounded and enclosed by the city of Montreal, it has been able to retain a separate feel as well as government. In the year 2000, Quebec Premier Lucien Bouchard merged all the municipalities on the island of Montreal into the city of Montreal. This aroused the consternation of the mostly Anglophone residents in the municipalities on the West Island. Westmounters were particularly outraged. Outremonters didn’t seem to care very much. It did make sense given that it was surrounded by the city, shared the same public transit and felt more like a neighborhood of Montreal rather than a distinct city. To its North separated by a narrow strip of the city of Montreal sits another autonomous municipality known as Town of Mount Royal or TMR. Unlike Outremont and Westmount which have open borders with Montreal, TMR has a fence which separates it from Montreal. TMR is completely surrounded by the Montreal. When it was forced into the city of Montreal, it politicians and residents refused to remove the fence.
When the new provincial government of Jean Charest took office, it allowed the newly merged municipalities to vote on whether to remain or return to their autonomous status. Every Anglophone municipality returned to autonomy while every Francophone municipality voted to remain in Montreal.
Sabine was none too happy about life in Montreal. It wasn’t only the cold and the exorbitant cost of heating either. She felt lonely in Montreal. Sabine was taken aback by how the francophone Quebecois were cold and distant with her. Her high school French was not enough to make conversation. Another layer of her loneliness was that she was unable to find many Anglophone friends. She had met many colleagues at the call centre which she worked at but found when she hung out with them; all they wanted to talk about was work.
To add to her loneliness, she was unable to find a man. This was related to her alienation from the women she had met. Sabine was distraught to learn that so many women in Montreal were into feminism. Sabine believed in the equality of women, particularly in the area of work and pay but for her the politics of feminism were too radical. She had known old friends of hers from high school and university in BC that had moved to Montreal. To her astonishment all of them had turned into lesbians (though some of them insisted that they were bi-sexual even though they hadn’t been with a man in years.) Sabine wasn’t a lesbian. Sabine was a Social Democrat. She had always voted for the New Democratic Party or NDP. She considered herself to be Left. She was tolerant and open minded. She would have denied that she was racist even though she complained like most whites in BC about the Chinese. (“There are really far too many Chinese on the Lower Mainland.”) While she claimed to support the land claims of First Nations in BC, she resented having to encounter drunken Indians on public transport. She personally didn’t have a problem with homosexuality and even supported same sex marriage. However, the prevalence of feminism and lesbianism in Montreal was a bit too much for her to swallow. Sabine found that men in Montreal were extremely shy. At first, she thought that she had simply had bad luck and had run into series of losers. She then began to wonder if there were as many gay men in Montreal as there were lesbians. (Actually she found it that it was almost so but lesbians were more assertive than gay men.) Sabine had been on several wonderful dates with a couple of men. They would even invite her to their place. She always waited for them to kiss her and to make the first move. She started dates feeling very horny but by the end of the evening she left her dates feeling unfulfilled and frustrated.
Sabine had come to hate women in Montreal. While the men were limped dicked, the women were sexually aggressive. She discovered that she couldn’t make friends with women as eventually most of them would hit on her. At a party where she was talking an interesting Black man, a woman she knew forcibly sat between them and tried to seduce Sabine. Sabine went to visit a woman from work for dinner. The woman lived out in NDG. After dinner, they drank a couple of bottles of wine. The Metro had shut down for the night and a taxi would have been too dear. When the woman offered that she could stay over, Sabine was grateful at first. Sabine expected to sleep on the couch. When the woman told her that they were to sleep in the same bed, Sabine didn’t mind at first. It was not until the woman put her arms around her and began to kiss her before she understood at last what it was all about. Sabine left and took a taxi home.
Sabine had observed many male colleagues at work lose their jobs because they had been accused of sexually harassing women. There was a case where one woman accused a man of sexually assaulting her. Sabine was shocked because she knew that man and he wasn’t the type at all to be aggressive. At last Sabine understood. The men in Montreal had been emasculated by feminism and lesbianism. Men were afraid to express sexuality or show overt sexual interest because they feared they would be denounced as sexists or at worse date rapists.
Sabine suffered a very cold and lonely winter. What about her Black colleague James? She had never thought or considered dating Black before. She had only dated white men and once had sex with a South Asian man in Vancouver. She and James had lunch a few times together and found him very interesting. Perhaps Black men were not as emasculated by feminism as white men? Sabine went into the bathroom to take a shower and to dress for work.
James had grown up in Little Burgundy, the oldest Black community in Montreal. He graduated Business Administration from McGill University. He had moved to Toronto thinking that he would find more opportunities there being both Black and Anglophone than in Montreal. He wasn’t able to find any work on Bay Street. James did not graduate at the top of his class but he consistently kept his Grade Point average above 3.2. His specialty was finance. He was sure that he could obtain a job working for the banks and finance firms in Toronto.
His experiences were perplexing at first. His interviews appeared to go really well. He really impressed his interviewers with his enthusiasm and in depth knowledge of corporate finance. He would get called for follow up interviews. After the last interview, he had always been told a decision would be made and he would be informed within a few days. The days passed. A week had passed. When after nearly two weeks had elapsed, he phoned the interviewer to inquire about the decision. The manager of that particular department hadn’t made a decision yet. This routine was repeated over and over with each job interview until James got the hint. He wasn’t going to find a job. At another job interview, he was told that he was too educated for the entry level position in which the job description specifically asked for a graduate in Finance.
James began to feel bitter as he contacted his fellow alumni from his graduating class. He was the only Black in his graduating class. All his classmates had found jobs within three months of graduation working for banks and finance firms in Toronto or working in the finance departments of oil corporations in Calgary. The sting of racial discrimination hurt again. James had made friends with other Blacks from Toronto and had discovered that none of them worked in the private sector except in maintenance or security. Almost all of them either worked in the civil service for the City of Toronto or for the TTC public transit agency.
James was further discouraged from the day to day casual and systemic racism he encountered in Toronto. He had never heard so many racist remarks on the subway, on the street and in restaurants as he had in Toronto. When he got racially abused by a Toronto police woman who ticketed him for jaywalking, he decided to return to Montreal.
His mother’s friends suggested that he go to the United States. Blacks were richer and made more money in the US than in Canada. There were lots of rich Blacks in the US. How many Blacks were rich in Canada? Could anyone name one rich Black person in Canada? James applied for a work visa for the US and obtained one quite easily. He set off for New York City.
His experience in New York was much worse than in Toronto. He had difficulty even getting into the office buildings. The Black security men didn’t believe he was applying for a position within the Wall Street firms. Unlike Toronto, where the receptionists always appeared friendly and professional, he encountered undisguised hostility when he stepped off the elevator. One receptionist told him that he had to go back downstairs to the mailroom as she was sure he was a messenger. His interviews never lasted more than ten to fifteen minutes. Most of the time, they told him that he wasn’t suitable for their company.
While Toronto was racist and rents quite high, there James could still find a decent apartment downtown. James discovered that Manhattan apartments were too expensive. If he found an apartment he could afford, he was told as soon as he arrived that the apartment had already been taken. He could only find apartments far away in Queens and Brooklyn. Those were always in all Black areas which consisted of a bus and subway ride to and from work. James realised that he was not going to find a job in his field. He took the long Amtrak journey back to Montreal.
James worked for a call centre on the Plateau. Living in NDG, he was almost as far away from work as if he had lived in East Flatbush. He had to take the Monkland bus to catch the Orange Line Metro. It took him 45 minutes to get to and from work. At least, he lived in a comfortable and inexpensive flat compared to what he would have had to have paid in Brooklyn and Queens. Moreover, he lived on an integrated street. He thought about Brigit as he took a shower, shaved and brushed his teeth.
Jacques had inherited most of his fortune from his father who in turn had inherited it from his father. Jacques’ mother died during childbirth. He was mostly raised by governesses and was sent to boarding school in Hull just across the river from Ottawa. He didn’t have any siblings and saw his father four times a year. His father was Vice President of Caisse Populaire Bank. His grandfather had been Vice President of Banc Desjardain. Jacques went to study at the Sorbonne in Paris where he earned his degree in Economics. He then went to Oxford and earned a MBA. His father died the summer between his graduation from Sorbonne and his entry to Oxford. His father had not attended his commencement.
Jacques was not married nor had he ever had a girlfriend. He had sex with a woman once in Paris to see if his feelings were true or not. His feelings did not lie to him. Jacques was homosexual. He had been homosexual ever since he started boarding school. He had two 5 year affairs during his 13 years from elementary to secondary school. Almost every boy at his boarding school was homosexual though it was not ever openly mentioned or expressed. Most of the male teachers including the Headmaster himself had taken many liberties with the young boys. In fact, discipline consisted of sexual sadomasochistic punishment. The Headmaster’s favourite form of punishment was the fellatio anal choke. He would stuff his penis into the small mouths of the offending boys. He would force his penis deep down their throat until they gagged. He would take his penis out and smack the wretched fellow mercilessly before reentering his penis into the mouth to gag. A few smacks. Repeat. For the boys 12 and older he would sodomize them painfully as he would throttle their neck choking them at the same time. Jacques was fortunate that he suffered each type of punishment only once. Jacques accepted that the methods employed as punishment were the best deterrents against misbehavior.
Jacques had woken up with the direst sense of dread. When he saw the clear blue sky at the beginning of February, it meant only one thing: the temperature was definitely below -10 centigrade. Why had he returned to Quebec when he had a chateau in Montpellier? He could have been sitting in his favorite café outside enjoying the sun and pleasant temperature of 20 degrees. It was all because of Richard. How could he have been so careless? At 9 o’clock Jacques had an appointment to get the results of his HIV test.
Having been born and raised on Vancouver Island and having spent her early adult years on the Lower Mainland, Sabine hadn’t been exposed to many Black people. She could recall the first time she saw Black people. She had been 7 years old when she saw a coachload of Black American tourists in Victoria. She grew up with many Chinese. She didn’t particularly like Chinese people. Of course, she saw Black people on TV, American TV that is. Living close to the border, she got the reception from TV stations broadcasting from Seattle. She had loved Bill Cosby and Martin Lawrence.
When she was 10, she had spent a weekend in Seattle with her family. Sabine had never seen so many Black people in her life. When she was 16, she spent that summer with her cousins in Windsor. They told her how dangerous Detroit was. One Saturday her 20 year old cousin Matt took her across the border to watch a baseball game between the Detroit Tigers and Baltimore Orioles. Sabine was shocked to see a metropolis full of Blacks. Sabine had yet to visit Toronto so Detroit was the largest city she had seen. Unlike Seattle, which was just as pretty and picturesque as Vancouver, Detroit was grim and gutted. It was a poor city and its inhabitants looked so. Detroit looked and felt scary for reasons not less than the Blacks there looked scary. Also unlike Seattle where the Blacks looked normal, she thought that the Blacks of Detroit weren’t quite human. They did strike her as being wild apes.
Sabine visited Toronto and liked the diverse multicultural setting of the city. The summer after her third year at university, she lived in Halifax. There she discovered that Blacks had been living in Nova Scotia longer than her ancestors had been in Canada. She also discovered racial tension there. While race relations between whites and Chinese were strained, the feelings of resentments had remained hidden and were rarely exposed openly. She heard the most terrible exchanges between whites and Blacks on the streets of Halifax.
In Montreal, Sabine observed lots of mixed race couple for the first time. She was sure that she had seen them in Toronto but she hadn’t really noticed it. In Montreal, the most attractive couples were those of Black men with white women. The Black men struck her as being dignified and intellectual. The couple which she liked most was standing next to her on the Route 47 bus. She saw them every morning during her commute to work. They seemed to be deeply in love with each other. They got off at the last stop along with everyone else. While she continued on foot to her workplace, the couple like most of the other disembarked passengers entered into the Metro and descended downstairs. Sabine wanted to talk to them. She wanted to hang out with them. To her they seemed to be the two most interesting people in all of Montreal.
She realised that she had been caught staring at them for too long. She made eye contact with both of them as they observed her observing them. Sabine felt embarrassed and averted her eyes. The couple smiled at each other before kissing. When she glanced at their direction, she noticed that they were smiling at her.
Sabine recalled a few conversations she had with the feminist and lesbian women before winter about interracial relationships. She wasn’t surprised that none of them had dated interracially as she herself hadn’t. What did surprise her was the vehement opposition these women had to it. An Acadian woman from Moncton told her that interracial sex and marriage was a form of racism and genocide. Perplexed, Sabine asked her to elaborate. The Acadian told her how the English oppressed the French Canadians and Indians by encouraging them to intermarry and interbreed. For her, dating or having sex with someone from a different race or ethnicity was an act of racism and cultural genocide. In other conversations, lesbians complained how the most sexist men were Blacks. Blacks were the most patriarchal. Black men were more patriarchal than white men. Of course these women were all self-professed anti-racists but all agreed that they didn’t like Black men. Each told stories about having been sexually harassed by Black men. Almost all had reported having their asses grabbed by Black men. Sabine looked at the Black man standing near her on the bus. She wouldn’t have minded at all if he had grabbed her ass. Perhaps it would have been better if most men in Montreal were a bit more assertive sexually.
Her thoughts returned to James but were interrupted when the bus had arrived at the terminus. She had let the mixed race couple get out before she did. The woman said ‘’Merci!’’ Sabine smiled at them both. We kept her eyes fixed on them. Just before they entered the doors of the Metro station, they both turned around to see if she was still staring at them. Having caught her they smiled and they disappeared into the masses heading underground.
As usual, the Henri-Bourassa bound Orange line Metro was standing room only when James boarded at Monkland station. He never fretted as he knew he would find a seat as soon as the train arrived at Lionel Groulx, where half the passengers would get off to transfer to the Green line. No sooner had the train emptied it would fill up with passengers transferring from the Green to Orange line. Presently, the train sped underground down a steep slope as it descended from Vendome station on the Westmount plateau to St. Henri on the lowest and flattest part of Montreal above the Lachine Canal. The train shook with placid violence as the bouncing blue wheels of rubber absorbed the shocks while racing to the bottom of the hill. The train calmed as it made a smooth wide turn eastwards and entered into Place St. Henri Station, where it slowed into a full stop without the sudden jerking movements and screeching of brakes that was customary on the Toronto and New York Subways.
Most of the passengers were reading Metro, the free newspaper distributed to commuters in the morning. At Lionel Groulx, James took a seat and read a copy of Metro. James read and spoke fluent French despite being an Anglophone. Most Anglophone Montrealers were bi-lingual. More Anglophones than Francophones in Montreal were bi-lingual. This thought filled James with bitter resentment. He believed that he spoke better French than most of the Francophones, particularly those from the East End working class district of Hochelaga-DeMaisoneuve. Many of them were high school drop outs. Yet they were able to get the best jobs in the city only because they were purlaine Quebecois with surnames such as Gagnon, Bouchard, Desjardines, etc. James was a third generation Montrealer with a university degree and fluent French to boot but he was stuck working as a Quality Assurance supervisor in a call centre.
James mostly read the Francophone press. He preferred La Presse. He didn’t buy it as one of the Quality Control agents bought it and would give it to James to read during lunch. Montreal had only one English language daily, The Gazette. It was the largest rag he had ever set his hands upon. Almost everyone in Montreal hated that newspaper. It survived by virtue of being the only English daily in Montreal. James used to have a subscription to The Globe and Mail, the national English daily published out of Toronto. It had the best national coverage in the country. He turned sour against the newspaper when it supported George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq. Its support for Canada’s role in Afghanistan tested his patience. However, it was its endorsement of Stephen Harper for Prime Minister in 2006 which exceeded his tolerance. He promptly cancelled his subscription and wrote and lengthy letter of protest. When he read that La Presse had also endorsed Harper, James decided that he would not spend his money to support newspapers which lacked basic political principles. James wasn’t naive to believe that newspapers didn’t push certain agendas. In elementary school every Canadian child is taught the maxim: “If you believe everything you read in the newspaper, you will become an idiot.’’ He laughed at The National Post as it made no pretense of being an objective newspaper of any quality. It was Reform-Canadian Alliance and pro-American propaganda and didn’t hide it at all. The Globe and Mail was a Tory newspaper which James respected. He missed the defunct Progressive-Conservative Party. Though James had always voted for the Liberal Party and had always worked for Marlene Jennings’ election campaigns, he didn’t hate the PC party. However, he had a visceral hatred for the Alberta based Reform-Canadian Alliance-Conservative Party. He grew up during the Brian Mulroney years. It was a shame that Mulroney used the Prime Minister’s office to amass a fortune. The Free Trade Agreement was the informal end to Canadian sovereignty. Still, Mulroney was a democrat. He was committed to parliamentary democracy and respected the rule of law. Harper and his CRAP (Conservative Reform Alliance Party) were inherently hostile to democracy and everything that Canada had stood for since the early 1960s starting with Tory Prime Minister Diefenbaker.
After Champ de Mars station, the train made a wide smooth left turn as it now ran North beneath Berri Street. At Berri station, the train would nearly empty out as it was the last station within downtown where most people worked, before re-entering the residential areas of the city. James thought again about Brigit.
Jacques had long had his doubts about Richard. He had met Richard in the First Class car on the TGV between Paris and Toulouse. Richard was from Liege, Belgium. Richard spoke to him about Belgian politics. Richard had been politically engaged in preventing the breakup of Belgium. Richard said that that there was a Fascist Flemish plot not only to break up Belgium but to ethnically cleanse the country of Francophones. Richard claimed to have been forced into exile in France as he had made powerful enemies among the leading political elites of Flanders.
When Richard learnt that Jacques was from Montreal, he had asked about the issue of Quebec separatism. Richard had followed Canadian developments closely from Belgium. Richard worried about the repercussions for Belgium if Quebec had voted to split from Canada. Jacques explained how he was a Federalist, meaning that he believed in a unified country but he remained a Nationalist as he believed it was important for Quebec to maintain its cultural identity and preserve the French language since they were the only Francophones in North America.
Before Richard got off at Bordeaux, they exchanged mobile numbers and email addresses. A few days later, Richard phoned to say that he planned to spend the upcoming weekend in Montpellier and asked if Jacques would be available to meet up for a drink. Jacques agreed. There was an instant attraction between the two men and they had sex within two hours of meeting. Richard was his senior by 30 years. Richard had been a playboy jetsetter during the 1970s and 80s. Richard had lived a wild life as he travelled across the globe. Within months, Richard had become the father Jacques never had. Jacques had never told anyone of his boarding school experience. Richard was amazed but understanding. Richard practiced psychoanalysis and knew how to manipulate Jacques.
That was when Jacques began to have his doubts about Richard. Richard knew exactly which buttons to press. Jacques submitted meekly to him. He regretted having revealed too much of his mind. But the sex was amazing! While Jacques had always practiced safe sex since he had left boarding school, Richard refused to use condoms. When Jacques tried to insist on using them, he would receive a severe beating from Richard.
During a flight between Toulouse and Montreal, Richard returned to the subject of Belgian politics. Richard said that he was on a hit list. The Flemish wanted him dead and had tried to kill him on several occasions. Jacques was convinced Richard was paranoid and told him so. Richard almost yelled at him before realizing that he was on a crowded aircraft. It had been a couple of years after September, 11 2001 and any commotion or outbursts on an aeroplane would lead to arrest.
In Montreal, Richard went into moments of mania when he explained why Flemish separatists wanted him dead. Jacques knew many Quebec separatists. Though he disagreed with them, politics didn’t determine his friendships. During one dinner party, Richard got into a heated argument with the separatists. He told them that if they separated from Canada, Belgium would then be destroyed. He even went as far to suggest that the Party Quebecois and Bloc Quebecois were paid and supported by Flemish separatists. One of the guests present was a prominent official of both parties and took exception to the accusation that Quebecois separatist parties were working in collusion with Flemish separatists. The conversation took a nasty turn when the separatists declared that they supported Flemish separatism and their right to separate. Richard stood up as his face turned beet red. He picked up the wine glass and threw it against the wall where it shattered sending shrapnel of glass and red wine across the dining room. Richard was immediately ejected and Jacques was forced to leave as well. Jacques never got over that embarrassment.
At the end of spring last year, Richard suddenly fell ill during a weekend jaunt to Monaco. He came down with a severe case of pneumonia. His condition was so severe he had to be hospitalized. Within days, Richard was deceased. The doctor had a personal conversation with Jacques. He asked if Jacques was aware that Richard was HIV+. Jacques replied he hadn’t known. The doctor blatantly asked if he were homosexual and if he had had sex with Richard. Jacques lied and denied the truth.
Mortified and distraught, Jacques left on the next available flight to Montreal. He left everything behind in Montpellier. He tried not to think about Richard. He even denied to himself that he had sex with him. He thought that perhaps he lucked out and hadn’t caught the virus. In December, Jacques saw his urine come out red for the first time. He panicked but assured himself that it was simply a passing phenomenon. However, the urine remained red ever since. He asked around what significance was red urine. He was informed that blood was in his urine. There were only two possible causes. The first was kidney disease. The second possibility was AIDS. Exactly one week ago, he took the test. He called a taxi from his landline to go to the hospital.
Though Sabine was shivering and wanted to get inside warm shelter as soon as possible, she found herself frozen on the northeast corner of Laurier and St. Denis. She hated her job! She worked as a customer service representative for Rogers Cable and Internet. The job stressed her beyond endurance. She had come to detest the human race. She hated trying to explain to customers that they were not entitled to bill reductions due to the internet service disruptions of fifteen to thirty minutes. The previous week was Super Bowl Sunday and she had been inundated with requests for High Definition cable installation. There were only a limited number of service vehicles. When customers were informed that they could not have their installation before game time, she received an earful of irate abuse. Sabine had never heard so many adults cry and throw temper tantrums as if they were 5 year old children. Sabine hated how callers would treat her as if she were their girlfriend or wife.
She knew that once she crossed St. Denis she would be just one more block away from work. The alternative wasn’t better. If she called in sick, she would have a cold apartment waiting for her when she returned home. She suddenly started to cry. Her tears turned into icicles instantly as they were exposed to the subarctic air. She was lonely and miserable. She wanted to go back to BC.
For two years James had been with Brigit. She was from Newcastle, England. She was his first British girlfriend. They had fallen deeply in love. Brigit had bright red hair with crystal blue eyes. Her grandparents had emigrated from Ireland and both of her parents were pure Irish. They had met at a Massive Attack concert at Metropolis. They hooked up within a week.
James had dated a few white women before and had sex with many more. Most of his girlfriends were Black. When he was 17, he briefly dated an Irish girl from Pointe St. Charles which was opposite of Little Burgundy along the south bank of the Lachine Canal. However, he had endured so much racist verbal abuse in Pointe St. Charles he had come to the conclusion that the Irish were incorrigible racists. He dated and had sex with white women in Toronto but was turned off how they all seemed to like to call him Nigger during sex.
Brigit changed his perceptions of Irish and white women in general. She was very conscious about racism and always treated and saw James for who he was rather than what he was. She invited him along to visit her family for Christmas but James could never get the time off from work to do so. The way she had described Britain, he wished that he had lived there. When she moved back to Britain for good, she asked him to get married. He turned her down as he thought that he wasn’t good enough for her or the British. He regretted that decision today. He was convinced that he would have had a better life as a Black man in Britain than he had in North America.
He got off at Laurier station and took the exit at the front of the platform. He thought about the work day in front of him. He had a couple of employees that were on probation. He hated having to prosecute workers or inform on them to their managers. He realized that his job was to listen in and spy on the workers. The call centre was the perfect microcosm of an Orwellian state.
He stepped out of the warm Metro which remained 30 degrees all year long. A biting lash of artic wind smacked his face. He turned to walk towards St. Denis. In front of him standing on the corner he noticed a body heaving greatly. As he passed the person, he glanced to see who it was. It was one of his employees.
“Hey Sabine!” James was first cheerful until he saw her frozen tears and anguished face. “Are you alright Sabine? What’s wrong?”
Sabine saw James and suddenly felt better. “I’m cold and am afraid to walk across the street by myself. Can you walk me to the office holding me by the arm?”
“Of course I can!” James put his right arm through her left arm. “This must be a difficult adjustment after coming from Victoria, eh?”
“I hate winter here!”
“Well get used to it.”
They entered into the special side entrance to the call centre. Sabine went to her locker where she undressed three of her five layers of clothes. She poured herself a cup of coffee. James stood behind Sabine and waited patiently for her to pour coffee. As he filled his mug with coffee, Sabine spoke.
“What are you doing for lunch today, James?”
“I don’t know. You?”
“I’d like to have lunch with you.”
“Ok Sabine. See you then. Oh by the way, today is your turn to be evaluated for Quality. I’m just giving you a heads up so you’re aware.”
“Thanks James! See you at lunch!”
What a nice girl! James thought to himself. She was probably a typical flake as most girls from BC but she seemed nice and friendly anyway.
Sabine smiled as she took her seat and logged into her computer and phone.
“Amazing how people from the West Coast always have that sunshine smile, eh?” said George a Greek worker from Parc Extension.
Sabine took her first call of the day: “Thank you for calling Rogers Cable! My name is Sabine Darfner! How may I help you?”
Jacques arrived at Royal Victoria hospital and took an elevator up to the 8th floor. The male nurse who tested him remembered him instantly. “Monsieur Trudeau! Can you come with me into this room please?”
Jacques followed the nurse into the room. The nurse closed the door and sat down gravely before Jacques. Jacques knew what was going to be said.
“Monsieur Trudeau, the results was positive.” The nurse paused and looked intently at Jacques to gauge his reaction. He continued. “We have comprehensive care for patients like you…..”

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