I’m sitting on the front step of my friend Coco’s apartment block. A cage with her cat in one hand, her sister’s rat in the other. Large fire trucks lined the street.
The only person I recognise and who cares to translate for me is her neighbour, Kevin. Kevin is a photographer from the mountains in France who works from his home studio. Early one morning I had caught Coco walking back in from the balcony. She had just jumped the railing from Kevin’s apartment. Her entire body was covered in black paint and I could see her wide eyes peering up at me like a deer in the headlights. It was 6:30am and all we could do is laugh. She had been shooting with Kevin all night long. One thing turned into another and they ended up painting the entire studio wall in a creative mash-up all-nighter.
Back to the truck-lined street.
For the first time in my life, the alarm was not a drill. There was an actual fire inside Coco’s apartment block. I was so grateful Kevin had brought my attention to it as I sat on the balcony in a land of email replies. My mind was switched off and I had become so accustomed to alarm drills and empty promises of action that it did not even penetrate my consciousness. Thanks to Kevin, I noticed that there was indeed smoke streaming out from the window below our balcony. Sh*t.
In the next 1 minute I had to grab what was important as well as figure out what on earth was going on, did everyone know about it, did anyone need help. I looked around. Coco’s laptop, her husbands laptop, his guitar collection, her drum collection, her circus gear, oh wow – what here is important?! Paralyzed by the fact that I might just burn to death deciding what they would want saved, I decided that they would want the least above all to deal with my incarcerated body. So, I grabbed my backpack and ran for the door. Another neighbour with the stench of beer streaming from his pores was wondering aimlessly and asked what was up. I put some fire under his belt and we both went searching for the source and to see if anyone needed help. We found the culprit apartment in a smoke-filled corridor, realised there was nothing we could actually do and eventually joined the rest of the building out on the street. Kevin was there and speaking to someone nursing his kitten.
Sh*t – the cat!
Kevin saw the look on my face, grabbed my hand and ran back up the stairs with me. Straight into action, he found the cat snoozing in Coco’s bed. I found the cat cage. Knowing this cat and fearing the next steps of getting cat into cage safely, we took advantage of the cats sleep state and swiftly locked him away without much fuss. Next mission, the rat.
The rat I have not minded so much, he does his thing, I do mine. All fine. Until this point, I have never actually made contact with the rat. So here it goes, I thrust my hand into the cage and grab his fat little body. I make a beeline to the door. There is no time to come up with a vessel to contain the rat, so I hug him to my body and this is where he remains for the duration of the building fire.
I put aside all feelings that arise when the rat sneezes what I later discover to be stress-induced mucus all over my arm and shirt. I can only put my thoughts to how it would feel to watch Coco die slowly from the inside knowing that her beloved pets had burnt to a crisp in her home.
I sit there, listening to the Quebecois and realise how calm, and almost apathetic I am. The apathy has been with me for some time now. I realise that I am in Montreal but I have stopped traveling. I am ready for home. I can’t wait for home. Two years on the road and I’m at that stage that I feel like I’ve seen it all. I know how far from the truth this is, but it has dawned on me how important time for reflection is. How important the winter, the hibernation is. Summer has gone too long and I know once I arrive home the spring is starting, then the year ahead will be one of the busiest of my life. All I want is to get under a duvet, with a hot tea and a fat book. I want to go into the deepest parts of my mind. I want to live without distraction and start to process the lessons that have presented themselves to me. To start to put action to what I have learned.
I want to do this so I can feel the sensation of wonder again.