When I first arrived in Canada, I was baffled by the amount of space. There was space between buildings, where you could see a heavy sky pregnant of snowstorms, the space between people to look in the eye and speak to, the space between relatively safe floats in an unknown sea. The hotel room, the bus stop, the bank, the half-familiar taxi driver. I would have tried to scream and assess the extent of emptiness by counting the reverberations of my own echo, but keeping my head above water was enough to keep me busy.
So there I was, in such a stubborn and surprising polar vortex it was Formally Validated by a hashtag, in a city heavily reliant on cars and with less than a third of the population I used to be a part of, in a neighborhood that was known to be poor, with full blocks of empty houses. It was known by everybody except, of course, for ill informed newcomers. And, of course, when I arrived it wasn’t just I but we, and we were new, we had arrived but not come yet, for coming takes so long, and we still went to bed saying everything was just fine.
The apartment I, or rather, we were able to rent had indifferent peanut halves scattered around, a lingering scent of cooking oil, and a small hole in the ac cover through which tiny whirlwinds of the -25C outside would every now and then peak through. What nobody tells you about rabbit holes is that the rabbits shiver quick prayers of warmth and safety while passing the threshold, they are self inflicted blessings of memorial sun that will guide them through existing on that day, all their genes reduced to unruly exotic accent, here’s your change, have a good one. During those days there was one goal and one goal only: to come back home. Home was still full of absense but slowly and surely filling up with things that could be but weren’t yet, like new stepmothers. The space between the few pieces of furniture and the rest of the house was obscene, the contrast of what was still stiff from the store and the dusty years of layered muck daily blurred with bleach and dish detergent and sponges and anger. When the skin of my hands started peeling off, when the textbook’s yellow daffodils made no sense and he wasn’t home yet, there was silence. Not silence but lack of sounds, lack of many things, rather: lack of words to describe what lacked, lack of tastes to root senses, lack of direction because when you are not waving but rather drowning there is barely hope, there is only salt.
The local radio suggested by the app on my phone was as prickly as cacti, delivering cheerful updates on places I didn’t know, artists I had never heard of, the general extent of my otherness. Listening to Brazilian radios was more painful than waiting on the dentist’s office, I knew all those places and my skin crawled with the announced local temperature and remembrance of the distance between us. Stuck in frozen Ontario, je me souvenais. Caught in the space of not being Canadian enough, not affording to be Brazilian enough, I became, well, French. Every morning, a thick male voice would croak traffic updates of Boulevard du Montparnasse, analysis of the Algerian housing market, occasional suggestions to avoid the Châtelet and Rue du Rivoli but actually Les Halles completely if possible. I would pour almond milk in my dark roast Folgers and ignore the annoying interference of tuning in a place and time hours ahead of me, while I still had all those hours of the day to fill in. Day after day, the gutural R sounds lulled me into a novocaine contentment while I watched streaks of sunlight outline the vertical blinds and spread longer and longer distortions on the kitchen walls. One morning there was a problem in the green line, near Dugommier station. Like going bankrupt, it happened slowly, then all at once: there was a slight tingle, a phantom pain in my right foot, and it whispered how, do you remember?, I could go left for Dugommier or right for Daumesnil and, no matter what happened or where I went I knew, bien sûr, that home was the space between the two. Home was a microscopic bedroom where I laid my tired limbs for wee three nights, many years ago. You could walk from one station to the other in less than ten minutes, precisely ten if you were wearing heels, although it felt like forever when it was late in the night, and cold, and there was no hand to be held. In the space between what used to be and what is not yet there is, as there were, back in those days, empty but lived in sidewalks, chipped by the urgency of habits, and the unceasing echo of my own footsteps, doing what they know best.