It’s May 14th. Many things have happened on this day throughout the years. Lina Medina becomes the youngest confirmed mother in medical history at the age of five and a Pope dies. Israel becomes a nation and forms its first provisional government. The Freedom Riders’ bus in Alabama is fire-bombed and civil rights protesters are beaten by an angry mob. The first smallpox vaccination is administered and the Netherlands surrenders to Germany.
On this day in 2010, the sky is a particular shade of azure that happens only at this time of year. The air is filled with the scent of lilacs, the blood of sweet green shoots and dark, damp earth. It’s a heady perfume, perfectly balanced and beyond comparison with any singular thing. I breathe deeply. The sign in the window of the parfumerie on my right proudly declares the creation of a new scent – Beyond Sex. I would hope so, and I push the thoughts of dirty hotel linens from my mind and assure myself it’s probably sandalwood based. We keep walking.
On the left, an earnest young man in wire-rimmed glasses is shoveling dark earth and raking it into what will become gardens gracing the way to the dumpsters behind the United Church. He reminds me of John-Boy. I notice he has thrown his red sweatshirt over the handles of the wheelbarrow and I wonder what year it was when red became an acceptable colour for Christians to wear. In biblical times, crimson is a colour of sin and decent people usually kept to black, white, blue and grey. You certainly don’t see the Amish in scarlet overalls. It must be that great rationalizer – moderation.
We’ve just come out of the small corner grocery store where we bought luscious red grapes and dark roast coffee from Ethiopia. Three young men are gathered at the corner of an old brick building, laughing and shoving each other as young men do and speaking in an African language that plays like a melody. If I understood the words, perhaps it would not be so lovely but this way, it’s like birdsong. I can’t remember when it was that I learned birds are not singing, but yelling obscenities at each other over territorial disputes. My reverie continues as I pass the three-story purple house with the chandelier on the veranda. I’m not far from home now.
I can see them up ahead. A few of the patients from the long-term care facility at the Misericordia hospital have been trotted out into the sunshine while the staff hovers over them, some dutifully, some engagingly, and some indifferently. A wheelchair is parked under a tree, holding a man in his middle years slumped forward over his blanket. His eyes are open but they appear not to see. His attendant is nearby, staring into the bark of a tree. I can’t help but think how well matched they appear to be, although I find myself hoping the man in the chair is running though the spring sunshine somewhere else in his mind. It occurs to me that we, as humans, are all about reciprocity. Otherwise, someone would be sitting with him and reading aloud. And then there are the ladies, seated around the patio like garden gnomes and being fed chocolate ice cream carefully scooped into child-size cones. One lady in particular was positively twinkling while taking in the sights and sounds of my companion. No phone, no pool, no pets. I ain’t got no cigarettes… Roger Miller recedes into the background as we pass.
“Did you notice you were being admired?” I ask him.
“Yes. I’ve always seemed to attract old ladies.” He gestures toward the house on the corner that had recently sold. “I do hope the new owners enjoy landscaping. It would be a shame to see these beautiful gardens disappear.”
Apparently, he is already holding the shovel I’ve handed him.
“Yes, it certainly would be.”
Now what was the name of that parfumerie?