I took the bus once from Ottawa to Boston. I don’t know if I was eager or just on top of things, but that day I arrived at the Greyhound station early enough to steal a window seat near the back of the bus that wasn't too close to the washroom. It was early June, and I guess I figured there would be a lot to see out of that window as we headed east. I didn’t get to see much because a young man sat beside me as the bus and we talked most of the way to Montreal. He was full of excitement and moved around in his seat a lot. Montreal for dancing and trouble, he hooted. Ottawa's no place for any of that, I joked. He was a student at University of Ottawa, taking undergrad classes in poli sci, which would give him a BA in the end. Maybe it's an important subject but it's not one I know anything about.
He had no accent in English but he spoke other languages. Farsi at home, and his French wasn't bad. Then he said he'd be learning Dutch soon and hoped it was similar to German. He didn't add any reason for the Dutch, not right away, but the topic came up again later when we talked about biking in the Gats, and how you could sometimes see deer and fauns sipping dew from the asphalt if you hit the roads early in the morning. That was when he said he was going to the Netherlands in July for a bike trip with a cousin from France. The cousin, who he'd met only once during a family reunion, had called him out of the blue when he heard his mother had passed away. The cousin was going to arrange for a guide and bicycles, plan the route, set it all up. The young man sounded excited about the trip but also sad about the reason for it. I asked if his mother died recently. In March, he replied, looking away from me. I was saddened to hear that, and I said so. He thanked me and said he was doing better now but the final papers for his classes had been hard to finish.
A thick silence sprouted then, and I stared out the window without really seeing anything. Then he turned to me and asked if I'd done any travelling in Europe. I said, I've been to the Netherlands twice, and we both snorted with laughter. I told him how I'd found a roll of euros on the sidewalk after stumbling out of a café and took my friends out for dinner with the money. Remembering the Farsi, I told him about the Persian restaurant and his brown eyes lit up. I described the lamb with pomegranate seeds and saffron, and lentils and whole walnuts, and he smiled. In a flash I saw his mother in a colorful dress stirring a pot on the stove, lifting a stoneware dish from the hot oven to baste what was inside. I imagined the spicy vapours from a glass of hot chai and the fragrant scent of rice. He asked me if I'd tried Persian kabobs. When I shook my head, he said, you must try them the next time you're in the Netherlands. We laughed again.
When the bus pulled in to Maisonneuve we said our goodbyes. I watched from the window as he vanished into the big city dusk. Back on the highway, I found my novel but couldn't concentrate on the typed words so small and far away. Outside the daylight was softening as the darkness crept up from the horizon like lids closing around an eye. I watched the tips of the fir trees along the forest edge deepen from green to black, fading into night, every one of us waiting for stars.