Before arriving in Quebec City, we had one day in Montreal. Like any trip to Montreal, there were multiple reasons– for me to go to my classmate’s house party and meet people in the Laval group who I hadn’t seen in forever, for Dad and I both to get some sleep after driving 13 hours (a little is better than none, yeah?) and to stock up on various Montreal delicacies (Fairmount bagels come particularly to mind). But I also had a chance encounter that was very interesting indeed.
Rewind to April– when we all received the news of Jean-Charles’ death. The email came from his brother André. I remembered seeing, from André’s email domain name and mail signature, that he ran an art gallery in Montreal. We had briefly exchanged emails about meeting up in Montreal, but that had gone almost completely out of my head. Until that morning in the tail end of August, when I was checking out of the hostel in Montreal and just happened to glimpse over my shoulder, a list of “Top Ten Things to do in Mile End.” #3 on the list- “Galerie André Richard”.
With a precise address. In Mile End, three blocks from the bagel bakery that Dad was so fixated on going to.
Could it be the same André Richard? There had to be 40 of those in Montreal if not more; it’s not at all an uncommon name. But everything lined up so nicely…although I barely knew André, and I wasn’t even his brother’s best friend; Bosco was. But Bosco wasn’t going to be coming to Montreal anytime soon, and here I was walking its streets. I had no idea what André was going to do– it could be the wrong André and he could ask me “Who the hell is Jean-Charles?” He could give me a bear hug, or coldly tell me he had no time to see me, or anything in between. But it just seemed like destiny was pointing that way. I told Dad I was going to go say hi to someone real quick, and headed toward the gallery, my heart beating fast. It’s always awkward to meet, in person, someone you only know from a few mass emails.
I looked through the art– contemporary painting– until I saw a middle-aged man with dark hair come out of an office. No one would ever think André and Jean-Charles were twins, but the resemblance was there. The guy saw me and greeted me. “Bonjour, sorry, are you André?” I replied.
“My name is Irene, I’m one of Jean-Charles’s friends from Burundi.”
He looks shocked for a moment, but not upset. He shakes my hand “Which– which project? Come in to my office, let’s have a chat.”
“We worked together on a weekly newspaper. I was the assistant section head and he was my direct superior. He was… the kind of boss you don’t have every day.” Feeble smile. “Sorry for your loss.”
“Was it you who sent those pictures, that slideshow for Jean-Charles that we played at the commemoration?” (Jean-Charles was an atheist, and at no time during the email exchange after his death did his family use the word ‘funeral.’ Yes, an acerbic, blunt, unsubtle atheist. Proof indeed that opposites attract, when you consider that his best friend was Bosco, a softspoken, diplomatic man who is more committed to the Catholic faith than anyone I’ve ever met, and attends all-night prayer vigils. Proof that opposites attract and that true, adult friendships transcend ideology. I digress, but only a bit.)
“Yes, the slideshow with the pictures of Burundi, that was us. Me and Bosco and Félicie and Pierre and a photographer friend of mine from Canada who helped.”
“Really? That was so beautiful. It was very well received.”
“Thanks. I wish you could have met us all there– me and Bosco and Pierre and Félicie and Damien. I really wish we could have been there.”
“So did we.”
“But they never could have gotten visas in time, even if they by some miracle got the money and the time off work. Especially with the damn consular officer strike.”
“I know.” We talked a while longer, about mutual acquaintances– the circle of non-Burundian Québécois with connections to Burundi is small and intimate, so there were bound to be a few. Then we just chit-chatted awhile until we both had to get back to what we had been doing. He was very poised and diplomatic; it was hard to see the resemblance between this well-spoken art dealer and his hard-boiled, sharp-tongued brother. Except in the smile.
It seemed like the right thing to do, and I’m glad I did it.