Neighbours

The ferry announces its arrival with two quick blasts of the horn. I poke my head up through the hatch in the forward cabin, see it pulling into the dock at Wolfe Island, just across the channel from the city of Kingston. The sun isn’t yet high, but leaves it’s glittering tail across the water as it rises over Lake Ontario. It’s my first time to Windsong, my father’s boat, since last summer.

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I check my watch as I slide out of bed. 6:27. I climb out into the cockpit, and turn my gaze to the other sleepy sailboats anchored nearby. Our neighbours. They are all empty, we are alone in the anchorage this weekend. The high-rises of Kingston glitter in the morning sun to the north, the island slowly wakes to the south.

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As I watch the windmills turn in the distance, giving power to the many farms here, I think about my Opa, who came to this very island when he first arrived in Canada in 1951 from Holland. I wonder which of these farms employed him, as a young 20-year-old immigrant, writing to my Oma across the ocean to tell her to come, that Canada was an amazing place, that she would love it.

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I consider swimming the short length from the boat to the island to go exploring, but my father offers to row me across, so I can keep my clothes dry. I hop out of the rowboat, backpack on, and set out on my little journey. I head east towards where I know there is a bicycle rental shop. The road takes me towards the edge of the town of Marysville, and I soon see a small sign reading Cycle Wolfe Island at the end of a driveway. I make my way down the gravel lane, towards a shed at the back with a closed sign on it. Darn. There is a whole yard full of bikes, but no one in sight. I guess I’m walking. I continue out of town, the houses slowly spreading further and further apart, until I am nearly under the first of the windmills at the first of the farms, then turn back towards town.

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In town, I meander through the side streets, snapping pictures of some of the houses and gardens, before finding myself in front of a small art gallery. I head inside where a few other tourists are perusing what the walls are displaying, and one wall in particular draws my attention. It is a grid of perhaps twenty portraits, various smiling faces gazing out a me, with a small sign in the bottom right corner reading Neighbours. There is something so beautiful in the simplicity and familiarity of this collection, that I spend several moments admiring it as a whole, before inspecting each face, in turn. I continue making my way around the gallery, but find myself back at Neighbours after a few moments. I try to memorize it, wishing I could take it with me somehow. I eye the two ladies behind the counter, chatting to one another, and approach them timidly. Excuse me, they both look up. Would it be okay if I took a picture of this wall?

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Yes, sure, says a middle-aged woman with curly blonde-grey hair. I line up my camera contentedly. But why do you want a picture of that wall? she asks, as I take my shot.

Well, I guess I just really like it, I say, looking down to check the image turned out.

I was curious, she says, because I painted them.

I look up at her once again. They are truly fantastic, I say, wishing I weren’t so shy, and that I could think of something more intelligent to say to her about her work. A man in a tilly hat and a three day beard not far from me joins the conversation. You will notice two people in this room in those portraits, he says, nodding towards Neighbours. So the other patrons are not all tourists after all. Oh? I say, turning back to the wall and recognizing his face right away. You are the top right, I say, pointing.

Yes, and my wife is there too, he says, pointing to a woman at the other end of the room. She is the bottom middle, I observe. They are all so lovely, so familiar, I muse. He tells me how each image was painted in about twenty minutes, while the artist sat having a conversation with her neighbours, all presumably islanders.

I thank them both and wish them a good day as I take my leave, heading towards the local coffee shop. I order an iced latte and take a seat outside in the shade, pulling out a book that a friend lent me a week ago, The Monk and the Riddle. I settle into the warm, late July day, feeling grateful for a free weekend from the three jobs I have recently started, in the hopes of soon saving enough for my next adventure.

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Is that a Buddhist monk, or a different kind of monk? asks a voice after a few moments of reading. It’s the man from the top-right portrait. His wife and son are a few paces ahead, walking towards the bakery. A Buddhist one, I say.

My wife and I used to be Buddhists, he tells me. I wonder what “used to” be a Buddhist means. He gives me the name of an author I should look up, tells me the book saved his life, before running to catch up to his family. Thank you, I call.

I head down to the dock after reading a short while longer, and try calling out to my father, who is working inside the boat. No movement. I try again, then move to another dock, a little bit longer and thus reaching a little bit closer to the boat. Still nothing. I stand for a moment, gaging the distance and my ability to swim it, before slipping off my sandals and setting my backpack down. I can come back for it later.

Just as I am about to slide off the dock into the water, I see a hat emerge from below deck, and an arm waving.

I guess my swim can wait.

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