I had just returned from my Central American adventure when I met Carlos. I was staying with my uncle, and still getting used to Canadian spring weather and thinking in English when I saw a latin-looking guy in the grocery store. I figured he’d probably understand if I greeted him in Spanish, so I said, “Buenas tardes”, and waited to see where that went. Well, he did understand me, although he didn’t speak Spanish. His first language was Portuguese, as he was from Brazil.
Speaking to someone in the wrong language can be quite the ice breaker, and we ended up chatting over a beer shortly thereafter. That beer led to storytelling and laughter, which turned into further meetups at Boston Pizza, and we became fast friends. He was a student at a nearby college, and I got rehired by the hospital, and when our schedules matched, Carlos and I would go hiking or grab a bite to eat and talk about life in other countries.
I like to assume, when I’m meeting new people, that most strangers are just friends I haven’t met yet, and this turned out to be true yet again. As the months passed, Carlos showed himself to be better than an acquaintance; was a loyal, trustworthy friend.
As spring turned into summer, we did some traveling together. Nothing distant or expensive, but we got around the province to hit some festivals and patios. We both knew, however, that his student visa would run out, and it would be time for him to return to his motherland. He tried to push the date as late as he could, but there was a problem. He lived in a college town, and his lease was up at the end of August. He wanted to stay for September, but couldn’t rent a room for only only one month, especially that one month when school first starts.
I was renting a room at Birchwood House and there was a room that wasn’t rented. I talked to my landlord, and told him how polite and how tidy my friend was, and that this was easy money, as he didn’t have much stuff and there was no risk of him turning out to be a tenant from hell. My landlord refused, as he felt that the 5 tenants he already had were enough for a house that size, despite the extra bedroom. Later, however, he ended up renting out that room out to someone else, so I decided to take matters into my own hands.
I went out and bought an inflatable mattress for my bedroom floor, and asked Carlos to move in with me, just for the three weeks he needed. He said he didn’t want to intrude, but I insisted that this was the best thing for both of us. With that, I had a new roommate in very tight quarters.
There was no room to walk between his mattress and my bed, so in the daytime we had to put the mattress away. I was working, and he had some things to do on his own, so we weren’t in each others’ faces all the time, but we still had time to do some more hiking and enjoy that season when the weather is just starting to think about changing. I’d never harboured a secret roommate before, so I got a little bit of a thrill whenever the landlord stopped by.
* * *
It was early on a crisp, September morning that Carlos and I packed up his suitcases and prepared for our trip to Pearson Airport. This was a sad day; Carlos was one of the best roommates I’d ever had, and this was the day we would say goodbye.
I was a bit grumpy for another reason as well. I’d had a dream the night before that a wheel broke off my car, and that kind of thing always makes me nervous. When I have a premonition about a car accident, I usually end up getting in a car accident.
As we ate breakfast, we reminisced about some of the good times we’d had together, including hiking, bike rides, music festivals and patio beers on lazy summer afternoons. All this was made possible by the fact I took the risk to greet this Brazilian guy in the wrong language.
We loaded Fordie Focus with his ridiculously heavy luggage (Brazilians are socially required to take back all manner of things for their friends and family after traveling abroad), we pulled out of the driveway and headed off. I noticed that the usual squeak from my back, left wheel, which was scheduled to be fixed on Tuesday, was gone. “Hey, I guess that means the wheel’s not gonna fall off”, I joked, laughing as I said it.
I drove cautiously, especially over the Burlington Skyway- I’ve been in and witnessed several accidents on and around that bridge, so it’s really not an area that I enjoy.
We talked about what Carlos would do when he got home and the logistics of his travel as I took the exit for the 403, and rounded the corner at the underpass under the QEW (while going an unusually compliant 100 km/h) when I heard a pop, and felt a thud as the back, left corner of the car fell onto its axel. A wheel overtook me and rolled into the right ditch as I calmly checked my blind spot, turned on my signal light, and slid on over to the shoulder. I pumped my remaining three brakes to bring us to a stop, asked Carlos if he was all right, then began making phone calls, first to CAA (That’s Canada’s AAA, for you Yankees), and a cab company for Carlos.
That could have gone so much worse. That is usually a busy area, and we could have collided with several other vehicles, but it was as if an angel had pushed all of the other cars away from us so that there was no-one to be seen during Fordie’s transition to a 3-wheeled vehicle.
I was proud of Carlos for being so brave and calm. He remained stoic during this nightmare on what must have already been one of the most emotional days of his life. The cab arrived, we hugged goodbye, and he was gone.
Fortunately, my friend arrived home the next day without any further incident, and has continued his university studies. This weekend is the anniversary of his departure, and I plan to visit him in another year or two when I get the money together for my upcoming trip to Brazil.
I’m so glad I took a risk and got to know this great guy. And although some say that becoming roommates with a friend can ruin a friendship, that wasn’t true this time.