Monday, 16 July 2012

Brief Encounters: frisbee

Plateau Mont-Royal is Montreal's bohemian quarter, full of bagel stores, coffee shops, bakeries, and young guys strumming guitars on their stoops. At the foot of the small mountain after which the city is named, is a park: tennis courts, a small baseball pitch with wooden bleachers, and best of all, shade. 
It was here I took shelter while I finished my book – by 11am, it was heading quickly towards 30 degrees and the sun was searing my shoulders. 
It was only when I stopped reading that I noticed the small group next to me: a cheery guy about my age, three boys aged between around seven and 12, and a tall teenage Indian girl and her father. They had a frisbee, rugby ball, football, kite, and a large cooler filled with snacks. They were clearly settled in for the day. 
After watching them for a few minutes, I wandered over and asked if I could play. For the next hour or so, we frisbeed, ate homemade egg mayonnaise sandwiches, and talked. 
The father and daughter were from Mumbai, on holiday, just the two of them. They, like me, had gatecrashed the frisbee. He was divorced, and this was his way of spending quality time with his daughter. They were headed, via Toronto and Buffalo, to New York in ten days' time. "I am soooo excited," said the daughter. I loved their company – they were intellectual, curious and sparky. He read the Guardian online back home, and she was filled with plans for her life. 
The guy was playing Dad to his friend's three boys for the day – "I love them to bits," he said. He threw them over his shoulders, wrestled them to the ground and flung rugby balls in their direction, shouting encouragement. He has travelled all over the world, but grew up a block from where we were, and used to play in the park as a boy. He had lovely brown eyes. 
A couple of hours later, as I packed up to leave and catch my plane home, I felt a tug of emotion in my chest. From three continents, seven strangers had converged on a park and enjoyed an unexpectedly happy morning together. These intense, but fleeting, friendships are both the best and worst side of travel. You taste the start of a friendship and then leave, too soon. But the best leave a strong impression. 

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