“Could be snow, could be dandruff.”
She looked at me from the corner of her eye, a wry smile forming at her lips. I was on the #7 bus headed downtown for my first glimpse of winter in Victoria — never mind if the season started in December for the rest of the country.
She shuffled in her seat. A heavy breath; a long life. In truth, she wasn’t my first choice of seatmate. She smelled the way socks do when you’ve been out walking in the rain. But I knew she’d sit next to me. Sometimes you can just tell.
The bus rumbled past Oak Bay Village, down Foul Bay Road and the cluster of apartment buildings advertising vacancies — a sight even rarer than snowfall in this city. FOR RENT: BACHELOR read one sign.
“Look there. A bachelor’s putting himself up for rent,” she wisecracked.
“A bold strategy,” I replied.
She chuckled. A wintry day; a new friend.
“Last time we got snow like this, it was barely enough to fill the cracks in the sidewalk,” she told me. I didn’t mention that I’d moved here in part to escape from winter, to leave the dreary chill of dark February days behind. Funny, now, that I was glad for the snow. Only so far you can go before the things you’ve left catch up with you.
We passed by a schoolyard where kids played in the snow. Plastic sleds, snow forts, half-finished snowmen. Seemed like everyone was caught up in the excitement. A blur of activity on a cold afternoon.
“When was the last time you made a snowman?” I asked her. She must’ve been in her early seventies.
She thought for a moment and smiled, eyes creasing at the corners.
“I remember teaching my daughter how to make a snow angel,” she said. “I told her to fall back and let the snowbank catch her, but she didn’t believe me. She had this big look on her face when she finally tried.”
I tried to remember my own first snow angel and drew a blank. The memories blend together after a while.
When I was young, I remember toboggan trips to Westmount Golf Course and Waterloo Park. The hills look hardly thrilling now but seemed much bigger then. I remember GT Snow Racers and jumps fashioned from parking lot snowbanks down the street. A few nasty falls led to tears — though if they were my brother’s or my own, I forget.
I remember snow soccer games at Empire Public School. Some recesses, we swapped the ball for an ice chunk, and goal posts for winter boots. Looking back, I don’t know why, or how we managed to keep track of the thing. Some games are best left unquestioned, I suppose.
I remember snowballs tossed on long walks home from middle school. Each hydro pole became a target, and when that grew boring, I’d aim for my friends. They got pretty tired of that, as I recall. A few still don’t trust me near a snowbank. The others don’t know me well enough.
I remember winter wars in high school, when we’d head to Westmount Public School to tackle each other in the snow. T-MAX hoodies. Teenage boys. Testosterone. I remember the fear of God being caught behind enemy lines without an escape path or the flag. I still hold a grudge from being tackled too hard into the playground. That was over twelve years ago now.
I remember stolen dinner trays from the Medway-Sydenham cafeteria. First year at Western University. Makeshift sleds flung down UC Hill. I remember the bonfire we held back at the dorm: hand sanitizer poured on a night stand and lit with a cigarette lighter. I forget whose idea it was.
So many memories, I forget too easily. A heavy breath; a life well-lived. I looked back at my friend on the bus.
“How did she like the snow?”
“She loved it. Then I told her to push her brother in.”