Canadians are the most polite people on this planet. That’s the statement I was introduced to when I’d tell anyone – I’m moving to Canada for my Graduate School. And that’s a fact. Anyone who has ever visited the country or has met a Canadian would vouch for that. At the time of writing, it’s been over two years for me living here and I almost never had any rough exchange with anyone. Rather, I always felt home.
I still remember those bunch of people during Quebec City Marathon who were cheering for me – calling my name – when I was running my first marathon in years, barefoot. That was just my third week in Canada. During entire journey of exploring running in North America during past two years, I received amazing love, support, kindness, and was accepted as a part of the community to who I had almost nothing to offer. Soon I started telling stories from stage which further crushed any remaining barriers. I spent my first Canadian winter running outdoors in snow and first summer in Algonquin Park – canoeing. Thus, making it a complete North American experience. In between that, I hiked almost all of Canadian Laurentians and over 15 peaks (out of 46) of Adirondacks in New York on separate occasions. I believe all of that was possible because I always wanted to connect with community, express myself genuinely with no holds and live out of my comfort zone.
However, Canada has another face that only those get to see, who live here. While most of the people I met were extremely friendly and polite, they stay the same even when they are annoyed. So, living here, it becomes really tough to guess if the other person is offended or upset because of something you did. They never express dissent openly, thus denying you a chance to even apologize if you did anything wrong. This non-confrontational behavior is the only thing the people of country lack, hence denying themselves of being genuine in their expression, doesn’t matter even if it’s harsh, until it’s true to them. I use ‘them’ because this is again the only parameter where I do not feel connected with Canada as this leaves me confused with a thought – am I truly home? Was the expression genuine or just being nice? I genuinely love people wherever I go, that’s the least I can give them. However, Canadian journey has been a mystery.
Amid all this merry time I have had in Canada, there was one major scar that moved my world, maybe forever.
6015, Rue du Bocage, Apartment 201, Montréal. I moved here around this time last year as my new home. Located barely 200 m away from River Prairies, that is a tributary to River St. Laurent, it was a nice location at a fairly reasonable rent. In the 2-bedroom apartment lived two cats, and my roommate, Bernard or Bernie. At first, Bernie seemed the nicest guy I’d ever met. In the first evening itself, he shared nearly all possible details of his life. How he lost his mother, how he loved her, how he started dating this woman from Philippines that he claimed to love, how he missed her as she was in her hometown to settle property dispute, how his mother never really liked him dating her, how he hated her season for being piece of crap. That evening, Bernie cooked dinner for me – beef steak (rare) with onions, chives, bell pepper and orange juice.
Next day, Bernie invited me to company him to park where he spends his evenings – calling crows and squirrels and feed them peanuts. And feed raisin bread to the geese in the park next to the river – about three kilometers away from home. He taught me how to call squirrels and crows by imitating their sounds and introduced me to the trail, shared story of his dog he named “Tabarnak” (a Quebecois slang for ‘f*ck’ used in all purposes). During that long walk Bernie also shared he has not had a friend for past 32 years, ever since his business partner/friend betrayed him in a business deal. “You are nice. You are different than others. You are like me, spiritual. I see a friend in you” he added while sharing more of his stories. As Bernie continued to feed squirrels, I decided to run a few miles in that park, barefoot. My shoes were in his car. By the time I returned (20 minutes later), Bernie was gone. This was the first of many surprises in waiting.
A 60-year-old French man, Bernie would never wear any clothes when home and would always swear. Why? Because he had read over the internet that people who move around naked and swear a lot are intelligent. He’d sleep with radio turned on, and when he was awake, the loud music system would play Bob Marley songs. In total of 9 songs, looped one after the other. That evening Bernie asked for $10 as payment for the dinner he had cooked previous night and an additional $25 if I wanted to use internet which was never talked before. Bernie was gifted to speak with animals. He could talk to crows, squirrels and cats. But, he hated humans – to an extent he wanted everyone to die.
Throwing garbage to someone else’s front yard or out of his moving car was his favorite thing to do. He believed “All humans are stupid. They think the world is real. They are piece of sh*t. They all should die.” Bernie, as he’d claim at least a hundred times in a day, believed he was god. “I can feel things, you are not happy. You are very sad. I know everything. You should follow me and you will get peace. You should smoke this and drink alcohol” and he handed me his smoke that was mixed with marijuana. Bernie’s room was next to mine, common wall, where he had two more huge speakers, a computer that would work 24X7, logged on LIVE webcam sessions of Pornhub. That’s how he would spend all his evenings, mornings, weekends. He said that was a gateway to peace.
Next evening, while driving back home, Bernie brought me dinner again because he was happy. Someone had transferred $840 in his account anonymously. So, he wanted to get rid off that money as soon as possible. He ended up spending the amount on alcohol after an early dinner and three women who visited his room that night. Next morning, he realized that was the rent he had deposited in his account that was not yet debited. He was very angry when he left the house and blamed I should have reminded him of that.
I moved to Bernie’s place with month-to-month contract renewal. After spending a week with Bernie, I didn’t want to wake up or return home from work to his hanging weiner, or spend rest of time in the home in smoke and carnal sounds of the camgirls of his computer anymore. So, when I expressed my desire to move out by the end of the month, Bernie got very angry. While stalking me over the internet, Bernie found out that I run ultras and started passing derogatory comments on my body in every other sentence. He was a changed man immediately.
On beginning of third week, he got a woman to move in who started living in the Living Room without speaking with me even once, and suddenly the whole dynamics changed. Michelle was a nice woman from Jamaica who was abandoned by her son a few years ago and was living on Federal Welfare. Bernie didn’t know about that. She was supposed to take my room as soon as I’d leave. They’d always argue whenever they would talk, that soon would heat up and Bernie would run back to his camgirls slamming the door while Michelle would fold herself on the couch where she practically lived, and continue her John Grisham readings.
On my final week of the stay, someone would often visit my room in my absence and take away stuff. In a week I had lost at least seven of my outdoor gear items. One of those evenings Bernie visited my room and continued his lectures on how he thinks I am impotent, how I must make out with Michelle as he does every night, how I must surrender to him as a disciple, how I must hold his hand to get off my life of misery, how I can never be happy, how I was a loser, how I lost my mother because of being excessively self-centred, how I can never find love in life, how he has all the peace on the planet and how I was a piece of sh*t and should rather die.
By third day of the week I had a found a place to move to, albeit for just 2 weeks, but that was good enough to keep me away from Bernie and use the time to find a more permanent option. I was supposed to move out on following Sunday. Like all the nights, Bernie lectured me post dinner on Friday night and went out to talk to Michelle as I continued working on my funding proposals. A few minutes later, Bernie slammed open my door so hard that it got unhinged and threatened to kill me as I would not move out, or listen to him and I was a piece of sh*t. I was left shaking on corner of my room, startled, in complete disbelief of what just happened. Michelle immediately intervened, apologized on his behalf and agreed to him for intercourse.
Bernie earlier had disclosed to me how he worked as a pimp, got arrested multiple times and was legally not allowed to leave Canada. He also disclosed how he had lost his virginity as a 12-year-old to a man in his neighborhood and would often casually alert me of being raped by him. Exchanges with Bernie were never comfortable.
Bernie was out with Michelle on whole of Saturday helping her shop to give the house a makeover. When I returned home, someone had taken the bulb of my room’s lamp so it was dark. He was severely intoxicated. While I was managing my things under light of my headlamp, Bernie slammed the door again, this time completely removing it off the panel and it landed on the ground. He held chopping knife in his hand and charged at me. I immediately held the lamp between him and me. “See what you did to my door. Why don’t get out of here? Why don’t you die? Don’t you see that poor woman living on a couch for past one month? Are you even a man? No one loves you. Your family abandoned you. You are a piece of sh*t. Filthy Indian. Have you seen your face? Oh I run – for god’s sake STOP. You make me cry.” He kept mumbling as I continued to reply holding the lamp in my defense.
Michelle intervened again. I immediately took out my hunting knife and ready myself for the fight. Bernie had many cases on his name, I didn’t want to get arrested on false charges, so I didn’t want to do any harm to him. Michelle once again got him agreed for the intercourse and he undressed her in my room. He, of course, never wore any clothes when home. I never carried a phone. So, when I thought of reaching out to police, I didn’t know how to do that. I ran out of the room as they continued to engage in a barbaric make-out session, and headed out to find a way to reach out to the police. I didn’t know the location of nearest SPVM centre (Montreal Police) and there were no Taxi I could find around midnight. Confused about what should I do, I kept walking on the streets in anger, panic, frustration, in tears and decided to sit on the bank of the river.
An hour later, I went back home. Everything was silent. Bernie had slept, Michelle was still up. She convinced me of letting it go as he didn’t know what he was doing. I don’t know why, but I agreed. That night, I slept holding my hunting knife in my hand, prepared to attack on slightest of movement around me.
Next morning, as I packed all that I owned in Montreal, Bernie stepped in my room again and question why haven’t I left yet. Still angry over past night, I didn’t answer. After finishing packing, when I was in shower, Bernie crashed the washroom’s door and stood on the other side of the shower curtain. Sensing the danger, I immediately turned off the shower, wrapped myself in towel and stood in silence, anticipating what could be the next move. Bernie kept shouting from the side “Why don’t you leave my house? Why don’t you die, you piece of sh*t? …” and a lot more in French.
As I pulled the curtain, Bernie charged at me again, but this time, I punched him on his head and pushed him away. Michelle intervened once again and I ran in my room to get dressed. They kept shouting in the living room. He kept swearing me, and ended up breaking his own flower vase, that he was so protective about. As soon as I could, I vacated the house with all my bags, only to never return again.
I thought of contacting police or leaving an ugly message on his door in permanent ink, but then I thought this all was worthless. Bernie needed help. I believed he was lonely, and he had lost his mental balance. He was a slave to his desires that he wanted fulfilled at any cost. I saw a very weak, self-centred and insane man in him. I did my best to engage him in a meaningful conversations, but I was always left humiliated and disgusted. A month later, Michelle left the home and that was the last time I heard from either of them.
Bernie is a classical example of what one person can do to take away all the peace from your life. The following incident happened three months after I was diagnosed clinically depressed, and this incident had a profound impact on my mental health, perception of Canada, perspective of looking at people and what all could go wrong. The fond image of Canada painted in front of the World may be true for most of the country, but, we must not expect everyone to live up to the image we are carrying broadly known as stereotype. You never know what character a person hold beneath those superficial layers of happiness.
Having said this I’d like to express genuine love and gratitude towards all the amazing and generous people I got to meet in past two years and look forward to meet thousands more in years to come.
PS: Dear Bernie. Since I have shared this link with you as well, I’m sure you are reading this. Through this, what I want you to know is – I was polite only because you were elder to me (almost age of my father and my culture teaches to respect elders) and I did pity on you for your loneliness. My silence and politeness is not my weakness, but strength of character. You may use comment section to express yourself – objections, apology, comment, clarification – all is accepted. I always liked you for who you were. Even when you wanted to kill me. Remember, You do not represent Canada. Canada is much bigger than you.