Anne Murray in Jerusalem by Mark Boyter
JOC Inn was in the Christian Quarter, inside the old city walls, near Jaffa Gate; Inn upstairs, restaurant below. It was the week before Christmas, 1984. The restaurant served coffee and bacon-less breakfasts in the morning, beer and pizza in the evening. I met her one breakfast, Anne Murray singing “O, Holy Night” on a stereo more accustomed to Duran Duran and Thompson Twins. Timing in life is everything. Kirsi was alone at the heavy wooden table next to mine. Just another traveller in Jerusalem, tall and thin with long blonde hair and eyes of blue. On the road, everyone is a kindred spirit.
How far do I have to go? I said.
I know, she said.
Nova Scotia. Dartmouth. Just across the Basin from Halifax.
We were both staying at the inn, both staying for Christmas, both a long way from home. Anne was a Nova Scotian too. Springfield, Kirsi said. A long way from Dartmouth. A long way.
On Christmas day, I left Jerusalem. Everything has its time.
I returned to Vancouver in February, restless to travel more. In June, I hitch-hiked across Canada, ostensibly to find long-lost relatives, but in truth because I didn’t want this to end. Being on the road allowed me to be something I didn’t have to explain.
The one relative my reasoning did ring true for was my aunt Heather. Ex-aunt. My mother’s youngest brother joined the RCMP. The RCMP posted him to Nova Scotia. He met Heather. They married. They divorced. He transferred out. It was not an uncommon story.
Too young for their wedding, too far away for their divorce, I’d never met her. I wanted to. She had been on my mind since Jerusalem: her home was in Parrsboro, just down the road from Springfield. She was family, even if she wasn’t.
I made it to Parrsboro, and then the extra 185 kilometers to Halifax. I called Kirsi. We could connect those Middle Eastern dots to Canada. Sure, she said. We spent the afternoon on matching chaise lounges in her backyard while one of us sunned. There was lemonade. Zeitgeist travels poorly, and what happens in the Holy Land stays in the Holy Land. I left to little fanfare after a couple of hours. Return trips always seem shorter, but it’s all in the perception. It’s still a long way.
I came back to Vancouver in October, restless to travel more, but this time overseas and with employment. I was thinking English teaching in Japan.
My ex-boss told me his ex-next door neighbour’s brother was teaching in Japan. He’d be home for Christmas. I could give him a call. He’d arrange it.
I called. The brother said he’d be happy to help, that he’d put out feelers; that they liked Canadians in Japan. Mid-February, a Mr. Richards in Nagoya telephoned. He had two questions: did I really want to come to Japan to teach, and did I know what a gerund was. I did, and I didn’t. Don’t worry, he said. No one does. Three weeks later I was there.
March of my second Japanese year, I got an out-of-the-blue letter from Kirsi. She and her fiancé Thomas were travelling in Asia and thinking about teaching in Japan. Could I help? I was leaving soon, the end of my contract near. The best, I wrote, was to just come. The Japan Times posted jobs, but few made it that far. If Nagoya was their destination, I could do more. I loved Nagoya, but it was rarely anyone’s first choice. In a country of temples it was a steel city: the Hamilton of Japan.
Word came. They would arrive in Japan the end of April. My last teaching assignment was mid-May. I would be gone the end of the month.
More word came. The decision was Tokyo. They met people on the road that had worked there. It sounded exciting. Nagoya, not so much.
Then more word, but this time with a Japanese postmark. They were in Tokyo. They had found something. Was I coming north?
I was leaving in a week, south through Okinawa.
I never heard from Kirsi again.
I returned to Vancouver that November, restless to travel. I spent the summer in Alberta with Jim; I’d taught with him in Nagoya. The plan was for us to be back in Asia that fall, in Nepal. We had both separately been to Nepal, but while I had trekked Annapurna, Jim had gotten sick in Kathmandu. I was booked for late-September, Jim for mid-October. The goal was Kanchenjunga, in the east near Darjeeling. And to not get sick.
When I arrived under lagging late monsoon greys, I had three weeks to fill. There were three small treks to the north of Kathmandu; the Langtang Valley, Gosainkunda, and Helambu. Most trekkers combined them, starting in Langtang near the Tibetan border and ending on the lower elevations of Helambu.
The trailhead for Langtang National Park is the town of Syapru Besi, a four hour bus ride. The only hostel looked recent, made of rock and rough, clean, unfinished lumber. I bought a tepid beer and pulled a chair out into the sun on the landing.
Another traveller joined me. He hadn’t been on the in-coming bus. He was on his way back. Married, he had trekked Langtang on his own. His wife was in Kathmandu, sick; not serious, but she couldn’t trek. He’d be gone for a week. It’d be OK.
He was Canadian, from Nova Scotia. I mentioned my aunt. You never know, but he didn’t. They’d been in Nepal a year earlier. This was their second trip. Mine too, I told him. They’d just left Japan. They’d been teaching English in Tokyo. Short-term. Me too, but Nagoya. Long-term. His name was Thomas.
I know a Thomas from Nova Scotia, I said. Not really him, but his wife. A woman named Kirsi. You never know.
I’m her husband, he said.