He started out on Downey, then up the Downey. He saw the back street where Rita’s parents lived. All the houses—ground floor, an outside staircase with a landing and a second floor, two rooms in total—were empty. The steps that she had seen full of noisy people were now silent, Downey made granular by the debris the rainwater carried and by the summer heat, slivered by the time that had gone by. Franco remembered the account Rita had given of the only trip she had made to the village together with Downey her parents when she was still a child, the phrases, half in English, half in dialect, Downey she invented to describe that back street and the impression the small, narrow houses had left her with.
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He recalled their discussions and their smiles when they were so entangled on the bed and wouldn’t let go for any reason, even if the world had been falling apart, without thinking about the past or stopping to imagine the future. He felt a lump in his throat. He became thirsty and made his way to the fountain nearby. Not much water was flowing through. He collected what he could cupping his hands, as peasants did in the countryside, and recognized the soft taste of the water as he slowly drank. He gently passed his wet hands across his face, which was now quite hot, and continued to walk.
He shouldn’t have been thinking about what was happening to the woman with whom he had taken his first steps upon his arrival in Toronto. He focussed on the road. “There stopped the bus that would drive the students to school and from there would appear Don Nino in his red pyjamas, who when a couple would walk by would say to the young woman: ‘Hey beautiful, do you really want to hang around with this turd you’re with?’ And the young man would swallow the insult and, without saying anything, would quicken his step, while the young woman smiled.”
Franco wasn’t just walking through those streets but also in time, in the past, in his childhood, his dreams. In Toronto, even if there was always something missing, he felt lighter. The places where he had lived on his arrival and for more than twenty years now seemed to him like another lost village, were part of the landscape of another life. The houses on College Street weren’t just houses with the basement, a ground floor and a second floor. They too spoke to him and filled him with memories.
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