What could easily change my mood from pleasant to foul? Easy. Incisively loud and annoying people, also 35 plus weather. So when those two elements are mixed together? Let's just say, I can be moody at the best of times, at the worst of times I'm down right rude.
After arriving at the Montreal bus station, I'd discovered that I wouldn't in fact be staying in a reasonably priced hotel, but rather with a host family. The "family" consisted of three other people doing the job placement, and then our host: the eccentric, nearly-always-shouting, die-hard French patriot M. Tremble. "Bienvenue à Montréal! Welcome to Montreal!" M. Tremble declared, waving his arms open as I stepped from the greyhound station. "Stephen is waiting in the car," he explained as we walked around the corner and towards a street packed with cars. It was a disgustingly hot day, with no clouds, the scent of carbon monoxide and oil clung to the air, and we were right in the heart of the city. Meaning that not only was it hot, but it was also crowded and noisy. As far as I'd been informed, my job posting hadn't been in Montreal, and for that I was glad. "Come. We have about a forty minute car ride to get to St. Canut!"
Tossing my suitcase in the trunk, I got into the back next to Stephen, holding my backpack tightly. "Hey," I whispered. For a moment I wondered why Stephen had chosen the cramped backseat over the front, but my question was answered when M. Tremble started blasting music while simultaneously giving us a tour of the city. Stephen looked to be about sixteen or seventeen: he had curly black-brown hair that spilled over his freckled face, and his expression was calm if not a little triumphant. When he didn't answer I tried again. "Hello?" I waved my hand slightly and this seemed to get his attention.
He mouthed a sorry and then pointed to his ears, I wondered what he was going on about until he lifted up his hair to reveal hearing aids. He'd turned off the volume so he couldn't hear M. Tremble. Smart. I laughed and gave him a thumbs up, just then M. Tremble spoke from up front. "No speaking English!" he called before launching right back into his spiel about the superiority of French Canadians vs. English Canadians—basically, the superiority of Quebec vs every other province and territory in the country.
Important facts about Stephen Spielmeister:
1) He'd lost his hearing partially at the age of five.
2) He didn't hesitate to turn off his hearing aids if he deemed what you said to be stupid.
3) He hated hot weather as much as I did.
I met Monja when we finally pulled into M. Tremble's driveway, after what seemed like the car ride from hell. She was pulling a bike into the small, rickety shed when the car got her attention. "Salut," Monja greeted with a slight nod. She too looked a few years younger than me. All her formality was gone, however, when she spotted Stephen getting out of the car. "Stephen!" There was a dramatic moment when Monja jumped at him, he caught her and twirled her around—it looked rehearsed, but they later assured me it wasn't. "My best friend," she explained with a large smile, "and the world's biggest douche bag: he'll turn off his hearing aids if he doesn't want to listen to you."
"Where's Lukas?" M. Tremble asked. "It would be good to get the introductions over."
Monja, Stephen, and I began carrying the bags inside the house, while M. Tremble walked by us and supervised. "Hiding in his room, being anti-social." Monja shrugged, and she and Stephen began carrying off in a conversation so fast that I couldn't tell if it was English or French.
"Well, let's get him out here to meet the newcomers!" M. Tremble shouted. "Lukas!" A feeble what was heard from somewhere upstairs. "Come down, I have some people to whom I must introduce you!" Two seconds later there was a loud, audible sigh, and the sound of someone dragging their feet down the stairs. A moment later a short boy, looking to be even younger than the rest of us, stood by the banister: he looked intimidated to say the least, his bottom lip protruded just the slightest to give off a pouting look, and his dark eyes were wide as he took us all in. "Well, introduce yourself."
"In French," M. Tremble scolded,
"J-J'ai Luk-as," he finally stuttered out.
Monja broke off from her conversation with Stephen and gave a small laugh. "You just said 'I have Lukas'." Lukas bit his lip nervously and muttered an oh.
I smiled sympathetically. "It's okay, I'm not much better at French," I whispered, just quiet enough that M. Tremble couldn't hear it.
"Alright," M. Tremble declared after a moment, clapping his hands together. "Monja, you help me with dinner. Lukas, give our newcomers the grand tour." I looked to Lukas, who was in turn looking at the floor, seemingly petrified at the idea. Monja followed our gracious host into the kitchen, while Stephen and I picked up our bags and followed Lukas upstairs.
"Th-this is th-e... Umm... You-you're room, St-tephen." Lukas pointed to the room adjacent to the stairwell, Stephen dropped his bags into the room and stood in its doorway. "Bathroom." The bathroom was bigger than Stephen's whole room: everything inside was white, from the standing bathtub to the tiles and towels. It sort of hurt to look at for too long, especially with the bright sun glinting off the tiles. Even the curtains, through which the streaming sun shone, were pure white. The colour pallets of each individual room hardly seemed to fit together as a whole.
"Merci," Stephen said, patting Lukas on the back as he disappeared into his room.
Lukas looked confused for a moment before carrying on. "You-you're room... Umm...?"
"Amelia," I jumped in. "And you don't have to speak French around me, just make sure M. Tremble doesn't find out."
Lukas smiled gratefully. "I-I can show you out-outside, if you want."
"Okay." I dropped my bags off in the room designated my own for the summer (incidentally it was also smaller than the bathroom, with a orange and bright blue colour scheme). I also took off my thin jacket and exchanged the runners for flip-flops. When we were safely outside, out of M. Tremble's hearing, I turned to Lukas. "Do people make you nervous?" I asked. He gave a nod. "Then why, if you don't mind me asking, are you doing the job placement?"
We'd stopped walking and stood for the moment under the shade of a large oak tree, it was better in the shade but still not particularly comfortable. "M-my parents wa-wanted me to get out of my co-comf-torable zone; a-and I really nee-need money. I got a job working w-with animals... S-so it's not so bad... Animals don't make me ner-nervous." With that we carried on, Lukas pointed out every point of interest and I listened dutifully as he explained the best he could.
M. Tremble's house was big—nearly mansion sized—in itself, but his property was absolutely, ridiculously large. Lukas admitted he had no idea what he did for a living, nor had he ever seen M. Tremble leave the property expect to pick them up and buy food. There was a chicken coup filled with two full grown hens, a rooster, and five chicks; an old swing set and a hammock were set up beside the creepiest looking tree house I'd ever seen (it actually looked more like a hunting cabin in the trees); there was a pool and construction was underway for a small lake; and there was a wood stove, an abandoned shed with half broken mannequins, and three trucks—all seemingly rundown—parked by the brook. That was just the first section of the property. Behind the volleyball court, through a small patch of trees, his wildlife park sized backyard continued. A small, pristine vegetable garden lined one side and well-kept grass the size of a soccer field lined the other; and if you went down a rickety bridge and past a caution sign, you were right by the river.
"This place is unbelievable," I muttered, as we made our way again past the volleyball court and abandoned shed. When we passed the brook again I noticed for the first time a small cross and a few flowers erected on the other side. I looked to Lukas, who explained something else:
1) M. Tremble was a widower, he wouldn't say what happened to his wife but apparently it had something to do with Europe.
2) He only had one daughter, who never bothered to visit.
My first impression of M. Tremble wasn't particularly great, but I did pity him from then on, and at least tried to smile at his stupid jokes and ignore his overly loud voice. Not to mention letting the fact that he was a hard-core advocate for Quebecois autonomy slide.
When we got back in the house I was greeted by the sweet, cool breeze of the cranked AC. Also, the smell of dinner. But more importantly the AC.
Stephen and I arrived at the house at around seven, the tour took about an hour, and we all sat down to eat at about eight thirty. Or, should I say, everyone took their plates and headed off in their own direction at about eight thirty. Stephen and Monja took their plates to the living room and started looking through the channels, Lukas took his dinner and immediately disappeared upstairs, and even M. Tremble went to go eat in some other room. That left me to eat alone at the dining room table, admiring the odd artwork that adorned the wall between bites of my rice and vegetables. At home, we ate every meal together—expect lunches due to work and school. But every dinner and breakfast was served as dictated by a schedule, to be eaten as a family, at the dining room table and nowhere else. Once I'd been late to wake up, had to rush to get ready for school, and just grabbed a banana and a granola bar on the way out. Upon returning home, I'd been given a half hour lecture on the importance of healthy meals and family togetherness.
That night, after having hung up my clothes in the empty closet and what was possibly the longest shower I'd ever taken, I slipped into the bed. I was more exhausted than I'd thought possible, considering I'd spent the past six and a half days just sitting on my ass reading all day. Still, something about the stress of traveling, and dealing with difficult new people, completely drained my energy.
So when I found myself doing exactly opposite of what I should have been doing, namely sleeping, it came as a bit of a surprise.