5.3 Leo


The first time I met Leo, he was crossing the street. Actually, didn't really meet him, just witnessed the way only Leo could cross the street. Lifted up his cane, pointing it in the direction he headed, as if pointing his finger. His middle finger. And he just started walking. He wasn't at a stoplight or a cross walk - Bloor Street during rush hour. Cars slammed on breaks, horns were honked. Leo ignored them all crossing the street, took his time in fact. It stopped me in my tracks cause his action seemed to break up the routine, destroy the pattern. Everyone was expected to behave in a certain way, to follow the rules. Leo didn't seem to be disobeying the rules, just displaying to those around that they didn't even apply to him. The next time I saw him, he sat alone in the coffee shop at my office, the Centre for Social Innovation, right down the street from where I witnessed him stopping traffic. One of the concepts behind this place was you were encouraged to talk to people. So, I sat down across from Leo and introduced myself. We talked for a while and I learned that he was a retired journalist and that his wife, Edith, recently passed away. He asked about me and I told him about some relationship woes, to which he replied, Ah shut up. Told me to get over it already, get over because if I didn't, I'd miss the opportunity when the right person came along. He grumbled for me to shut up many times during our conversations that followed. Perhaps most important, he told me that he was a walker.

So, that's what we did. We walked. We met every Sunday morning at the Centre for Social Innovation, grabbed a coffee and walked around the neighbourhood for a few hours. Even if it was cold. I said, Leo, it's a bit cold out today for walking. To which he replied, Shut up. We talked about all the stories he covered as a journalist. The newspaper retired him early cause, according to him, he had an opinion. Leo felt journalists nowadays lacked a point of view, that they simply reinforced the status quo. And where's the fun in that?

Most of all we talked about women and relationships. Leo could be tough, but it all melted away when he talked about Edith. They were together for forty-five years, never married (Why do I need someone else to officially tell me I'm in love?) and never had any kids (We were too goddamn selfish and had too much fun just the two of us). She was a jazz singer, Leo met her at a club all those years ago. Since the day they met, seldom were they apart. Leo talked about Edith in the present tense, he had to, he seemed untethered without her. I asked Leo why he fell in love with Edith, to which he replied, If you're going to ask dumb questions, it'd be better if you just shut up.

Over a few months, we stuck to our Sunday ritual. I asked Leo if he'd be interested in joining me one evening to watch a musician friend of mine perform. We went to the bar, ordered some beers and sat at a table. My friend got on stage in front of her piano and started the show. Something happened to Leo during her performance. For her last song, she sung a cover of an old jazz song. Her beautiful voice drowning out all the noises of the bar. I looked over at Leo, hardass Leo, and it was like he was frozen. His mouth open, tears forming in his eyes. He didn't notice that I noticed, cause if he did, he'd probably tell me to shut up. After the show was finished, I introduced Leo to my friend. He took her hand in both of his, leaned in and whispered something in her ear. Turned and headed for the door. Neither my friend nor Leo would tell me what he said. It was between them.

Leo missed our next Sunday walk. No answer on his phone. No answer on his door. Worried, I went around back and broke the small pane on the door, unlocked the lock. Entered the kitchen, moved through the living and dining room. Empty, silence. Loaded with dread, I went up the stairs. Looked in the spare rooms. Looked in his and Edith's room. Nothing, nobody. Felt strange in their room, intruding, like I didn't belong. Called the police but there was nothing they could do. Filed a report. Waited. He was just...gone.

Two days later, I received a package. Opened it to find a record, the cover a photograph of a young Edith. Inside the cover there was a note: Paul, You asked me once why I fell in love with Edith. Play the third song. Now shut up and live your life and live it full and find your Edith. Leo. Luckily, I had an old record player. Dusted it off, dropped the needle on track three. The song that played was the same one my friend closed her show off with the last time I saw Leo. The song played and I thought that love is a real thing, that it can be something that exists, something that can be experienced through the tangible quality of a song. Now shut up and live your life and live it full. You're goddamn right.