It was the summer of 1981. I was eighteen years old. My dad had got me a job at a French restaurant called Au Cepage. Which was cool because I had been to France the year before and fell in love with French food.
My job was a prep chef or cook’s assistant. I chopped up things for the chef or sous chef. I sliced up mushrooms and onions. I made croutons. All the stuff that needs to be ready for the chef to assemble when someone ordered a dish.
I went to work a couple of hours before the kitchen opened for dinner. And then I cleaned up after the kitchen closed at night. I was in the kitchen the whole time. On my feet.
I would get home after everyone had gone to bed. And get up when everyone had gone to work. So, I didn’t see my family much, let alone my friends. I could see people on my days off, but the summer passed by and I felt like I wasn’t seeing anyone outside of work.
I lived in TMR. Town of Mount Royal. And Au Cepage was about 10km way in Old Montreal. Because I lived so far away, I always went straight home after work. It would take about an hour by bus at that time.
This night I had to stay later than usual. One of the cleaning staff had thrown a massive pot of cooked mussels into the garbage. I had to get them out and clean and shell them.
By the time I finished, my bus home had stopped running. So, I walked. I walked down St. Urbain all the way to Jean Talon. And then I walked along Jean Talon towards St. Clare, my street.
I was wearing a striped, short sleeve shirt. Red suspenders holding up a loose pair of floods. You know. Pants where the hem doesn’t quite reach your ankles.
I looked like a Mime or a Clown.
Hey, it was the eighties!
And to be fair, I was studying Mime at the time, so I came by the look honestly.
As I was walking along Jean Talon, a car pulled up. A guy rolled down his window and asked if I wanted a lift.
Immediately, Mom’s Advice 101 Don’t take rides from strangers kicked in. I said no thank you.
“I’m just going for a few blocks. I can give you a lift until I turn off.”
I looked down the road. I had three more kilometers straight along Jean Talon to go. And then about five blocks south to my house.
I had already walked 7 kilometers. And I’d been on my feet all day.
“Okay,” I said. “Just drop me off in a few blocks.”
Where are you going?
“To Jean Talon and St. Clare.”
I’ll drop you off there.
Fine. It would shave off some time.
I forget his name, but let’s call him Francois. His English was good, but he spoke with a French accent.
Francois talked about a party he had been at. And how there had been a lot of beautiful women there.
I mentioned one of the waitresses at work. And how there were always attractive women at the restaurant.
Before I knew it, we were at Jean Talon and St. Clare. I told him he could let me off.
I’ve brought you this far. I may as well drop you home.
I didn’t want to tell him where I lived, so I had him drive to the corner near my house.
I thanked him for the ride and was getting ready to exit the car.
He sighed and looked at me. Do you want to get a drink?
He seemed so lonely.
I thought, what the heck? I could do a nice deed and have a drink with this guy. There’s a bar back up at Jean Talon that might still be open.
And I haven’t been able to see my friends much. It would be nice to chat with someone.
So, I said sure.
But instead of turning the car around and heading back to Jean Talon, he turned right and headed into town.
Maybe he knows a different bar?
But we stayed in the residential area and ended up on the other side of town. An area I wasn’t familiar with.
And then he pulled into a driveway and stopped the car.
This isn’t a bar, I thought. But then, I guess he didn’t actually say let’s go to a bar. I just assumed. He said get a drink.
So, I got out of the car and went into his house with him. We came in through the back door, into the kitchen. He opened the fridge and pulled out a couple of Labatt 50’s and handed me one. He continued into the living room and I followed.
Do you like music?
“I love music,” I said. I sucked at small talk I realized.
I was looking at the fancy stereo system in his living room, expecting him to put on some record or tape. But he went towards his bedroom.
I looked back at the stereo, confused. But followed him. Maybe he has fancy stereo in his bed room.
It was a little stereo that was already on. Playing some radio station. Who leaves their radio on when they leave the house? I wondered…
Whenever I go into someone’s room, I like to look at the books they have. It gives me a sense of the person. But most of the books were French, so I looked around at the pictures.
Above his bed was a large poster. It was a drawing of a naked woman, full frontal, and a naked man.
Nice picture, I said.
Yes. It’s…. Inspirational…
I looked over at him and noticed that he was looking at me… intently…?
You know, being in this room with you gives me strange dreams…
You know the saying, “and then the other shoe dropped”? Well, I don’t know about the first shoe, but suddenly my mind went into overdrive and I realized a few things:
· I am in a strange man’s bedroom
· I came here to be nice, to do a good deed
· He is looking at me in a way that makes me think he expects something else to happen
· We are alone in his house
· I have no idea where this house is
· No one I know has any idea where I am
· I want my mommy!
My first thought went to escape. Can I jump through his bedroom window? I know you could do it in the movies… But a friend of mine had punched a glass window and needed lots of stiches, so it probably wasn’t a good idea.
Francois was bigger than me. There were weights in his room. He worked out. I did not.
But I was wiry. I might be able to outrun him. I could run out the bedroom, hurdle the couch, and make it to the back door. I’d be outside before he could catch me.
But I didn’t know where I was. And he had a car.
I looked at my watch. “Oh, my goodness! It’s later than I thought. My mom is expecting me. Thanks for the beer, but I better be going.”
And I walked out of his bedroom, getting ready to sprint if there were any sudden moves on his part.
I’ll give you a lift back home.
“Oh, no need. You gave me a lift already. And a beer. Thanks for the beer. I really needed that. But I can walk from here.”
No. I insist. I brought you here. I’ll bring you home.
Like I said. I didn’t know where I was. So I relented.
He drove around and got back on to Jean Talon. Very close to where he had picked me up in the first place. Which made me feel more uneasy.
How old are you?
You know, when I was at that party, I was having strange dreams…
I tried to steer the conversation away from that topic. And I chattered on a mile a minute about work and the beautiful women there.
He kept murmuring about his strange dreams.
And I kept blabbering on about anything else that came to mind.
Finally, we got to the corner near my house and he stopped the car. I thanked him for the ride and beer.
He reached over. Yes, I had strange dreams of making love to a man.
And I popped out of the car. “Thank you!”
I shut the car door and I walked up the wrong street, waiting for him to drive away. And when he was out of sight, I bolted back to my house.
I was lucky. He could have been a predator. It could have been much worse for me than just being scared.
He was just a lonely guy.
I’m all for random acts of kindness. But you should probably think some of them out before acting on them.
Some acts of kindness can get you into hot water.