Mont Royal

When I moved to this city, ladies, I thought the cross on the top of the mountain was actually a mathematical sign, you see, I came here to study Engineering …

When I moved to this city, ladies, I thought the cross on the top of the mountain was actually a mathematical sign, you see, I came here to study Engineering and I kept on believing that the cross on Mount Royal was a “plus” sign until the Pope died, because it was on that day my boss pointed from the office window, Look Irfan—today God has turned purple, and he will remain so until a suitable man is chosen by the Vatican, and I wound my wristwatch several times, part embarrassed at my ignorance, and part delighted that I had managed to give a new meaning to old icons in this city, ladies, and while I wound my great-grandfather’s watch I felt deeply nostalgic for my home in the high Himalayas, where I was born on the day the Prophet’s Hair was stolen from the mosque with a single minaret, the shrine by Dal Lake, brimming with blue waters and ninety times bigger than Beaver Lake, the one on top of Mount Royal—although this “mount” is not a real mountain I am indebted to it because while following its narrow numinous trails I would forget my fears and failures and loneliness, and I would become one with nature, ladies, and it would reignite my passion for unsolved problems in Engineering, for I was trained in that old-fashioned way—which derives its inspiration from the fact that the word “Engineer” comes from the word “ingenious,” nothing in common with the boys who roam around these days with Apple computers, wearing nickel rings on their little fingers, so when I was a young grad student I turned my attention to sand and deserts, and developed a material which could bloom gardens in the semi-arid regions of the world—Egypt, Israel, Palestine, Arizona—and those days after finishing hard work in the laboratory I would dine at Restaurant Balkan, where an eighty-year-old Welsh woman would serve me meals, she had moved to the city many years before with a French-Canadian soldier who fought in CEO, Mrs. Prosser her name was, and she would ask me about home, and serve me an extra piece of bread or dessert, and one day she inquired about my mother, and I said, Let’s not talk about Mother, I miss her ok, but all my mother desires is to marry me off “arranged,” and Mrs. Prosser said, your mother means well, and one day she didn’t show up and the manager informed me that the waitress was dead, and a few days later I found her up on the mountain, buried in the potter’s field, and there were flowers on the grave to her left, and flowers on the right, and this saddened me immensely, so I took it upon myself to install roses, and jessamines, and pink and blue flowers on her grave every weekend, until my thesis supervisor beckoned me into his office, Irfan get yourself a real girl, and ladies, one sultry day, 15th or 16th of June it was, I found an Irish girl, a younger version of Mrs. Prosser, Molly, she was eating bagels, waiting for Bus 80, and one evening I brought her to my apartment after dinner at Restaurant Balkan, and we stood on the balcony for a long time looking at the “+” sign on the mountain, and slowly I turned toward Molly’s freckled cheeks, but she lifted her hand in mild protest—I have a boyfriend in Shannon, she said—so, I wound my great-grandfather’s watch several times and politely asked Molly if she fancied Earl Grey tea, and to my surprise she agreed, and when she left I was on the verge of tears because my head pounded with my mother’s voice (Irfan, tell me your key requirement?—and I will find the suitable bride here in Kashmir), and it was then I realized that I had failed with Molly because I didn’t know the first thing about kissing, I grew up in an un-kissing culture, ladies, and for a long time I flipped through the book Molly abandoned in my apartment, touching the pages as if I was touching her brown hair, and I wrote a strong letter to Mother that the girl of my choice must have read Ulysses, by Mr. Joyce, and whenever I missed Molly’s freckled cheeks and her arms and legs, I would turn to Ulysses, but the material was not easy to grasp, so I tried again, and again I failed and I could not go beyond page twenty-seven, so I turned to the last page, and it was the most beautiful passage in literature, O and the sea the sea crimson sometimes like fire and the glorious sunsets and the fig-trees in the Alameda gardens yes and all the queer little streets and pink and blue and yellow houses and the rosegardens and the jessamine and geraniums and cactuses and Gibraltar as a girl where I was a Flower of the mountain yes, and I promised myself to read the entire book before the millennium change, I read the last page again and again until I knew it by heart, and I even considered using it as a seduction device to drive the girls in the city crazy, ladies, but I was unemployed, and unable to forget Molly, and it was around then I heard from the CEO of a big Engineering company, he had come across the material I had developed for blooming the deserts, Mr. Irfan, he said, We would like to stretch the scope of your invention, We are hiring you to help the women of the world, he said, Your job would be to design the next-generation feminine-care products and to investigate the flow properties of menses, and I thought about his offer seriously, ladies, my mother said, Irfan at least join Boeing or Microsoft, not a company that makes you work with women’s thing, Irfan that foreign city has stolen your sanity the way our Prophet’s Hair was stolen from the mosque, but in the end I accepted because I badly needed to forget Molly, and I joined the laboratory where 375 dedicated scientists and engineers worked, mostly men, skipping cricket and lunches I spent the best years of my life in the laboratory designing pads and tampons, and applied for 138 patents, half of which were granted, and slowly I began to forget Molly, but around the last days of the millennium, my boss was away on Christmas holidays, and I decided to read Ulysses in the boardroom of my office, mornings I would make myself a cup of black coffee, and tell my sickly secretary not to disturb me, and there sitting on a green swivel chair I read Ulysses by Mr. Joyce in eleven straight days, I drank a glass of red wine and recited the last page from memory when the clocks turned, yes I said yes I will Yes, and finally I was able to make peace with Molly, but then, just like that, I resigned from the Engineering company, my boss’s last question was, Do you love women more or less now—after this experience? I refused to answer, and I handed him my resignation and simply stepped out on the Mountain street and walked into this pub, ladies, thinking about Ulysses, and my great grandfather, who handed me his watch long ago and said, Irfan there are books one must read just like one reads the Koran, one must read as if the book is being revealed to you, and only you, for the first time, and while reading Ulysses, ladies, I found my true vocation, and it seems as if I will spend the rest of my days in this city, allowing myself to be consumed by the gentle flame of stories.

Jaspreet Singh