Up on the roof

This is a piece I had written some time ago, as an assignment for a creative writing class, and I thought I’d post it here. I had used a small part of it once before, in an earlier post, but now here’s the full version:


The first thing I noticed as I opened the door to the outside was an overwhelming fragrance. Flower beds filled with honeysuckle, iris and aubrietia lined both sides of the path leading to the rooftop garden. Their heady perfume, floating on the warm summer air, mingled with the baser smell of damp soil to create a rich, luxuriant bouquet.

There was barely a breeze on the rooftop of our condo building—a huge, converted warehouse built in 1916, which once belonged to the Simpsons-Sears conglomerate.

The sound of laughter and splashing came from the pool house to my left as I thought to myself: It’d be so nice to go for a swim right now and wash off the day’s concerns.

But that wasn’t why I’d come upstairs to the roof, so the pool could wait. I’d had a hard day at work and needed to relax and spend time alone, as Franco prepared dinner in our apartment below. He’d told me it was okay to leave him to cook and so I went upstairs to soak up the last rays of the sun before dusk.

I walked to the south side of the building, where the view of Lake Ontario and the Toronto skyline was best. There were other residents on the roof, enjoying the summer weather. Some people had draped cloths over their tables as they ate dinner and drank wine.

A couple of musicians sat nearby, guitars resting on their knees as they sang together. Not in an intrusive way; just softly, quietly entertaining the crowd gathered on top of our little world. The sound of sirens from the streets below was faint from that height, and didn’t interrupt the flow of music. If anything, it added to the feeling that this was an oasis in the midst of the city, and it made the music and the song more special.

The sun was a huge blob of molten iron, resting its weight on top of the office blocks and condos in the distance. It would soon begin to pour down the back of the buildings, disappearing from sight until the following day. But for now its warmth was still tangible, as a cool breeze sprang up from the lake.

I stood at the wall overlooking the downtown core, the air shimmering with residual heat. The smell of cooking drifted my way as I turned and saw people gathered around barbecues, the aroma-laden smoke escaping from beneath black metal hoods before being whisked away on the breeze.

Funny how food brings people together, I thought, as I watched them interact. Spontaneous conversations broke out amongst individuals and couples, from different walks of life,  but for the time being they all shared a sense of community as they cooked and socialized in small groups.

As I witnessed these scenes, I remembered an earlier time when my family moved to Africa. My parents, three siblings and I lived there for five years, where my father worked in the Zambian copper mines. We lived in a small bungalow in a mining town, and some of my earliest memories were of ochre, dusty sunsets and the scent of geraniums on a warm evening breeze.

At night, we would spend time on the veranda with friends and neighbours. The adults would sit talking and laughing, and the seesaw sound of crickets was a constant backdrop to the conversation and jokes. The cooking smells of one dish or another would fill the house, welcoming all who entered.

These times were among the happiest in my life. They were the times I felt the most content, when I was enveloped in the warmth of the African climate. I didn’t have a care in the world back then and was part of a true community. My younger brother and I would play outside, in the pot-holed streets, along with all the other children from the ex-pat families. We never ventured too far from the house and were always within hearing distance when our mother would call for us to come back inside for dinner.

My reverie was broken as my cell phone rang, and I was back on the rooftop. I answered the call to hear Franco say, almost intuitively: “Gary, you can come back home now…”