Accra: University of Ghana

Accra We drive around the University of Ghana campus looking for the Department of Agricultural Economics. We stop to ask someone. They hear the word “economics” and point us towards the Department of Economics. That’s not right. We ask someone else. That person hears the word “agriculture” and directs us to the School of Agriculture. That’s not right. Another person says “Agricultural economics? I think that’s behind the Philosophy building.” So then we start asking people how to find the Philosophy Building.

Dignified humility. Earnest irony. Gentle strength. We are barely back home when we learn of his death from typhoid.

They tell us the meanings of their names. Abrafo means “warrior.” Adisa means “one who will teach us.” Danso means “reliable.” They laugh when I tell them my name means “wagon maker.”

She has a passion for cleaning, for disposal. She has a gift for mobilizing people, for covert action. I find quiet satisfaction in solitary productivity. I feel nervous as Robin undertakes her mission to rid the library of mouldy newspapers. It feels like an impeachable president trying to dispose of incriminating documents.

We are characters in an Umberto Eco novel, wandering dark corridors past secret vaults and guards with keys who determine which passages will be opened, what knowledge will be revealed.

Ottawa: Britannia Beach

ottawa A collective gasp seems to permeate the room along with the smell of red meat. It is only as I add my hamburger hash to the table that I realize I have been invited to a vegetarian pot luck.

I walk 12 kilometers to Jesse’s house in the dead of winter. The last communication I have with her is written with my frozen fingers in the snow on her front yard.

They spend the night in their orange VW minivan parked in my driveway. The only time they come in is to shower in the morning.

He is like a carefully calibrated time bomb, set to detonate at the moment of greatest potential destruction. I fall upon him, shielding her from as much damage as possible.

Ottawa: Brewer Park

ottawa They are two androgynous waifs aged twelve and ten. The older boy is the figure of responsibility in the household. He cooks the meals. He cleans the house. He ensures his younger brother gets to school on time. Their mother is named Gypsy. Her income is from home-based massage and aromatherapy services. The boys bring their pet ferret to Brewer Park.

I smell chlorine and potato chips as I lead him down the hall to become a tadpole once more.

Ben, his bare feet on a footstool in front of him, is absorbed in a book. He feels one of the cats lick his toes. He bends forward to absent-mindedly stroke the cat and sees that it is in fact a raccoon who has wandered in the open patio door.

I stand at a safe distance and watch as they take aim and fire at each other. They seem so young. The footing is wet and precarious from so much shooting.

Ottawa: Rideau River Nature Trail

ottawa He has acquired potassium nitrate, sulphur and charcoal to create homemade fireworks on the kitchen stove. He suffers second-degree burns over his face when the compound inadvertently explodes. He claims to be fine as he sits in Emergency shaking uncontrollably from pain and shock.

I arrive expecting to see my favourite tree, an ancient elm whose physical breadth is matched by its depth of character. I learn that the tree had been removed six years ago as it was hollow and a risk to visitors.

We are on the Rideau River Nature Trail, bicycling home. I follow behind but am distracted for the briefest moment. He is not there. He is crashing through the bush toward the river.

Ottawa: The Prescott

ottawa Shawn O’Sullivan, suffering brain damage from repeated blows to his head, is reported missing. He is described as vulnerable and confused. Thieves had broken into his apartment and stolen boxing memorabilia.

I wake groggily in the middle of the night, vaguely aware of an alien noise filling my bachelor apartment. As I become fully awake I realize a bat is zig-zagging through my airspace. Startled and disoriented I dash out of the apartment. Only when I am standing, undressed in the hallway, does it occur to me that I have locked myself out.

We meet at the Prescott to drink draft beer and watch Shawn O’Sullivan’s fight. After a few glasses of beer his name becomes Sawn O’Shovellin.

Amongst the comic books and tea cups I find a single boxing glove signed by Shawn O’Sullivan.