I’ve always loved rainbows. They are colour and order, two of my favourite things combined. They appear rarely, rain and sun mixed to cause my family to pause in wonder and run out of doors. Every pack of markers or pencil crayons I’ve ever owned has been organized in this order and to a time, even my sweaters on their hangers and socks in their drawers lay in the spectrum of red to violet.
I saw many rainbows on Sunday, when I went to Toronto to visit a friend for her Eid celebration. She was breaking her long fast at the end of Ramadan and invited me to come celebrate. My friend Corrine and I left at six in the morning and had an uneventful trip to the city. However, the last block of our journey eluded us. What the GPS claimed as five minutes took forty five minutes of driving in circles on one way streets around roads closed for construction and the Pride parade on Church St. (Does anyone else see the irony in those last five words?) We saw rainbows painted on a building’s bricks, rainbow flags waving in store fronts and on people’s backs as capes.
Finally, abandoning the rules of the road as we’d seen multiple motorists do, we drove the wrong way onto my friend’s one-way street and parked along the curb. There was no access from the right way.
At last, we were in my friend’s apartment, cool and fresh with white walls, modern art, and dark furniture. She seated us on a black couch with colourful floral pillows arranged tastefully on it. Then she brought us a Moroccan breakfast. They delight in sweets. I ate flat bread and airy pancakes with oil and honey, a cookie with chopped peanuts, another with fennel sprinkled with sesame seeds, and a triangular pastry stuffed with herbs and chopped meat all with my fingers. I drank sweet green tea from a small glass with gold scrolls and cool water from a clear, tall glass.
We washed our hands, tucked away the breakfast things and left. My friend wanted me to watch her assist the prayers on this special morning. We walked to the subway station. A street cleaner called, “Good morning beautiful ladies.”
“What do you do when you hear things like that?” I asked my friend’s daughter beside me.
“I just smile,” she shrugged. “Like this, because I was smiling before.”
Then she told me how at her job, men would always be asking her out and she would tell them that in her religion, she is not allowed to date.
She told me how the police presence is always stepped up in her neighbourhood during the Pride festival. A testament to her words, I saw a disgruntled, hand-cuffed man in a tan shirt and scruffy beard being helped into the back of a police car.
The streets were mostly quiet, but littered with cigarette packages and other trash. “In a day or two, the streets will be clean and all of this will be gone,” she gestured at the white tents and rainbow fence-high signs.
We road subway and city bus, joined by trickles of other Muslims in their colourful embroidered best, until we all flowed as a mighty river into the Exhibition Centre. A huge modern building with high ceilings and cool tile hushed the murmur of voices. We were just in time for the second prayers. Corrine and I watched as a multitude of men, women and children faced the front where an imam spoke into a microphone. He was projected on a screen that everyone might see. Together they bowed half, then straightened, bowed further, rose half, bowed low as Arabic prayers were chanted in loud melancholy tones. The sound of all those people bowing in nearly flawless choreography was like a wave crashing on the shore.
It makes me think of three brave men and a Babylonian statue.
I noticed that apostasy has not left the Islamic world untouched. Most women were veiled, but a few weren’t, and some of the veils came off when the prayers were said. The clothing ranged from dark, traditional robes to colourful tight clothes worn by most Canadians. When the prayers were over, most of the people went to look at the fair behind us instead of listening to the imam and a female representative of the Islamic world in Canada.
In the hubbub, my friend and her daughter gave up trying to listen. We walked around the fair seeing pizza, popcorn, clothes and jewellery sellers, goats and calves to pet, and bouncy castles. My friend bought a gold and emerald ring to match her bracelet. Then we left the building and took the city bus and subway back.
My Muslim friend was disappointed. This was her first Eid in Canada. Where she came from, it is treated with much more reverence.
We got out of the subway station just as it started to rain hard. We waited under the station overhang with throngs of Pride goers. Evil was almost palpable. I almost wanted to launch into Laura Story’s “Blessings” to somehow bring some truth to this rain-washed, dirty world in desperate need of healing. Men with their arms around each other, another man dressed in a sleeveless pink princess dress with fake eyebrows and exaggerated lipstick, girls giddy with drink and the rainbows painted on their faces, and my Muslim friend and her daughter crowded with Corrine and me under an overhang. A jostling of the crowd, and I stepped on someone’s foot.
At last the rain let up, and we joined those with rainbow umbrellas walking down the street. Into a pharmacy to escape more rain, into a grocery store for my Muslim friend to buy pumpkin, and at last safely into the apartment we went.
“I hope this is not too much,” my friend’s daughter lamented. “I found it overwhelming when I saw it for the first time last year.” Overwhelming? Yes. Too much? By the grace of God, no.
To be continued.