Skating With Singh

by Jennifer Morrison from Burlington, Ontario

Sometimes I think about a solitary man who lived in our town when I was a kid. He was a Sikh man, and everyone called him Singh. It was still a small town then, in the late sixties or early seventies - a bedroom community tucked in the bottom corner of Ontario, linked to the rest of the country by a long, boring stretch of the 401 highway. Singh was an enigma, an exotic being, separated from the community by virtue of his appearance. He lived in an apartment that had been converted from a business; his living area was the windowed storefront. We kids knew this because we would steal glances at him through a gap in the curtain as we walked by. I remember him sitting in a straight-backed chair next to a table, on which sat nothing but a black telephone. We couldn't see a television or anything; he always seemed to just sit there, alone, in that sparse room. We would, in all our 9-year old wisdom, discuss his turban, debating the rumours about the length of his hair underneath. I don't know where he worked, and I don't recall seeing him with any friends. I don't know if he had a car.  
As was typical of any small town in Canada, the arena was a main hub of community activity. That year, Singh took up ice-skating. It was with curiosity and cruel bemusement that us kids encountered him during Sunday afternoon and Wednesday evening public skating sessions, either in the beginners' roped off area or painstakingly making his way around the perimeter of the ice. Singh was always smiling, as if his being so out of place in this arena - winter coat and mittens over top of his exotic cotton clothing - amused him too. His progress was excruciatingly slow, and I wondered as I glided past, what kind of pleasure he could get in those sluggish, jerky trips around the ice, being such an easy target for the mean boys flying past him. But Singh continued to show up to the public skating sessions, and eventually got better so that he wouldn't have to hold on to the boards. He became a fixture there that winter, and our interest eventually waned.
As an adult, I think about Singh without the child's detachment, and not as an exotic émigré, but as a man. I can’t remember when Singh stopped showing up at the arena, or when he left the town. And I somehow wish I could tell him that I remember him. That I know now that with every wobbly slip of blade on the ice he was reaching out to his community. I wonder about the moment he sat in that straight-backed chair and decided to buy a pair of skates and go skating. I wish I could tell him that his unabashed vulnerability is now, to me, a symbol of generosity and kinship. And that I wonder if he still skates.