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Chloé Image by Frenchfold

Chloé

Chloé texts me a picture of some type of bread being sold as a “bagel” in London. It’s smeared with cream cheese. I look at the picture and text back.

“What is this?! It’s not a bagel. There’s not even a hole in the middle. It’s just bread.”

“I know. I cried when I bit into it. It’s so bad. I miss St-Viateur.”

Reading her reply fills me with a deep languishing. A nostalgia of sorts for a walk through a Montreal that doesn’t exist anymore. 

Down Chateaubriand, turn on Castelnau. I stop for a chai latte at Ferlucci, then continue until Henri-Julien, go through the market and cross Bélanger toward Alma. I walk down Alma to St-Zotique, where I stop to yell my friend Adam’s name from the street until he appears on his balcony. I say hi and continue walking down St-Laurent. I continue until I reach Bernard, and turn when I reach Librairie Drawn & Quarterly. I go in, buy a book, get out and walk until I finally sit down for a slice from Pizza Toni. Once finished, I continue to St-Viateur and get some bagels.

My mind walks this route. It’s the same one I walk every weekend, but something is missing. I can walk the route over and over again. Things stay put. Storefronts don’t change. But it isn’t the same. Chloé doesn’t walk it with me anymore.

The first time we met was in early January 2020. I was writing at Arts Café. She was sitting next to my table with a friend, complaining about their dating lives and comparing profiles on the apps. A very typical Montreal ritual.

Single at the time, I couldn’t help but eavesdrop. Mustering all the courage I had, I interrupted their conversation and asked if they needed help with their bios. I used to write all my friends’ dating profile bios. It had turned into a fun (unpaid) side gig, offering help to twenty-something women looking for love in a city known for its complex romantic relationships.

Chloé happily agreed. And when her friend left the cafe to return to work, we stayed until closing time, three hours later. We discovered we had gone to the same high school, three years apart. She’d been in my sister’s grade, and her name was alphabetically right after my sister’s on every list. We liked the same music, had similar dating stories. She told me she was moving to London in March. I wished her well and agreed to get coffee before she left.

She didn’t leave that year. Chloé got stuck in Montreal while the airports closed down and we were all forced to quarantine. The only things left were long nights exchanging DMs and socially distanced walks. As the world felt like it was burning down, our friendship strengthened through every bite of pizza we shared and every failed date we went on. The city became a playground for our friendship. We became inseparable.

In April 2021, Arts Café closed down. Every time I walk past its empty space, I dissociate. I see Chloé and I sitting for hours. An imprint in time, repeatedly replaying in my mind. People cannot separate us from each other anymore. It’s Yara and Chloé, Chloé and Yara, till death do us part.

For the past year and a half, Chloé has been living in Europe. She renewed her visa for the UK and decided to live her London dream. I didn’t say a thing to dissuade her, even if I wasn’t okay with the move. In early December, her absence weighed on me. Walking around without hearing her complain or ask if I want to go for a slice at Pizza Toni, or for donuts at Léché Desserts, brought out an emptiness within me. On a walk, I take out my phone and look for London hotels. I send her a screenshot, replying to her latest bagel-related horror story.

“I’m coming,” I say, hoping for long Soho walks while we eat the much-superior St-Viateur bagels that I’ll happily bring her as a reminder of our friendship. ⁂

Yara El-Soueidi is a writer and columnist based in Montreal. Her work has been published by NPR Music, the Montreal Gazette, the Toronto Star and other outlets.