Montreal·First Person

When the power was knocked out, an act of kindness got me through the ice storm

When an ice storm knocked out power in her apartment, Vaidehee Lanke thought she had a difficult week ahead. But the generosity of a new friend made it a fun adventure instead.

I'm still surprised how a new friend warmly invited me into her home for a week

Two women smile during winter
When Vaidehee Lanke, right, found out her apartment was part of a major blackout in Quebec, she wasn't sure how she'd get through school work or even make her next meal. But a fellow student, Kanika Bharthi, stepped in to help. (Submitted by Vaidehee Lanke)

This First Person article is the experience of Vaidehee Lanke, a graduate student in Montreal. For more information about CBC's First Person stories, please see the FAQ.

My winter jacket was soaked like never before and my skin was still stinging from the ice pellets falling during my walk to class when an email from my landlord lit up on my phone.

"Your apartment has lost power."

This was my first spring in Montreal. I'm from Saskatoon — so no stranger to cold weather — but an ice storm and the wreckage it causes wasn't something I was used to.

A dozen thoughts raced through my head as I sat with my study group. With no Wi-Fi or heat, I wondered how I'd cook supper or finish my assignment for grad school. I had never been on my own during a power outage before.

"You can come stay with me."

My new friend Kanika's voice cut through the noise of the thoughts racing through my head. I looked at her uncertainly, not wanting to burden her with a house guest at such short notice. But she insisted.

An hour later, I stood at her doorstep, sopping wet. I had made a cumbersome trip home, dodging the tree branches splayed across the sidewalks, grabbing what was in the fridge and stuffing a suitcase full of whatever clothes I could find in the darkness.

A dark icy empty street.
The streets of Montreal's Plateau neighbourhood turned into a skating rink after April's ice storm. (Submitted by Vaidehee Lanke)

While the streets were slick with ice outside, I sat with a warm bowl of soup and some chai Kanika had waiting for me. I watched in amazement as the friend I had met only six months prior swiftly and generously prepared her own room and bed for me to use. She slept in the bedroom of a roommate who was away for the night.

Every hour, I would refresh Hydro-Québec's website in hope that my block's power was back, only to find it still blacked out. But my host never made me feel I was taking up too much space.

As the power outage continued, this turned into a magical six-days — marked by immense uncertainty but also laughter, deep conversations and silly dances.

One of her roommates offered us an air mattress to set up in Kanika's bedroom. It took us an embarrassingly long time (and several YouTube videos) to figure out how to actually fill it with air.

Our time together turned into a lengthy food adventure, as we'd combine our individual meal preps into a fusion feast. One night, we had two different kinds of chickpea curry, the next we had spaghetti in butter chicken sauce and another night pizza and potato parathas.

Two women hugging and smiling.
Vaidehee, left, and Kanika became friends when they started their graduate studies in Montreal in September. (Submitted by Vaidehee Lanke)

Every night when the clock struck 9 p.m., Kanika would declare it was chai time. Even as an avid chai drinker myself, I wasn't used to consuming the caffeinated drink so late. But I quickly found myself, during long days of study, looking forward to the hour when she would make her special ginger masala chai. We'd arrange our snacks on the kitchen table and dive into whatever was on our minds.

We'd head to bed with the intention of sleeping early — it was finals season after all — only for one of us to turn over and say something to the other. Our night conversations continued into the wee hours of the morning, from what we wanted to do after our graduate studies to the trials of being an adult to reminiscing over how Winnie the Pooh was our favorite childhood character.

After a long week of classes, we decided to spice up chai time and make spinach puffs. However, after seeing me awkwardly drain the spinach into the sink (with more spinach ending up in the sink than water), we decided it was best that I take up the ever important role of hype person and quality control taste tester.

Baked pastries on two dishes.
The spinach puffs that Kanika and Vaidehee prepared for Friday chai time. (Submitted by Vaidehee Lanke)

As she carefully prepared the puff pastry, flavoured the cottage cheese and spinach mixture and delicately rolled the filled pastries before placing them in the oven, I was the kitchen DJ. I'd play a song on my laptop, usually something upbeat, and then she would suggest a song, typically something more serious and of the complete opposite tone.

I pulled Kanika to dance to a Hindi song and at first she refused, preferring to clap from the sidelines. But slowly, first a little head nod, then some shoulder and finally some hip, she finally gave in and together we danced around her kitchen, watching the puff pastries rise as we yelled out each lyric off key. It was a comical combination of us sharing our life stories tied to each song, pretending to headline our own concert and then bursting out laughing at the spectacle of it all.

People look up at trees.
The ice storm left tens of thousands of people without power for days and covered roads and sidewalks with downed branches. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)

As my one-night stay turned into almost a week, never once did Kanika ask how much longer I was going to be at her place. Rather, she always assured me, with a warm smile, that I was welcome to stay for as long I needed. When my power finally came back, she helped me roll my suitcase and bags to school. We were both sad that our adventure together had come to an end, but grateful that we had made so many memories.

Kanika's kindness showed me how much a neighbourly gesture can mean to the person you help. It turned what I feared would be a stressful, lonely week into one of friendship and fond memories. And I'll remember that kindness when I see someone else in need.

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Vaidehee Lanke

Freelance contributor

Vaidehee Lanke is an avid reader and writer. She believes in the power of storytelling to learn from, connect and uplift people. She is pursuing her master’s degree in epidemiology at McGill University.