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a different time, on a different day

1/2/10 21:06 - a different time, on a different day

we don’t have a relationship.’

from the view at the top of mount royal, tourists can wit­ness the old churches of mon­treal break the sky­line. the churches stand like island mono­liths admidst the sea of flat-roofed, two-story row­houses down below. in a city of cul­ture where tra­di­tion meets com­pli­ca­tion, it is easy to get lost in the brightly lit floures­cence of catholic crosses, deliv­ery boys whizzing by on mopeds, and the unin­ter­ested french cana­dian girls in over­sized sun­glasses and four-hundred dol­lar jeans on patrol up and down boule­vard saint-laurent.

there we walked, sur­rounded by the urban bus­tle. we crossed under­neath the paifang into chi­na­town where the open mouths of the guardian lions puffed out the exhaust fumes of pass­ing cars. montreal’s chi­na­town is lit­tered with square, squat build­ings adorned with neon signs on the front and colour­ful graf­fiti on the sides. the old, nar­row avenues ush­ered the human traf­fic in an ordered chaos, where road signs and cross­walks act more like sug­ges­tions rather than rules of law. in the rush of bod­ies, i could feel her hand grip more tightly around the bend in my elbow, the claus­tro­pho­bia of the late after­noon week­end crowd get­ting the bet­ter of her.

her even gait turned into eva­sive bal­let as we dodged passersby. no one was in too much in a hurry to get any­where in the unusu­ally mild novem­ber after­noon. her brown scarf, tied neatly around her neck, flowed down the back of her brown suede pea­coat like an exten­sion of her chest­nut hair and swayed with every foot­step. she deftly held a cup of cof­fee in her free hand, too dis­tracted by the noise and pop­u­la­tion pol­lu­tion to drink it.

are you hun­gry?’ i asked, already know­ing the answer.

she shook her head.

there was a time, in a past life that seems for­ever ago now, where we would enter ran­dom eater­ies run by grand­moth­erly immi­grants who speak in bro­ken lilt­ing accents punc­tu­ated by proud smiles. we would blindly pick some­thing from a menu we could not read, order things we could not pro­nounce, and eat things we were unsure of just to say we tried it. but you can only live that way for so long before even the spon­ta­neous turns into the unsatisfying.

it feels point­less,’ she said the night before.

that night, i watched the mus­cles in her shoul­der twitch as she scrubbed the dishes in the sink. she knew i was look­ing but she did not turn. she acknowl­edged my stare by plac­ing one sud-soaked hand on her hip, and from the body move­ment that fol­lowed, i knew she let out a sigh.

what do you mean?’ i asked.

again, the small tri­an­gle that formed the mid­dle of her back to her waist expanded as she took a breath.

this,’ she said.

the dishes? come on, i do them way-’

she cut me off with a sharp turn, ‘not the dishes, idiot.’ both hands were now on her hips, but there was no anger in her voice. ‘i mean us. you and me.’

i tried to pre­tend i knew where this was com­ing from. i asked the obvi­ous to give away the fact that i did not.

what do you mean?’

how long have we been see­ing each other?’ she asked.

a few months.’

and how often do we see each other?’

this was one of those moments where the answer had to be the right one. this was one of those moments that had none.

as often as we can.’

once a week. some­times twice if we’re lucky.’ i waited.  there was more. ‘we don’t have a rela­tion­ship,’ she con­tin­ued. ‘we’re just two peo­ple who meet up occa­sion­ally to eat and fuck.’

i could have made a joke. it would have been easy. the set up was per­fect. but the sub­tle com­bi­na­tion of matu­rity and fear of an angry girl ebbed me toward a dif­fer­ent angle. i replied with an unsat­is­fy­ing, ‘we both work.’

i know,’ she said qui­etly, turn­ing to rinse off the rest of the dishes, end­ing the conversation.

we made a detour through the gautch­etiere, a street famous for its open air, festival-like atmos­phere in the sum­mer­time. walk­ing through the pedes­trian mall, i remem­bered tak­ing a deep breath, soak­ing in the local colour — men lug­ging boxes of pro­duce over their shoul­der, the smell of cig­a­rettes, incense, roasted pork and bar­be­cue duck that filled the air, the ding­ing of wind chimes announc­ing the open­ing and clos­ing of shop doors, the cadence of  one thou­sand can­tonese con­ver­sa­tions ris­ing and falling over mobile phones, the happy chirp­ing of wide-eyed window-shopping tourists. i could never get bored of any of this. i felt eter­nally tied to the vibrance one can only find in a his­toric urban core. it was nice liv­ing in a city where peo­ple still walk around to get to places. maybe i spent too much time pay­ing atten­tion to what was around me instead of what was beside me.

even­tu­ally, we made our way to the metro sta­tion at place-d’armes. she had a habit of stand­ing very close to me, as if both of us might float away and dis­ap­pear should we get too far apart. or maybe she just sensed that i loved how snugly she fit against me. as we stood on the plat­form, she shifted her weight on one foot, lean­ing into me. i could smell lacoste per­fume and the rasp­berry in her hair. she nudged her elbow against my side. i looked down. she smiled. so did i. we shared maybe ten words between us, wait­ing for the inevitable. i could feel her body heat run up my arm and spread through­out the rest of my body. i unzipped my jacket down to the mid­dle of my chest, think­ing about how i would miss small moments like this with her.

the feel­ing of try­ing to come to terms with a new and com­pletely dif­fer­ent real­ity than what i had in my mind for so long was strange. in hind­sight, i should not have been sur­prised. she had always been com­plex in per­son­al­ity. com­plex but not difficult. it was some­thing i sensed off of her the night we met at a mutual friend’s wed­ding, a con­nec­tion birthed from wed­ding vows and an open bar.  we never fought and i never felt that we ever seri­ously mis­un­der­stood each other. there was a rich­ness to her that i deeply appre­ci­ated, a tan­gle of flavours woven into a slen­der five-foot-seven frame that enjoyed fine arts as much as video games. at her best, she was patient and unde­mand­ing, and at her worst, a lit­tle con­niv­ing and manip­u­la­tive — to be expected from girls like her.

as the train pulled into the sta­tion, i filed through my mem­o­ries and tried to find the pre­cise moment things changed. how­ever, there was no sin­gu­lar­ity, so i resigned myself to the idea that she and i were just not involved enough for me to pick up the coded mes­sages that women like her send out. it is a funny thing how all women are con­vinced they have the gift of telepathy. when she boarded, she took a seat by the win­dow over­look­ing the plat­form. she turned to me once, waved, and smiled like it was any other day. as the train moved for­ward, so did her eyes. not unex­pected and fit­ting of her arche­type, she never looked back. maybe that was the moment.

she was rich indeed, but del­i­cate and bit­ter too, i guess, like expen­sive dark chocolate.

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