Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Vignette after midnight

I was heading back to Bill and Sasha's after visiting a friend two nights ago. It must have been near two o'clock. A cold, March fog had settled in. Not a drifting, dreamy fog; one that and hung there, motionless, and chilled the bones. A woman was ahead of me, vanishing and re-appearing in the sparse orange pools of streetlight. Her gait was purposeful, her clothing plain. Not a Vanier hooker.

A little past a bankrupt d├ępanneur, she stopped.

"I hope you don't mind," she said as I got close. "I don't like someone walking behind me."

Vanier's not the safest place, at least by reputation. Myself, I never feel uneasy. The streets aren't dead the way they are in suburbs I've been trapped in after dark. Even after midnight, someone's always out. I find that reassuring. But then, I'm not a woman.

"It's okay," I told her. "I understand. Let me get ahead of you. I'm harmless."

"I can see that," she said with some relief.

Our brief encounter didn't feel complete, so a few steps on, I turned around.

"You know," I said, "it takes a lot of courage, just talking to a stranger like that."

"Thank you," she replied. Just that: Thank you.

She could have said, "Oh, no, not really," or "Do you really think so?", calling on that Anglo tendency to answer compliments with false, polite humility. She hadn't, and I found it gratifying.

I was pondering our micro-meeting when by accident I passed the street to Bill and Sasha's, rue Confort. Knowing that the woman was behind me, and not wanting to resuscitate her fears, I decided to go round the block.

As luck would have it, when I turned on rue Confort, she was coming up the street.

"What are you doing?" she enquired, sounding more amused than apprehensive. "Walking in circles?"

I enjoy the opportunity to share a little of myself with strangers, so I answered truthfully.

"I was reflecting on our encounter back there and missed my street."

"Oh? Why were you thinking about it?"

"To be honest, because there are so few people who know how to take a compliment. As far as I'm concerned, the only correct response is a simple, heartfelt thank-you. Which you said."

I began to walk away.

"I'm going to remember this," she called out after me. "I'm going to remember you."

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