People Who Look Like People
January 12, 2011
I am sitting in the food hall of a large shopping mall in Toronto.
It is highly unlikely that I will know a single person elbowing their way through the sales.
And yet. And yet, as I sip my coffee my eyes snap onto one borrowed face after another. A spark of recognition ignites in me and is extinguished just as quickly, when the curve of the eyebrow is wrong, the purposeful stride doesn’t fit, the blank returning look is foreign.
The old man with the Greek fisherman’s cap is surely related to Avril, the 80-something artist whose door I once photographed.
And the man just sitting at the next table, he has the hairline of a Serbian mercenary I once met. But that can’t be so, because he sits with a diminutive Vietnamese woman, I think his wife, who once sold banana fritters to me as a child in Harare.
The gaggle of retired Portuguese men are close relatives of the hunters sipping their coffee and red wine after a misty, autumn boar hunt, in the woods behind the village.
And the woman who was ahead of me in the queue, her hair lacquered just so atop her rotund form – she is kin of a kind-hearted chocolate addict who watched helplessly as her daughter was whittled away by anorexia a world away from here.
And at the next table, the energetic elderly woman has the hands of the woman who made a crib for my firstborn.
I move aside to make way for a newcomer to the Portuguese gang. This one sports a French beret that used to hand on the hook in Monsieur Fauth’s hallway.
The cocky walk of that young man over there is Matthieu to a “T” – before he cut his hair off and lost his swagger, sobered by years of unemployment.
The woman who is scanning the food court to pounce on any tidying up to be done is a copy of the mother of a girl I once worked with. A lovely girl, an only child. Her mother used to make her outfits of canary yellow and hand knitted cardigans until she surely had one for each day of our short winter. And then she married a wealthy man who whisked her off to Europe. I hope she has provided her mother with a long line of knitwear models. I hope her mother has found a way to take up her own space.
An Indian woman adjusts the blanket around her sleeping baby and the fall of her glossy locks makes her into Yasmine, my beautiful friend from university. I see her neat writing, her smitten boyfriend, their stolen meetings behind the curtains of her religion. They ended up eloping and have been happily married now for almost 20 years.
A slender woman with long blonde hair pauses, in a balletic stance before a huge tv. Just for a second. Then takes off again with grace, trailing the memory of Nathalie behind her like a gymnasts ribbon. My delicate, long-lost friend and mother of my god-child.
And there is Jeremy, my son’s friend; but wait, shouldn’t he be at university in Nice? Or in his old 2CV or asleep, because it is late where he is now.
And here comes the toothless woman who used to sit outside Chez-Annie and drink until she couldn’t stand. When she was drunk enough she would prevail upon people to buy her a drink “because she was pregnant”. To my knowledge this never induced anyone to buy her an alcoholic beverage. I told her once to change her strategy but she looked at me with pure venom for my pains. She was sixty if she was a day.
And there is Vincent! The pharmacist who made the mistake of having an affair with the wife of a ballistics expert. After (only just) escaping that predicament, he hooked up with a touring Russian ballerina and “kidnapped” her. They are still living in Zimbabwe, happily married. The search on both sides, long since over.
And there is a man wearing a dark blue jacket with a reflective stripe on it. It looks like a pompier uniform and reminds me of my husband’s beep going off and the race to the station, pulling on his jacket as he goes.
So even here in this throng of strangers, I am among friends.