Friday, September 12, 2008

An Encounter With the Past

I was hit hard in the gut yesterday. I was having a great day, you know the type of day where the sun is shining bright and the future looks ever-so-inviting. I was on my bike, heading to a union bargaining committee meeting with management, something I absolutely love doing.

There I was, stopped at a light, listening to Peter Gabriel, and I heard a honk over the din of Gabriel's scratchy voice. I've never been a big fan of his, partly due to this aural feature of his music, but on this day I had synched a version of 'City of Angels' onto my ipod, which incidentally I had heard on Radio Paradise the week before. If you haven't tuned into RP yet, I strongly recommend it.

But back to my story. I'm waiting at the light and at a particularly melancholic moment in the song I hear a honk, which I invariably think is aimed at me. I look to the left and straight back and nothing. I look to the right and a cute-looking woman drives by, rolling her right turn on the red. What I do care? I smile large. I peer over to the next car to pull up beside me, something I have trained myself to do over the years, whether stationary or in motion at 120km/h.

A large smile beams at me and my heart races a touch. "Hi, how are you?" I can read her lips over the lilting soundtrack on my ears. My heart races still more. I take my headphones off, I can feel myself melting into the pavement, but I resist it. I will not sink to that level.

"Good, enjoying the sun." I hear myself, confident, and it doesn't seem possible.

She retorts, very enthusiastically: "Man, I can't believe it, I was just thinking about you!" The way she draws out 'just', as if she was singing a folk song, has always been endearing. I think it may one of her favourite words.

"Oh yeah." I wasn't, but I thought that might not be the right thing to say. "Cool." It probably isn't, but it seemed like my turn to say something else, and 'cool' and 'interesting' are my two favourite things to say that mean pretty much nothing but sound ok.

"It's really nice to see you." She's still beaming, as if the sun is shining too bright in her eyes. She sounds sincere. "It's nice to see you too." And then for what feels like an eternity we both stare into each others' eyes, in a way I've rarely done with anyone, as if we're playing some infantile game of "who will blink first" with nothing at stake.

I look away. I feel happy to see her, but I wonder, almost cryptically, what does she want from me?

The conversation continues in this way, with her smiling larger than I have perhaps ever seen her smile and my mind wandering to her intentions, for the minute it takes the light to change. In that uncomfortable moment, there's a slight pause, before I say, rather matter-of-factly, "Well, it was nice seeing you. Have a good day." And I mean it. I don't want to pursue anything more.

Then I go about my day and I think back to that brief moment, the type of moment I used to obsess over (what will i say? what will she say? how will i feel?) and I feel a deep sense of satisfaction. I was nice and friendly to someone who treated me more or less like shit. I'm relieved. And feel stronger than I did before. I thought I'd fail the test, but I passed with flying colours. I wouldn't change a thing.