'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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