I invent stories about strangers. Everybody’s living their own part of the bigger story and I know we can’t truly see anybody else’s truth when we glimpse them in public – even if that line between public and private is smudged by circumstance. In airports, hospitals, and sometimes in Church, people seem more nakedly authentic and it’s easier to simply witness a little moment of another person’s story.
People are fascinating even in the most mundane situations. And I’m a natural born people watcher. I love people and I love stories. Just now: the neighbor across the way ran out to her car with a handful of envelopes. I wonder what she’s mailing? See? I can’t help it – even though I know IT’S NONE OF MY BUSINESS. I have to be completely engrossed in some very particular endeavour in order for this ‘people attending’ to turn itself off. Almost every day I realize I’m actually staring at somebody – it’s just plain rude.
Last Friday, when I was standing in line in the women’s washroom in Metrotown Mall – you know the one near the Old Navy store – I saw a woman come out of a stall with her purse in one hand and a half-full 750 ml bottle of malt vinegar in the other. This is exactly the kind of thing that leaves me curious for days. I’m desperate to know why she was carrying vinegar. And why malt vinegar? And why bring it into the washroom? There’s definitely a story there, but I can’t imagine it.
Later that afternoon, I saw two men and a woman (in their very early twenties) shopping together at Safeway. They were clearly getting staples to set up a shared apartment or house – condiments, spices, cleaning supplies, etc. They didn’t seem to know each other very well, but the tall blond guy wasn’t too pleased (eye rolling and head shaking) that the other guy – the shorter one with really great hair – and the girl were blatantly flirting with one another. Given that scene, anybody could fill in the blanks, right? For instance: they’re University or College students who met during frosh week and, housing being expensive and in short supply, they’re sharing a place because it turns out they all happen to have come from the Toronto area (they had slight accents). And then there was also that woman in the food court who had dressed her toddler in a mini version of her own outfit. They probably spent part of the morning in the Sears photo studio, don’t you think?
Somehow, in this society where it’s possible to live in the same apartment for years and never know your next-door neighbour’s name, and where so few people make eye contact with each other on the street let alone smile or say hello, even a fiction can make me feel a little bit more like I’m participating in the bigger story.
The next time I talk to my neighbour, I’m going to ask her what the heck she was rushing off to put in the mail.