A few weeks ago, I had an encounter that made me think twice. What if?
It was a lazy Sunday, and cooking for one was the last thing I wanted to do. So, I decided to make my way down to the almost vegetarian café in the Village, the café where I feel totally okay eating alone. As I entered the café, I noticed that I wasn’t the only one dining alone.
He was silently admiring his spread of curry, polenta and fresh vegetables. Well, he was silent until I was about to order, and then I heard a breathy, “Oh my God…..this is Soooo good!” It rang out more than once, making me blush and smile, as though I was eavesdropping on two lovers, who could no longer contain their whispers. It made me look at my bowl of soup with a bit more enthusiasm. I’ve always had a thing for guys who know how to truly appreciate food.
As I hugged my bowl of soup and felt the sun touch my face through the window, I decided to be bold, take the Bumble approach, and strike up a conversation. I tried to let that introvert go as I inquired about his edible romance. Thai curry. I’ve got this, I thought — I lived in Thailand; I took Thai cooking classes in Thailand. But I didn’t offer that up right away; I decided to do what I do best — ask a bunch of questions to avoid talking about myself. Anyhow, he took the bait.
I learned that although he loves food, enrolls in cooking classes, and enjoys friendly cook -offs, he ended up getting a practical engineering degree. He told me that usually he can’t handle Thai spice, taking off his wire rim glasses, and wiping his glistening brow. At this point, I interjected with my Thai experience. He held up his hands in surrender and teased, “Oh, you lived in Thailand. I can’t compete.” I smiled, he laughed. Then he proceeded to describe the fine art of making phad thai, and how his friends fell in love with his sauce, proving that he could compete.
Still sitting a table apart, we moved on from Thai cuisine to music. In between bites, he told me how nervous he was about tonight, open mic night. The last time he’d performed was three years ago, maybe even longer, but this was something he had to do. I got the sense it had something to do with him leaving San Francisco and the end of his marriage. Yes, he shared all that with me without me asking. I did ask how he ended up in Victoria, and the rest just followed. There was no prodding involved, and he talked about it as if it was a wound that was both fresh and healed. Realizing the depths of that, I felt somewhat guilty. I was just listening, asking for more.
“What will you be singing? Is it your own song?”
“Bandages. Not my own song, but I’ve made it my own. My wife used to think of me and my version when the song came on the radio.” A smile, but then a pause, “It’s a song that brings back memories too….some hard times. It makes me think of a close friend of mine….she died a few years ago…..”
I let the moment of silence hang there, in remembrance. I didn’t want to ask anymore.
As I eyed the last spoonful of soup, he turned the tables, metaphorically, and started asking me questions. And I obliged with some hesitation. I talked about my limited musical background — clarinet in high school with a band trip to Hawaii. And I touched on my time overseas, a time that shaped who I am today. That part of the world was close to him, his parents were born in that region, but he’d never really explored beyond his family’s old neighbourhoods. I found myself wanting to ask more, but he had an open mic to get to. He was still on the fence about going, but I pushed him. And then he asked what I was doing that night. And I told him that I was doing laundry.
Yes, laundry. I put on the brakes. I left that night with a handshake, a name, and Bandages. Still, a few weeks later, I wonder what would have happened if I had said I was free? Would he have invited me to listen to him play? Would this encounter have turned into something more?