She was pissed, irrationally so. She heard the tone in her voice and knew she should stop before things escalated, but she couldn’t.
“Why are you so mad?” he asked
“Because I waited for you. We’re supposed to be friends and you had be waiting. The fuck, dude.”
It wasn’t a question. His image on her computer screen looked perplexed. He seemed at a loss .
“Different time zones? I don’t know. I’m sorry. I messed up.”
He hadn’t really. It was nothing for her to log in on her computer and leave it open while she did other things around the apartment. It wasn’t the wait - it was the distance that bothered her. She was too sensitive and she knew it. She saw the slightest offense as a reason to put up another one of the walls she had become so good at building.
“So where were you?” He didn’t owe her an explanation, but she asked for one anyway.
“Nothing really. Just lost track of time.”
She didn’t respond. She took his response as evidence tha he had forgotten about her; that the joy she felt when they talked was apparently one-sided.
“So,” he tried again, “we good?”
“Yeah,” she lied. “We’re good.”
“Are you here alone?”
“Huh? Yes,” she responded, her eyes showing confusion.
“Sorry, it’s just you seemed alone. People don’t usually come to concerts alone here.”
“Pardon?” she said. “I can’t really hear you very well.”
“Oh,” he said, leaning in closer. “I just said, people don’t usually come to concerts alone here.”
“Oh, well I only got here last week and don’t really know anyone yet. But I love this group though. Had to come.”
He smiled, nodded his head and backed away from her. She seemed friendly enough but he didn’t want to push the issue.
“Tengo una intriga que no descansa/ Tengo mucha curiosidad/ Y aunque el agua está bien clara/ No veo cómo saltar…”
He saw her turn her head towards him a couple of times, before she finally rested her left hand on his hip and leaned in to ask where his friends were.
“Oh, I came alone. But I thought I would see some friends in this crowd.”
“I thought you said people don’t go out alone.”
“But it’s different for men and women.”
“Hmm, I guess.”
She didn’t seem to be taking him seriously. She needed to be careful though – foreigners often underestimated how dangerous this city could be, especially after dark. He read about those incidents all the time.
“But you’ll look after me, right?” she said.
“Yes, sure,” he said, returning her smile.
Instead of moving back to her place beside him, she turned toward the stage and slid her body into the small space in front of him. She was so close he could smell the scent of ganja in her hair. He felt her swaying slightly to the rhythm of the music. Even as bodies in the large crowd shifted, she remained pressed against him. He figured this was an invitation - to what, he wasn’t sure.
“Cuando muy de cerca te tengo/ Viene el silencio/ Me pongo muy inquieto/ Tratando algún movimiento / Y tú así me miras sonriendo…”
He gently placed his hands on her waist. She didn’t acknowledge them, but she didn’t move away either. She kept swaying, and he followed behind her. He enjoyed being led deeper into the rhythm.
It was nice; dancing so intimately with a stranger. Maybe she was high, but he was still intrigued by her boldness. He wanted to ask where she was from and what she was doing in his city. He wondered how long she’d stay and who was waiting for her back home. Instead, he told her about how dangerous the city was, and how not even the taxi drivers could be trusted.
“Que se te fuera la noche entera/ Ya sin saciar la curiosidad / Y te vas de vuelta a casa/ Perdiendo en vez de ganar… ”
“If you want, I can take you home,” he said.
She turned her head to the side so he’d be able to hear her better. “Ok. Where do you live?” she asked.
Without meaning to, his fingers pressed down on the flesh that peaked out between her jeans and shirt. Instead of relieving the urge, it heightened it.
“Close,” he replied.
“I bet your female students pass notes about you.”
He looked over at her and smiled. Was that dimple always there?
“Naw, they probably text,” he said, laughing. “What makes you say that?”
“I dunno. It just came to me.” She took a sip of her Brugal on the rocks. Her fourth. It was unbelievably hot out, so it was hard to get it all down before the ice melted completely regardless of her efforts. She didn’t feel drunk, just happy. The buzz was helping her deal. She stood up to stretch.
“Your back still bothering you?”
“Whatever. I don’t really feel much now. The rum helped,” she said, smiling.
“Why don’t you just let me help you with it?”
“No, it’s cool.” I can’t.
“Clearly it’s not. You probably got a stupid amount of scar tissue back there. Let me break it up for you. It might hurt a bit but you need it.”
“I said I’m good.”
“Who knew you were such a pussy?” he said, throwing a handful of sand in her direction.
“Fuck off, stop being so annoying,” she said, before finishing the rest of her drink.
“Where you going?”
“For a swim.”
“Your drunk ass? Not a good idea.”
“You chill. I’m good.” She looked down at him while she adjusted her bikini. How did this happen? More and more over the last few weeks, she was feeling a shift in their friendship; in her.
“Yari will be hella disappointed if you drown the day before her wedding.”
“I’m fine. Don’t be mad just ‘cause I can drink you under the table.”
“In your dreams.”
“We’ll see at the reception.”
She took a few steps toward the ocean before she felt a hand grab her wrist and pull her back.
“No, for real. Chill. Look at those waves, it’s rough out there.”
Without squeezing too hard, he held a tight grip. She looked down at the contracted muscles in his forearm, wondering how she had never noticed them earlier on in their friendship. And those lips; they were as full as hers and looked just as soft.
“What?” she said, moving towards him until her bikini top was touching the bare skin of his chest. “You gonna try to stop me?”
They stood there in silence for a minute, his hand still holding onto her wrist. Do something. Maybe it was the alcohol, but she felt ready.
“See? You must be drunk,” he said, laughing while he released her wrist. “Sit and let me work out your back for you.”
“I hate you,” she said, not meaning to, but unable to think of any other response.
“What? Damn, I never noticed you were an angry drunk before,” he said, laughing harder.
“I hate you,” she repeated. “I fucking hate you.”
The night girls were strikingly different from the girls Tania had seen during the day. She remembered Africans of different shapes and heights standing in many of those windows a few hours earlier. She had wondered about their stories - where they had come from and what brought them here, specifically. She was curious about what languages they spoke and what they told their families. Some had large breasts that drooped where they stood. Some had tattoos and scars on their bodies in places she wouldn’t have seen had they been wearing clothes.
The women there that night looked like life-sized Barbie dolls. Most them were blonde. Their heavy makeup looked professionally done despite the heavy eyeliner and thick lipstick. Some did have tattoos but there were no scars visible that night. Tania wondered if they enjoyed their jobs. They smiled and waved and called to the men out window shopping.
Rest your cheek, for a moment,
on this drunken cheek.
Let me forget the war and cruelty inside myself,
I hold these silver coins in my hand;
give me Your wine of golden light.
You have opened the seven doors of heaven;
now lay Your hand generously on my tightened heart,
All I have to offer is this illusion, my self…
Her evening with Anthony ended shortly after the moment of clarity. Their conversation became dull and awkward, stripped of the comfort that helped words flow as smoothly as they had earlier in the evening. He drove her home and got out of his car to walk her to the lobby of her old low-rise apartment building in midtown. He held her longer than any casual hug should last; likely his way of apologizing for his role in the awkward misunderstanding—although it could just as easily have been pity that made him linger. She wanted to, but didn’t, ask. Instead, she spent the 2 hours and 27 minutes it took her to fall asleep, thinking about that possibility. And in the morning, she went to work exhausted.
Isa could tell by the way he answered the phone that this could very easily end up being one of the marathon conversation he somtimes had with his close friends and siblings, usually about some political drama in the country they had left over 40 years ago. Despite having little family left on the island, they still called it home. Despite the dramatic changes that have rendered small towns almost unrecognizable, despite being pegged as outsiders on visits back to the Caribbean, it would always be home.
Isa couldn’t imagine thinking of Canada in the same way were she to ever leave. Memories of 5 cent jawbreakers in the convenience store, shopping for shoes at Zellers, learning the national anthem in English and French, Consumers Distributing and Caribana parades on University Avenue – they were all fond memories. But somehow, her father’s always seemed so much more vivid.