Café Sketch

Two Chinese women, one eating French fries and the other a spinach omelette. One with a white hairband holding straight black hair back, navy blue trousers, a white top, 'business casual'; the other, older, in a flat-brimmed straw hat with a ribbon coloured in blacks and whites, large white pearl earings, a white cotton blouse edged with fine lace, soft black slacks. They are eating inside a café where the ceiling-mounted speakers play romantic French songs. I imagine they are mother and daughter. The younger woman perhaps working in the downtown corporate complex has been taken out to lunch by her older widowed mother. The older woman is dressed for the occasion; it is clear this is an outing. She sips white wine. Her daughter drinks water. The older woman eats slowly with an elegance that recalls times past; the younger appears stressed and looks at her watch from time to time. Simple complaints about living are aired, the cost of rice, or hydro, or plane fare to China, worries about relatives are discussed, lightly gossiped about, who's out of work, who's drinking too much, who works too hard. The missing man, the husband, the father, who perhaps died of a heart attack, or cancer, is ever-present as a shadow. The weight of the loss of him lies between them. Though it is carried lightly today, it never goes away. As they finish their meals, they sit back, one on either side of the marble café table, similar looks of contentment on their faces. It’s been pleasant. A lovely late lunch. Nothing too awkward arose in the conversation. Plans are made for family outings and dinners, perhaps taking the children to the zoo one Sunday, dinner at the daughter's afterward. The mother voices a distant wish that the children's grandfather could be with them. They recognize their mourning. There is a moment of the silence of remembering. It is a full silence that includes gratitude for the blessings of their lives, the children, the houses, the steady financial flow on which their lives rest. And then they rise and the older woman pays not the waiter but at checkout, for this is the way it is done to facilitate the diners who are largely business clientelle. Do they hug and kiss each other's cheek? I do not see before they wander off to their respective worlds.

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