Tom’s feet landed on the white shower towel on the carpet next to the bed laid by a handmaiden the night before. Along with an evening ritual performed by housekeeping staff came the offerings of an Italian bottle of sparkling water, a spray bottle of bed mist, a plate of assorted fruit and Swiss milk chocolate. Before slumber, Tom skipped the bed mist but ate the chocolate.
He sat at the bedside with straightened arms leaning on the duvet coming to his senses. He stretched and began pressing buttons affixed to the wall that the headboard stood perpendicularly against. Fumbling with options, one button ushered the drapes open on the adjacent wall in the capacious room at The Hazleton Hotel. If it wasn’t for the nascent thralls of a Canadian-winter, natural light would have porously illuminated the chamber; another button turned on the lights.
His feet, one and then the other, stepped onto to the washroom’s floor. The marble tiles warmed each foot from heel to toes, the floor’s heating system still cozy from the night before. In the glass pane shower he picked up the hotel’s cleansing products arranged on the carved-out cubby situated four feet above the ground. With appreciation, he returned the offerings, bent down and picked up the bottle of Korres that he had brought with him, a shampoo and body soap he discovered showering in a home along the pier in the Village of Vathy on the Island of Ithaca. Since the discovery, all the way from one of Greece’s most fulcrum mythical islands, a dear friend would mail and keep Tom replete with bottles of the Natural Aloe and Dittany and the Citrus types – his favourites from the flock.
The scents of the soap enveloping his body each morning, would without fail, port him imaginatively back to the island. Like an enthralled lover experiencing simulacrum throughout the day, the soaps’ lucid scents reminded him vivaciously of Ithaca. He knew his work on the island wasn’t done and yearned for his return.
Yorkville, known for its affluent shopping, prodigal condominiums and exquisite dining is a fairly two-by-four block district located in downtown Toronto. This morning Tom was there to relax, experience the surroundings and write.
Tom buttoned a freshly steamed blue-collared dress shirt, pulled up blue jeans, buckled a black leather belt, tied up blue running shoes, tossed on a blue baseball cap and put on a black Moose Knuckles jacket. He kept the dress shirt tucked out.
The elevator made its way from the third floor to the ground. Entering the hallway with towering ceilings, Tom made it a point to inhale the eucalyptus oil scent permeating the corridor and started following the black rectangular mats from the batch of elevators through the lobby into the vestibule and greeted two formally dressed concierge staff manning the entrance doors: their duties to perpetually open the doors and salute guests coming and going all day.
The downtowns of many Canadian cities in December are sporadically spirited with Christmas decorations; Toronto no different. Yorkville Avenue is a quiet one-way street and this morning at sunrise there were no more than two vehicles in motion within sight.
Tom reached the district’s landmark alleyway; its vocation to connect Yorkville Avenue to its counterpart to the south—Cumberland Street. Eclipsing the alley on its western wall was a sequence of outdoor advertisements, about a dozen framed posters in total, each trying to position a brand as regal in the eyes of the trodden beholder. On the eastern side were freshly cleansed windows of a restaurant and a few contemporary boutiques selling opulent female clothing, fragrances and handbags sourced from foreign lands.
Crossing Cumberland, the desolation of vehicles comparable to Yorkville Avenue, Tom entered the agora of Yorkville, a concrete pavilion, an acre’s worth, that serves as a seating and walking area for locals and tourists alike. There was a variety of motifs planted symmetrically across the landscape: there were the evergreen trees fortified by half-round, two-foot tall, concrete pieces moating their bases; there was a monolithic hill in the centre of the pavilion comprised of superimposed stratified rock inclining to reach twelve feet in height—the hill would attract adults to loiter and children to meander on when the weather more simmer; there were dozens of kindred plastic objects resembling stars, hung with Christmas lights, burrowed into the ground.
Tom walked down a brick-paved aisle flanked by the furrowed stars, followed the walkway winding east, paced another 30 meters and entered a Starbucks at the south side of the pavilion.
The Starbucks was small. Tom couldn’t remember a tinier Starbucks—even in his travels through Europe—than this one. But given the district’s serene milieu this morning, it served his aim of reading and writing moderately. All the tables in the Starbucks—only four in total—were high-top in size. He situated in the closest one to the entrance door. Shortly after, he began reading and sipping a short Americano prepared with two long shots of espresso.
Tom turned his head to the right taking a break from his reading and locked eyes with a Caucasian woman approaching the Starbucks from the agora. A beautiful woman she was: possessing a clear and slender face, black hair, slightly above average in height and was wearing a parka and black pants. She liked Tom when she saw him. And not long-ago Tom would have greeted her and perhaps if he was travelling further away than Toronto, he would have this time, but Tom didn’t approach her – there was no conjoining of their destinies, and for the time being was absorbed in his craft. She met a girlfriend inside the Starbucks who was waiting for her arrival. The woman that liked Tom would talk extra loudly and laugh frequently with her friend in lobbing distance to Tom, enough that he could hear her. And though tempting, Tom still didn’t approach her and felt content with such.
Tom would continue to read and write moderately. In peace he was, somewhat in a zone, flowing and focused. He continued to sit at the table next to the front doors absorbing the surroundings and performing his craft.
After another while, in his periphery, the contours of two people approached the entrance. Tom looked up and it was a man and woman, the woman leading. Tom looked into the eyes of the woman now less than five meters away; she gazed back at him presently, peacefully and with a sense of curiosity.
The woman had fare, slightly tanned skin, was average in height, petite, and a face that was soft, natural and real. Her eyes communicated happiness, not jubilation, but certainly happiness. The depths of her eyes revealed a soul that was loving, feminine and bright. She wore a Canadian Goose parka, a scarf, black well-fitted nylon pants and running shoes.
The woman and man entered the Starbucks, the woman broke her gaze with Tom upon entrance as if her entrance was the perforation of a different microcosm. The two walked around the sparse assortment of tables, following the path to the counter and commenced ordering drinks.
Tom continued with his craft without much addenda figuring the two were a couple. Worked away Tom did on his computer, continuing to perform his craft. A moment later he overheard the two order their drinks and pay separately. The man then abruptly left the building to make a phone call from the pavilion.
“May I get your name for the cup?” The ordering server asked the woman with the bright soul.
“Maria,” replied the woman, her accent Spanish.
And like a riveting jolt Tom’s back straightened, his head perked, and his senses squared, as if millions of loose particles floating aimlessly simultaneously calcified into one object in the matter of milliseconds.
For some time, perhaps by premonition, and paradoxically, Tom saw himself marrying either a woman from Indian or Spanish descent. And he was fond of the name Maria. He once met a Portuguese/Swiss woman named Maria in the most random of ways: in a desolate bar in the wee early morning hours on a Wednesday in a small village in Switzerland. He would spend some time with Swiss Maria. His heart yearned for her but his mind did not – he knew she wouldn’t be a good wife and mother. She enjoyed cocaine too much. And Tom knew such a vice would create a number of foreseeable and unforeseeable problems. For instance, how do you tell a future daughter not to do hard drugs if Mommy did so at a similar age, he would wonder to himself. Since that trip in the Swiss Alps he has searched for a woman where his heart and mind could nod at the choice to marry. Too many people wed when their heart or mind assent; uncommon is a couple who has received the blessings of both.
Sitting in this Starbucks in Yorkville, Toronto, on a December morning, Tom wondered if fate knocked.
And if so, so what?
He chose to act.
“But this woman is with a man,” Tom said to himself, resisting the decree, hesitating, juggling the ethics of what his heart was urging him to do.
“It doesn’t matter – go and explore what’s there,” His heart retorted, committed to getting his mind on board with the act. “You owe it to yourself to act. And you perhaps even owe it to this woman with a bright soul.”
He scrambled to type down a separate thought he was in the midst of conjuring on his laptop before fate chose to arrive and fumbled saving the file on the computer; enough to call it a hesitation.
His plan was to order a drink and if fate continued to mingle, he would wait for the drink at the drink tray counter at the same time the woman would be still waiting for hers.
Finally saving the file, Tom rose from his seat and two other men entered the Starbucks and by a mere second wedged in between Maria and him in line. Tom harangued himself for fumbling or either bothering to save the file he was working on.
The man that Maria was with was still outside on his phone.
The first wedging man ordered his drink, swiped his mobile app and onward he went.
Tom thought to himself at this speed he’ll be to the drink tray counter in no time, and yes, he would greet this Maria with a bright soul.
The second wedging man ordered his drink with precise speed, swiped his mobile app, and onward he walked to the drink tray counter.
Tom began approaching the ordering counter.
“Sir,” The ordering server said to the last wedging man. “You’re short of money on your card. The transaction didn’t go through.”
Tom stepped back and the last wedging man returned to the counter.
The latter wedging man pulled out his wallet, searched for a credit card, kept the card in one hand, lifted his mobile phone with the other, pressed a button to awaken the phone juggling it in one hand and his credit card and wallet in the other, with a pinky finger entered the six-digit password into the phone, the biometrics feature clearly dormant, waited a moment for the phone to reach the main screen, located the correct mobile application icon, pressed it, waited for the application to load, waited for the application to pass through the introduction screen, visually sought around the application’s main screen for the order button, pressed it, stretched the phone outward, scanned the phone’s application barcode against the application scanner, waited ten seconds for the server to load the desired deposit via the Point of Service terminal, accepted direction from the server to insert the credit card into the Point of Service device, waited a few seconds for instructions to appear on the terminal, pressed Enter, inserted the 4-digit passcode for his credit card with an index finger, pressed Enter, pressed the screen of his phone to awaken still juggling the phone, credit card and wallet amidst two hands, swiped the phone’s application barcode again against the application scanner, received an offer from the server to acquire a receipt for the order, confirmed the offer with a “Sure,” and nod, then waited, waited, waited some more and then received a receipt from the server.
How easy physical money would have been.
Off the second wedging man went.
Tom reached the counter, ordered a Green Tea, Grande in size, one bag in, no room. His phone’s application had funds.
By this point the two wedging men who ordered simple drinks left the café; the only person standing at the drink tray counter was Maria still waiting for her order.
“Are you from Spain?” Tom asked her, walking up to the table.
Maria turned around, smiled at Tom as if she knew already him and said, “No, Columbia. How did you know I wasn’t from here?” She asked inquisitively.
“Your accent,” He smiled, mischievousness in his eyes.
She giggled, her face glowed, her eyes sparkled.
By this point the man Maria was with had returned from his phone call and had situated himself at one of the four high top tables.
Tom let things be at this point, said no more, Maria picked up her drink from the tray, gazed at Tom as she walked by, maintained a smile, and returned to sit down with the man she had entered the café with.
Tom went back to his computer, Green Tea in hand, and went back to his craft.
The two, the man and Maria, would converse, not knowing each other that well. Then suddenly the man stood up.
“I’ll be right back,” He said.
“Okay,” Maria replied.
The man walked to the washroom.
For the second time in this act Maria was alone, this time sitting at a table six feet away from Tom. The energy between the two of them palpable.
“So are you two in a relationship?”
This was the question in this heated and opaque moment that Tom should have asked.
This was the question that would have yielded the response from Maria, “No.”
And like a sequence of dominos falling that occur when simply the initial one is flicked this obvious response would naturally have yielded to another, “Would you like to grab a coffee sometime?” In which Maria’s response, creating the beautiful artistic, symmetrical experience that cascading dominos create as one descends upon another, would have been, “Yes.”
Tom would then acquire her number, go back to his craft and Maria would leave shortly after with the incumbent man to complete the outing she had promised, out of respect. Her soul was bright and with it came compassion for others. But after the outing she would wait for a time soon that she would be on an outing with Tom.
But Tom didn’t ask that first question: the first domino was never flicked. His mind won the disputation.
The moment passed. Tom could feel the moment pass, like the ending of an epoch. Moments occur. Questions asked at different times, even by mere seconds, can produce dramatically different results and sometimes dramatically change life itself.
“So are you living in Columbia?” This was the question Tom did ask as Maria sat silent in solitude.
The question was rinsed-down, a consolation at best, more to quell Tom’s anxiety of acquiescing in the previous moment.
Slight tension showed on Maria’s face to the query. She was now a Canadian and wanted people to see her as such. But she liked Tom so eased her face almost fast enough to hide her subtle annoyance to the question, warmed her face again and smiled. She paused before responding, glanced at the man who was now a couple feet from returning to the table, turned back to Tom and responded, “No, I live in Canada.”
Tom nodded, giving a smile. She smiled warmly back.
“Well, are you ready to go?” The man asked Maria, anxious at this point to escape the venue with her. “We’re going to have fun today.” He reassured her.
“Sure,” Maria responded smiling at the man.
After a few more words, the two stood up, clasped their cups, the man hurriedly left the building, Maria trailed.
Tom lifted his head from the computer as she passed. Maria was looking at him. She had been for a moment already.
“Cya,” she said.
“Take care,” Tom replied. Maria smiled, put her head down and continued the cortege out the Starbucks.
The next morning, while driving, Tom wept. It was short but a good weep. It was the mourning of a future that wasn’t to be and therefore a weep was well-earned.
“What leads to a truer life,” Tom pondered. “man-made or natural ethics?”
Maria would think of Tom many times since that day wondering who the man was wearing a blue ball cap that greeted her in the tiniest of Starbucks in the District of Yorkville in the City of Toronto in the Country of Canada, four-thousand kilometres from her provenance.
Little did Tom know, nor could he have known at the time, that the day’s happenstance was the impetus that would inexorably lead him back to the Island of Ithaca only five months later.
A nostos was nearing.
He would return home.
The hero image is of Yorkville Avenue in Yorkville, Toronto, taken the morning of January 1st, 2020.