When you know enough people, eventually you come to owe people favours, whether or not that was your intention in actively knowing them, as people. Not all, but some, which is a lot when you get right down to it.
That’s how I found myself in the park that hot, insufferable day in June. Dead centre in the beating black heart of something known as the “Multicultural Festival”.
It was a place where you could purchase $8.00 giant barbecued turkey legs and $5.00 lemon drinks (cherries and lemon slices and ice and water, served in a plastic cup so wide and squat it is a cube, a small tank of refreshment). A place where you could buy Vietnamese springrolls and Chinese eggrolls and Thai springrolls and watch traditional dances and buy handicrafts, and visit Madam Miasma’s psychic palm reading booth and sign your kid up for Ka-ra-te.
People, being people. Together.
It was a kaleidoscope of elaborate authenticity and good manners. Where everything was up for grabs and within grasp, and words like “DIVERSITY”, “TOLERANCE”, “CULTURE” and “HARMONY” slipped easily from the mind and off the tongue and screamed at the senses from colourful banners flapping here and there.
Hey. It’s a living.
I was with someone who wanted me to give someone else, whom I actively disliked, another chance. To get me to get to know that other person better so that the three of us could function as people, together.
(I owed that that someone a favour, see.)
We killed most of that hot, hazy afternoon wandering from booth to booth, lost in a crowd of open hands and mouths. The sun was unrelenting, the heat absolutely punishing. There was nowhere to sit, no shade to be found.
Garbage everywhere; the discarded remains of the day.
The setting matched my mood completely, gave my surroundings and me an awful, terrible symmetry.
Inevitably, we approached giant barbecued turkey leg booth. I was told that buying and eating a giant barbecued turkey leg was something like a tradition at the Multicultural Festival and had no reason to think or believe or imagine otherwise.
We got in line…
… and watched as the women running the both quarreled animatedly over how the giant barbecued turkey legs should be placed on the grill and whether they should stock up on refreshments and whose turn it was to take their 10-mintue break. They prepared the food, cooked it, took orders and exchanged bills with such speed and efficiency that their patrons stood as the only hindrance to perfect service.
The line moved forward at a brisk clip…
…the women quarreled some more, at times in English, at times not, at times gesturing at the food, the sky, themselves, each other. At times smiling, at times not.
We made it to the front of the line.
I didn’t want any food and neither did the person I owed the favour to. That left the person who the favour was being used up for.
“I have to do this!” he said. “You literally can’t get these anywhere else,” he said.
He ordered, holding up his index finger for emphasis. The woman serving him barely batted an eye as she wrapped up one end of his giant barbequed turkey leg in rough paper and handed it to him. He shoved money into the woman’s hand and grabbed the giant barbequed turkey leg.
But instead of leaving right away, he held his giant barbequed turkey leg in the air for a moment like an oversized lollipop as he paused to watch a particularly lively exchange between the two women before, finally, shuffling off, away from the line.
“See,” he smiled tiny candy teeth at us and nodded behind him, indicating the women, “that’s why we have immigration laws.” Puffed up, proud, grotesque in his overwhelming satisfaction, he smiled just a little wider, mouth sagging ever so slightly at the corners under the weight of his remarkable jowls.
Despite the odds, his performance was the most real, unadulterated thing I had seen that day.
It was undeniable.
He lowered his giant barbequed turkey leg to his face and began devouring it with a gnawing/sucking motion, equally remarkable.
She laughed, shook her head – what can you do? HAHAHA! – and changed the subject.
I watched him eat and eat as we headed back to the salvation of the parking lot, favour over, fulfilled and done with.
Watching and hoping he’d choke on it, even though I was sure it just wasn’t going to happen.
I knew everything, at least, that I needed to know.
We did not become friends.