We're at the mall. Welcomed with a warm variety of food court aroma's and perfectly controlled temperatures, the boys and I go our separate ways.
I take my place in line at the Telus store.
The couple in front of me are patient and engaging. She, in her too-tight navy sweat pants and almost-matching tank top, scratches insistently at her sunburned skin; he in his cycling muscle shirt, thick silver chain necklace, sweat socks-and-sandals. They are attentive to each other and clearly in love.
I carry on past groups of shoppers lounging in rest areas. A weary mum tends to her feeding infant. A bored husband waits, eyes glazed over in acquiescence, half-awake in an easy chair. Children shrill; parents soothe, bribe, threaten.
Wandering past a mother and daughter as they clear the escalator exit I hear, "Sometimes I hate you so much." I do not glance at mom's face to see the toll her daughter's cutting tone has taken. I do not doubt the truth of those words, but cannot bear to see the pain they are causing.
The clerk at the department store counter has a ring on every finger. I comment, wondering aloud if they each have a story or if she's wearing them just because she likes them. She lights up at the acknowledgement and quickly shares a story or two about her favorites: one a gift from a friend, another because it's silver and a frog! and she just loved it.
I wait, bored and ready to go home, outside the boys' favorite gaming store. A young boy, eleven? twelve? is throwing a royal temper because his mother is insisting it's time to leave the game demo. He defies her, his father standing by, smirking and silent. Mom insists. Junior complies -- loudly, angrily. As they move past me, he hits his father repeatedly, shouting his frustration. The layers of complexity in that stumbled upon drama!
My own sons weave their way through the crowd of merchandise and eager shoppers toward me. Requests for lunch in the food court are denied (feebly...I'm terrible at saying no) and knowlingly accepted (They'll pursuade me to stop for slurpees on the way home instead!). We're ready to leave and set our course for the exit.
A teeny, startlingly lovely child, clutching her so-big stuffed monkey tightly to her chest, catches my eye. I smile at her and give a little wave. She rewards me with a fully engaged, reaches-to-her-eyes grin. There is healing in such a smile.
A mother, face dark with isolation and uncertainty glances my way. I catch her eye. She reaches for her head covering, self aware, defiant. Again with a smile. Shadows vanish and the light of connection shimmers instantly. For a moment she is alive, part of something larger than the world of stroller, bottle, bills, and drudgery. We are the same, she and I: sisters, daughters, mothers, lovers. I pray her well as we carry on our separate-and-the-same paths.
Brief exchanges at every turn. Rude exchanges -- one woman dominates and belittles another. Kind interchanges with both parties moving on satisfied, looked after. Men ogling women. Courteous men. Kind fathers. Negligent fathers. Teenagers sighing contemptuously as parents fail them in ways real and imagined.
The guys and I are walking too fast, as is our habit. A man and his wife turn sharply into my path, drinks in hand. He jerks to a sudden stop and I dodge just-in-time. "Oops! My bad...So sorry!" I offer. They giggle...a light hearted, forgiving, it's-completely-okay sound that rights all wrongs.
We're down the stairs and moving through the parking lot. A simple errand accomplished; a part played on a peculiar stage, a busy stage. Life touching life, for good or for naught. We go our separate ways.