We all have a lot of peripheral people in our lives. People we see all the time, but who we don’t really know – neighbours, shopkeepers, the milkman, people we see on the bus every day or in the hallway at work, but don’t really talk to much. We might pass the time of day with these folk or talk about the weather or occasionally have a bit of a conversation with them, but that’s about it.
Most of the time we don’t even know their names. Most of the time these are fairly straight-forward people that we don’t really think about. It might even take us a while to notice if we haven’t seen them in a while. But every so often one of these peripheral people appears in our lives and something about them makes you wonder exactly what their story is.
And I mean story in the general sense, not what The Story is.
I firmly believe that every last person in the universe has at least one surprising story in them: The Story. The Story is the story that you won’t necessarily get even if you know someone quite well. The Story is the kind of story that can really only emerge if you’re one-on-one with the person in a very relaxed environment and you both have all the time in the world to just talk, uninterrupted. (Over a long, soporific meal and a mellow bottle of wine perhaps).
The Story is always a precious gem – sometimes horrible, sometimes touching, sometimes heartbreaking, sometimes uplifting or funny – but it’s always something that gets to the very core of that person. When you’ve shared The Story with a person, I think you’ve achieved an intimacy that both of you will remember. You might not even know what your The Story is until someone exumes it for you.
But anyway, that’s not what I meant when I said I sometimes wonder about some of the peripheral people in my life and what their story is. I was thinking more about those people who just don’t make sense; who you can’t comfortably slot into category.
The International Woman of Mystery of my title for instance.
I see her all the time on the bus and in my neighbourhood and sometimes out and about shopping or browsing around. She’s probably in her late 40s; well-groomed; nicely dressed; always well put together. She’s tallish and very, very slender; not unattractive.
She lives in a one-bedroom apartment in an unpretentious building. Whenever we talk, inevitably her utter loathing for Ottawa and everything about it creeps into her conversation. She pines for Montreal where she grew up. I asked her once, “Why don’t you move to Montreal?” And she gave me an enigmatic smile and said, in a faraway voice, “I wish I could. But I have to stay here a few more years.”
Being a nosy-parker, I asked why, but she just side-stepped the question as deftly as she side-steps most of the questions I’ve asked her about the job she says she’s “retired” from.
Here’s what I know about her:
- She lives alone and has no family in Ottawa. In fact, I believe her only living relative, an aunt, lives in Montreal.
- She is retired from a job that had her living all over Canada and in some foreign countries as well.
- She was not with the military.
- She is not working now, nor is she looking for work.
- She has never been married and has no children.
- She has lived in Ottawa about 10 years and has lived in at least 5 different apartments in that time because there was always something wrong with the apartment. The one she’s in now has neighbours upstairs that “walk really loudly”, so she’s looking to move again.
- From what I can gather she spends her days just browsing the shops.
- She has never spoken of friends nor has she ever spoken of having done anything with friends the evening or weekend before and I have never seen her with anyone. I deduce, threefore (perhaps wrongly) that she has no friends.
- She’s friendly and pleasant.
So, fellow sleuths, the two burning questions seem to be:
- Why can’t she leave Ottawa for a few years yet? And,
- What sort of job could she have had that took her all over the country and/or world and from which she could retire by the time she was 40ish and still give her enough income to live on?
Help me. I can’t stand the suspense anymore.