“Watch out for that puddle!” yells the observer, perched on my left shoulder as usual. It’s been raining all day and if the sky is now considering clearing towards the west, Vancouver streets won’t let us forget about the deluge quite yet. They are shinny and clean and the air smells of autumn leaves.
I step around said puddle and almost bump into a hurried old lady who is comically attempting to beat a speed record back home, her arms loaded with heavy grocery bags and her legs barely strong enough for the task. I am tempted to offer help but she looks so proud that I fear I would insult her.
“You wimp!” snorts the observer. He’s always prompt to help when the need has walked past.
Robson street is bustling with activity on this Saturday afternoon, people seem happy and busy, as always when shopping. The story never shows their faces when they have to pay the bills.
We stop at the bookstore. Temptation irrupts in my head and the observer jumps in like a raging pitbull, determined to keep me safe. We are on a mission, let’s not deviate. But today is not my lucky day. Nobody in Vancouver carries the book I want, even though it’s about Vancouver gardens.
“Then buy a paragliging magazine!” says the voice on my left shoulder.
“They don’t have those here, as you know very well,” I tell him.
“We could try Sofia Books, they carry many European editions,” he says, hopeful.
“No rush,” I reply, “there will be time for flying in January in South Africa; in the meantime, priorities.”
He snorts. He likes magazines. I do too. But the heat inside the store soon drives me back to the street. Fifty avid shoppers greedily close the gap left in front of book shelves by my departure.
So we head towards London Drugs, then the BC Liquor Store.
“Now you’re talking,” says the observer, “go wild!” He likes it when I drink because he is allowed to take a break, replaced by his brother, little devil, right shoulder.
“Shut up,” I reply, “this is a critical mission. We’re getting a special wine for a very special guest. And other things too.”
So we walk in and he starts pulling in all directions, disorganised and reacting to the color and shape of bottles, to the thought of a taste, to memories long gone. I follow, or rather lead him where I know I will find what I’m looking for; Oyster Bay, Sauvignon Blanc. The prices of liquor in Canada are just astonishing. Where are the good old days of just picking up something duty free at the Grand Cayman Airport?
Then I’m in a department store, fighting dearly for my life which I intend to preserve from the assault of a hord of shopping megeres. They corner me into a cleaning supplies isle but I dudge and escape to a better section. The observer is holding my invisible hair and steering me like a horse, pulling right and left, away from obstacles, when he suddenly stops us dead in our tracks. Someone bumps into me from behind and I apologize. I get a smile back. People aren’t too stressed in Vancouver. What stopped us is the sight of an dual espresso machine, shinny and pretty.
“We wants it, my precious,” whispers the observer in a raspy voice, “yes, my precious…”
“You’re just silly,” I say, “I don’t even drink coffee any more, or not often enough for THIS.” Much, much later, I will change my mind.
Further, a store on Robson has a huge window display in orange tones.
“Marie would love it, I say out loud.”
For a change, he has nothing more to say than a pensive “Yeah…” Sometimes I like my little observer, we get along pretty well. But then he snaps out of his reverie and suggests: “Hey, why don’t you get her this beautiful… uh, thing?”
“Because it’s… useless,” I say, “orange is nice but who needs a thing like this? I’m not even sure what it is.”
“Yeah,” he says, “but the color is so perfect. I think you must squeeze here and then push there.”
“Impossible,” I tell him, “that part is soft. I think it’s meant to be shaken and then laid flat for decoration.”
We’ll never know. Our eyes got caught by opals. It’s October. There’s no backing out. Fingers crossed.