Two Encounters

Story from trip described in travelblog, Big Trip Up North.

The Frenchman.

It was at the start of our day trip along the Cabot Trail around Cape Breton. We stopped at the Gaelic College gift shop, one of a dozen or so modest structures dedicated to the culture of the settlers of this part of Nova Scotia.

Out front, a boy wearing kilts played bagpipes in the misty rain. Later when I encountered the Frenchman I tried to imagine the music was martial but really it was just sad noise played by a wet kid. (Bob said the boy tried to get out of the rain but the big jolly woman who ran the gift shop made him stay out front where he could be seen and heard by potential customers.)

Bob went to the other end of the store looking for gifts which he would ask the gift shop to mail home to his family. I looked at smaller items that I could fit into my side of the BMW's trunk.

I was standing in line waiting to check out my few purchases when the Frenchman came in. I assumed that's what he was. A big handsome fellow with a roman nose, he had the same proud manner that I had come to associate with the French Canadian motorcyclists we encountered throughout Nova Scotia. Not exactly looking at anybody he seemed to offer to fight every man in the place. Standing up a little straighter, hearing the kid's bagpipe music, I imagined strutting over to the big man and saying something insulting to see what he would do. I could imagine getting in a lucky punch.

But I didn't start anything. Smiling at the puzzled man, who frowned then turned away, I paid for my items and went outside to wait at the car for Bob. I snorted to myself, at myself.

The woman and the old couple.

It was a modest place, probably depending more on locals than tourists. It's atmosphere was no atmosphere. Bob thinks it was below Digby, where the ocean-going ferry deposited us after our passage across the fog-bound Bay of Fundy. I think it was somewhere north of Halifix. (Where the previous night we had stayed in Sherborne NS at the Cape Cod Motor Inn - where Bob's TV didn't work and my commode quit at 2:00 AM.)

That doesn't matter. We stopped for lunch.

Our hostess told us we could sit anywhere. We picked a table at the front with a view of the parking lot. An old man and woman sat nearby. Across the room a group of women gathered at another table. One of the women was in her mid-forties. She wore a low cut sun back dress. Her skin was dusky smooth. Her eyes were big and her hair was curly and dark.

Breaking over from my vegetarian regimen I ordered a roast beef sandwich. It had thick slices of beef on white bread slathered in mayonnaise and mustard. I chewed the meat and every time I looked up the woman was there smiling at something one of her friends said. Twice she glanced at me then turned away.

Nodding toward the old couple at the other table, Bob mentioned that the man was certainly colorful. I agreed. I don't remember the exact colors - pastels, maybe a yellow shirt and blue pants. He also wore a fisherman's cap; it too was pastel. But his face was weathered and red, either from being outside or from drinking. (Bob figured both.) Obviously this was not the man's normal attire; that was probably a real fisherman's smock. Today he was dressed up to go somewhere.

When they rose to leave, the old man had to help the woman. He supported her as she shuffled out the door and down the steps to the parking lot. He was patient. She was dignified and accepting. I speculated that maybe they were driving from one of the smaller towns to a medical facility in Halifax, or some other bigger place. It was the sort of trip I was familiar with. Bob said maybe so and we both tried to see the car and the tag but there was a distraction and we missed it.

When it was time for us to go our waitress/hostess asked us if we were ready for our "slips". We were in a foreign country.

Leaving the restaurant I glanced over to the pretty woman. She did not look up, but I got the impression she had only just turned away.

It was my turn to drive. Perhaps I sauntered a little walking over to get behind the wheel of Bob's expensive little convertible, wondering if the woman could see me.

Then I remembered the old man.

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