And so we drink in the cheap seats, find love between sets. Down your liquor quick darling – we don’t wait for anyone. Maybe that’s the problem.
When you’re young, there’s a tendency, a sort of pressure, almost, to do everything fast. We drink fast. We run fast. We chase girls, boys, even liquor fast. The moments become a blur, a set of scenes running past us. It is only in slight glimpses of self-reflection and deep thought that we truly take the time to consider our lives. Now I’ll tell you a secret: I’m no good at being young. No good at all. So while the others stumbled and fled along, hurling into the evanescent youth, I decided to live slow. I kept my tea strong, my music soft, my conversations hushed. And somehow, one night, I found myself in an array of flushed lights, watching the sweet smoke escape from my lips.
“Smoking a hookah is nothing like smoking a cigarette. Cigarettes are for nervous people, competitive people, people on the run. When you smoke a hookah, you have time to think. It teaches you patience and tolerance, and gives you an appreciation of good company.” It is almost humorous to say that I learned the most about life in a blackened-out, run-down, abandoned storefront on the East side. But I did. It was in a hookah bar that I learned relationships and practiced my senses. I saw smoke, I heard rap, I smelled and tasted fruit. I touched the pipe, the metal cold against my skin from the winter air. The story is set in December.
I was far from home that night, I remember, although the glittering moon above made me feel otherwise. One train, two subways, and a bus ride later—I had arrived. I was with a boy from my past for about five hours. We walked along the East side of Toronto at 4AM and it was not the least bit questionable, because in one night, through one space, I learned the human condition. And what I found was beautiful.
“So I’ll be seeing you, May.”
“You won’t,” I said. “Truthfully. Maybe we’ll run into each other years later in a coffee shop. You’ll be married or something. It’ll be beautiful.”
“I guess this is goodbye then?”
“Yeah. Can I just ask you one thing?”
“What’d you write on the napkin?”
I laughed. “I wrote what you said.” I rummaged through my purse and pulled out the crumpled thing, setting it in his palm.
(We’re all just walking each other home.)
He examined it, smirking as his eyes met mine again. “Why this?”
“I wanted to remember it,” I claimed. “It puts everything into context, doesn’t it? We’re dying. All of us. And all this in-between stuff… it’s just keeping us busy. All these relationships and interactions and things. No matter what, the story ends the same way. I like it. It sort of… takes the pressure off everything. It reminds you that some things are not as important as you think they are.”
* * *
My throat was dry as sand, my tongue sickly sweet. I was wearing a burgundy knit, a flared skirt and my mom’s old overcoat from college. The underground wind swept the subway, sending a mass of opened peanuts and old newspapers my way. 11:00 PM. He said he’d be here.
He said he’d be here.
11:47 PM. I see a gorgeous figure standing at the end of the line, making way towards me. Only he would keep a pretty girl waiting. And he did more than that—he drove me insane. His absence lingered in my heart as he floated in and out of my life—days at a time, years apart. Yet, I wasn’t angry that he was late. As soon as I saw him, I had no care in the world. He gave me a kiss on the cheek and we were off. I’ve been to hookah bars before, but he promised me this one would be an experience.
He was right.
I remember thinking the outside was humorous. We were on a dusty strip in downtown Scarborough. Between a rug store and an abandoned joint lay a hunk of cement with a blackened-out swing door and a tiny window on the façade. The night was still. The air was frosty and the stars stood calm like hard chips of light scattered in the sky. In the lot were two cars and a group of old Arab men, lounging on the curb with their cigars. From the outside, you could hear the music blaring. The exterior was absolutely obnoxious. I was ready to turn back. And while I was delivered pieces of the building before even entering it, it was not until my palms pushed open that black swing door that I truly entered a separate world. A beautiful new realm.
I stepped in the space. The lights beamed. The colours swam. The smell of cloying roses absorbed my lungs. A haze of smoke blew my way, blocking my vision for a while. I could feel that the place was warm, dark—intimate. And when that haze of smoke cleared the air, I took a good look at the people. Their faces shined. Their eyes lit up like no starry sky I had ever seen before. That night, I saw youth in its most exquisite form— through patience.
All of a sudden, nothing was fast anymore. The hustle and bustle of drinking quick, making deadlines, needing to be anywhere at anytime—it all disappeared. I watched them grab the pipe gently, sway their heads softly, let their smoke come out slow. The mere act of anything was appreciated in that space. And I truly saw youth for what it was meant to be. It is because we are young that we are passionate, loving life and all it has to offer us. And for the first time, I felt in unity with the strangers that sat before me. We knew the unspoken. That we are careless, crazy, making the same mistakes night after night—but we are here, and we love it here. We are cherishing life one step at a time. Because our only secret is to move slowly and live with people…
Read Part 2