When I was a teenager, one of the things I loved to do was something most teenagers my age loved to do: hang out at the Rideau Centre. In fact, I remember when the shopping mall was built. It’s 3 levels of shopping and food plunked on the edge of the Byward Market in downtown Ottawa, Ontario. It’s walking distance from my office, making for some convenient shopping (though shopping is not something I do very often because I do not enjoy it).
After working late on Friday, I headed over to the Rideau Centre to get some pictures developed. Since I had to wait a half an hour, I decided to grab some dinner at the food court. I ordered some Thai curry then found a spot among the crowded food court to sit down and inhale my dinner.
Only that isn’t quite how it happened. Instead, I found myself rather intrigued by the people surrounding me. A Friday night at the food court in the Rideau Centre is a vastly different experience at 40 than it is at 16.
One table in particular caught my eye. A man older than myself, with shaggy gray hair and wearing a scruffy jacket was sharing a meal out of a styrofoam container with two teenaged boys, one of whom was taller than the man. The boys both hid behind equally poofy, long hair and wore ragged jean jackets over large hoodies. It was a scene that made everything float through my head: Can they only afford one meal for the three of them? Did it take them a long time to scrounge the money together for that meal? Is that their father or a father figure? I wonder what their story is…
I caught myself watching them at one point – trying not to stare but still unable to avert my eyes for long. I was intrigued by the trio. There was a sense of camaraderie among them that was very sweet to witness. The man paused in his conversation with the boys who were hunched over their food, smiled at me and said, “Hi.” I nervously blinked and mumbled, “Hi,” back at him, embarrassed that I had been looking for too long.
I wanted to do something – to give them my own meal…just anything. But they weren’t asking for anything and who am I to be so presumptuous? I did nothing but it stayed with me, especially as I ate my curry, sharing with no one.
After my dinner, I collected my pictures from the photography store and slipped and slid back to my car in the freezing rain. I continued my people-watching while trying to keep my balance on the icy sidewalks: A sterotypical pimp (sorry, but he had to be) strutted down the street wearing a fedora and about 60 pounds of gold around his neck and in his ears; two native women stepped off of a bus in full native dress; kids far too young to be smoking were puffing on cigarettes, likely thinking they’re cool (‘cool’ is a fairly relative term, isn’t it?); a man slowly made his way along in a wheelchair.
It was an inspiring night. I was reminded that each of us has our challenges – some are obvious but most are not. Everyone has a story and I would love nothing more than to hear everyone’s story. What’s yours?