There I was, sitting in a bar in Toronto last week, with nothing on my mind, when by and by I got to thinking about how to while away time.
I had ordered a drink and an appetizer of butter chicken and was waiting for the food.
From where I was sitting I could see the cold wind blowing outside. There were a couple of pedestrians scurrying home, scrunched against the wind, puffed like a cocoon in their winter clothes. Maybe they all lived there. Maybe they were going to work. I don’t know. It was hypnotic to watch them wandering up and down the streets. How cold they must feel. What could warm them up? Coffee? Tea? Maybe a warm fire and a blanket? Surely, somewhere in their consciousness, no matter what state of mind they are in, these warm images flicker involuntarily into their thoughts? Their bodies, craving for heat and rest, must generate visions of red and orange flames crackling somewhere, no matter how blurry the rest of the vision be?
Casting my eyes around I saw a lady at the lounge someways away from me. She was raising her wine glass to her mouth, lips pulled back to reveal a wolf-like grimace as she sipped her wine. She must have been around 45 – not a good 45. Was it true that women in their 40s are the most insecure? They must feel like they were being looked over, their lives coming to an end as objects of desire. How would they feel when men look through them at young girls?
Do they feel like pillars blocking the view of an orchestra from the mezzanine floor?
Once I had gone to a concert in New York but had to leave halfway through because I could only see the stage partially. I knew it when I booked the tickets, so in reality, I should not be complaining. But when I actually sat in the seat and found half my view blocked by a pillar I was more dismayed than I thought I would be. As the concert went on I started fidgeting in my seat. Pretty soon, I realized, I could only concentrate on the pillar. I could see the tabla player making faces at the pillar and sitar sound wafted out from behind the pillar in response.
There were many well-dressed patrons in that concert. Distinguished people with gray hair, who give the impression that they must have been really great looking in their youth.
This 45-year-old on the other hand looked frumpy.
She was white and pasty. Somehow she reminded me of lots of empty wine bottles and large jewelry. I don’t know why women wear those large rings and big belts and ugly glasses. They make ugly people look uglier. Pretty girls can pull anything off.
Talking of pretty girls, Jun’ichiro Tanizaki, in the book I had cleaved on the table upside down, remarks that the Japanese girl has a softness that the American girl can never aspire for. Or was it cats he was talking about? Eitherways, I think it applies to women. Do women think the same of men? Maybe they do. It would be interesting if the frumpy woman was, in turn, surveying the room thinking, “these men all look so boring, I wish I was in Morocco”.
Then it struck me that maybe it was the lighting that made her complexion so. Because in a reflection in the mirror behind her, it surely couldn’t be her, the elegantly poised posture, and the curving nape and straight hair.
How light changes the way we look. Pretty from one angle, dominant from below, suppliant from above, cunning from afar.
Do women like sitting in the dark too?
It was getting really dark outside. The concierge was standing under the heating coils outside near the valet parking. How we are all men of myths. Men in uniforms are attractive we are told. Maybe that’s true. I certainly dream of women in French parlor maid attire. But then it suits only some people. Tall, leggy, slim women. I don’t even know any such people in real life. I know many middle-aged men though. Middle-aged men who also don’t seem like they would know of such women.
Maybe it is true that men age more gracefully than women. This woman was 45 and I already think of her as a has-been. Maybe she must have been a real beauty sometime ago. She does not look like it though. I feel sad sometimes that I do not know pretty women. Women who look good eating ice-creams for example.
But ice-creams don’t melt in winter in Toronto. Toronto has miserable weather, especially if one likes tropical and humid weather. Singapore weather is best suited for sticky long fingers with maroon nail polish and dripping Gula Melaka all over. I should have tried Gula Melaka when I was in Singapore. Along with some cream pies, and pandan kuehs and wanton mee.
Here I was eating butter chicken and drinking whiskey in Toronto in the cold weather.