Paris, Ontario – population: 11, 763 at the time of the 2011 census.
We pull into the fresh-looking plaza on the outskirts of town, its clean lines and manicured verges incongruous amongst the trees and cornfields round about, like work shoes worn with jeans. It’s mid-morning but something about the peachy sunlight bathing the smooth concrete walls carries a bubbling sense of promise, like the optimism of a sunrise. Light is a trigger for me – always has been – a certain tone or slant of shadow trips off fleeting memories or feelings that carry me to another time and place.
The flashback subsides without ever fully revealing itself and together we shuffle across the parking lot, spilling haphazardly through the doors of Tim Hortons, legs unwieldy after an hour and a half of cramped car captivity. A part of me is primed to take the temperature of this small-town community, my awareness the inevitable conditioning of travel as a multiracial family, but the clerk behind the counter is warm and genuine and totally charmed by my daughter’s bouncing curls and cheeky face.
I relax a little, knowing my husband will still be alert, discreetly watching those watching us. In the four years we’ve been in Canada we haven’t experienced a single racist encounter but prejudice is a parasite – not specific to location it travels with its human host. Like survivors in a post-apocalyptic zombie world, we exist in a state of permanent awareness, alert to any sign of infection in people we meet. Becoming parents honed our protective instincts; the longer we can put off having our children spattered by the caustic acid of a vitriolic eruption the better.
But all is well here, we’re welcomed without a trace of rancor. We order coffee and a small box of Timbits – assorted…
“But can we have three of the raspberry? They’re her favorites!”
The raspberry turn out to be blueberry in Paris reminding me of my favorite quote “Everything you’re sure is right can be wrong in another place.” There’s no such thing as ‘sure’ – not really. And ‘right’ and ‘wrong’. Even Paris itself isn’t a given, with different incarnations on different continents.
Pushing the coffees towards us before turning to take the next order the clerk nods at the box already in three-year-old protective custody and says with a smile,
“I’ve popped a couple extra in there for her.’
We walk across the sunlit space to a booth by the far window with a view of the highway. S opens her box of Timbits and magnanimously passes it around. Sipping hot coffee we converse through exchanged glances as we watch her wave at the window-cleaner making his sudsy way around the outside of the building.
Time seems to crystallize as we gaze through the pristine glass. One by one, a succession of trucks pulls onto the dirt shoulder opposite, the wind carrying their dust clouds on ahead way after they’ve stopped – ephemera needs no sustenance but the drivers leap down from gently idling cabs to cross the road for a cup of Joe. Money might make the world go round but it’s Tim’s that keeps Canada trucking.
A lady of encroaching middle years and a spry white-haired gentleman slide into the booth behind me, pushing a tray laden with soup, coffee and a Smile cookie that marks this anonymous space as theirs, at least for now. S is already up on her knees, belly pressed into the back of the seat, sussing them out.
“Hello gorgeous, what’s your name?” the lady croons, “Wanna share my cookie? It’s still warm…”
The man chuckles when S ducks and hides her face in my shoulder in mock modesty, lashes lowered but smiling all the same, and tells us he’s out with his daughter. That’s the comforting thing about family dynamics – the illusion that everyone is identifiable by their role.
The day presses in on us and after a while we rise to leave, turning our reality over to someone else who will slide into the same booth for a different but equally transient experience.
Minutes later we pull into the town centre parking lot. It’s five to twelve. K gathers his work stuff and S and I are left with the car keys and two hours to kill. The sun is shining and we leave the car behind as some potted blooms catch S’s eye. She leans over the plastic orange mesh that acts as a boundary for the floristry’s backyard and sniffs them just as the shopkeeper steps out. He smiles and gestures for her to come around to the side where there’s a gap we can walk through, perfectly happy for us to be amongst his stock while he’s busy in the shop.
We pass some time inhaling to the point of dizziness and naming colours before continuing on our way – we have a whole town to explore and time stretches ahead like a luxury four-poster bed, waiting for us to surrender to the dreams it has prepared for us.
To see what else we got up to in Paris visit these posts:
Playing In Paris – a photo-commentary of our day
For Whom The Bell Tolls (or A Funny Thing Happened In Paris)