He smiled, picking up the ugly brown suitcase and strolled away down the hallway his back shifting from side to side. Herbert and I, had just been talking about the evolution of automobiles and how in the “old country” only the wealthiest people in his village owned them. He was enlightening me of the eras gone by and why people these days are too lazy for their own good.
Then he wandered off, like he usually does.
“Hey James,” said Mel, “whose the old guy with the ugly brown suitcase?” Starring at Mel, I thought he was just kidding around but as I looked into his big brown eyes I saw no understanding of the man wandering down the hallway. “That’s the guy I was talking to you about a few weeks back. The guy I kept bumping into. He’s always dressed to the nines but carries that ugly brown suitcase. All I know is he’s an immigrant, like myself. And he’s super friendly. Have you never spoken to him?” Mel stood shaking his head no.
“His name is Herbert and he’s from Argentina. He’s been in Canada and specifically Edmonton for like twenty-something years. He travelled before that. That’s all I know thus far. Well that and he’s a pretty funny old dude to talk to. I like his heavy accent as I really must pay attention or I might misunderstand what it is he’s trying to say or convey. Like today, we were talking about how in his country people didn’t have automobiles. Everyone walked around the village. Even when they had to visit the neighbouring hamlets or villages up to 10-kms away. Isn’t that incredible?”
Mel just nodded his head, then said, “you ready for breakfast?”
Sitting in the ugly burnt orange dinner seats at Route 99 diner along 99th Street, Mel ordered the full breakfast meal consisting of three of each pancakes, eggs, sausages, and bacon. And to top it off a side salad. “You ordering for us both?” I laughed and then ordered a three egg veggie omelette and a cup of black coffee.
“So, Herbert,” I started to say when Mel’s head perked up from looking around the room trying to decipher if he knew anyone in any of the other booths. Then he simply says “you sure are stuck on this old guy today. All you’ve been yammering on about is this old man since we left the gym. What’s really going on here?”
Thinking about it, I sipped back a couple of drops of coffee then set it down exchanging it for the water glass and drained its contents. Setting it at the edge of the table. “We really need to just ask for a pitcher of water. I sure am parched,” I said. Then looking around at the others in the restaurant. All older. All less fit than us. All consuming their breakfast meals.
“To be honest, I wouldn’t have thought much about him. But that damn ugly brown suitcase peeked my curiosity. First what the heck is inside it? And second that heavy accent. He says he’s Argentinian but he never speaks Spanish or Portuguese. I’ve only heard him speaking in that heavy-accented English. Which makes me think he’s really from Poland, or Czeck or someplace like that.”
Mel just starred at his empty cup of water missing everything I was yammering on about. “Hey did you see that blonde! WOW! dude, she’s got her eyes fixated on you,” he looked up then over his shoulder, “gotcha! What are you pondering about? The upcoming move?”
His face brightened as the waitress finally arrived with our meals and a refill of our waters and coffees. “May we please have a pitcher of cool water, and no ice. We’ve been running in the river valley earlier and are a bit parched. Thanks.” says Mel. Then without looking at me, took a huge bit of his pancakes and half of one sausage. As he chewed his face turned from a light pale colour to a brighter happier sheen. “Look. Nothing against you or this old man you keep talking about. I’m just lost on the move coming up. My brother and I are desperately looking for a place to live. And we’ve got a couple of weeks. I want to hear more about this old man’s suitcase but I have bigger things on my mind this weekend.”
Looking over the breakfast table we sat in near silence except for the sounds coming from other nearby tables. Laughter, discussions about elections, the plague, last nights hangovers as we both sat quietly pulling at our meals and stuffing our mouths. Chew, chew, chew, swallow, repeating until the plates were nearly finished.
“You know what I would really like,” Mel looked up from his nearly last piece of bacon, “I’d really like to open up a Food Truck that only serves gourmet potatoes. Do you think people would eat stuff like that? Its just good old comfort foods. You know, like potato skins, or poutine, or I don’t know. Do you think it would take off in these strange times?”
Starring across the silent table, I said nothing.
Picking up my coffee, I swirled it around and around looking at the last of the deep chocolate colour then lifted it up, up, up opening my mouth and pouring its contents into my mouth. Swishing its happy caffeinated juice around my tongue then swallowed. “Sure,” I said, “who doesn’t want to eat a smattering of cheese curds, gravy and mustard on a Saturday afternoon at the ballpark or soccer field? Heck even a bunch of events or festivals. Its finger food right?”
He smiled. Waved his hand at the waitress and took out his debit card to pay for the meal. “Don’t worry, I’ve got this one.”
~ James Curtis