Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Ice breakers

The pavement sparkled like shattered diamonds in the neon glow of the street lamps. I admired its beauty, which was pretty much the only thing I could do since it was as deadly as hell. In one day, the temperature had gone from -18 C to around freezing, bringing with it a thaw that left a sheet of ice over all the surfaces. As I tremulously picked my way along the path, a car pulled out of its driveways and promptly slid to bump into the curb on the far side of the road. It flashed its lights in confusion before cautiously reversing and creeping off down the street.

I looked back the way I had come. It was late and I was trying to go home. I'd been walking for about half an hour and had managed the same distance I had covered in five minutes that morning. At each intersection, the path was so icy I had to drop into a crab position and crawl off the paved edge onto the tarmac. It would have been quite funny if I didn't think I might be squished like a crab as well. Eventually, I reached a bus stop --a whole one stop down from the University-- and admitted defeat. At this time of night it would be a wait for the next bus, but doubtless the wait at ER for broken bones was longer.

I parked myself by the pole and watched passers-by for tips as to how to walk on ice. Since a significant percentage ended up on their rear ends, it wasn't an overly useful exercise. I would be lying if I said it wasn't an overly entertaining one. There was one patch of cobble stones just past where I stood that was particularly deadly, causing walkers to either fall or barrel into their friends.

A boy approached me along the path.

"Careful," I cautioned, gesturing to the path ahead. "That area is seriously slippy."

He gave his thanks and joined me at the bus stop. It turned out he lived not far from where I did and had also realised the probability of falling to a horrific death while crossing the bridge over the highway was rather high at present. We bemoaned the situation, agreed that at least it was warmer for standing outside and that this was actually the problem.

A girl came by next and I warned her about the slippery pavement. She also thanked me and carefully stepped around that region before heading off down the road. My new companion chattered cheerfully and babbled about his classes which seemed to be in business. I tried to recall what I have learned from North American daytime dramas about 'mid-terms'.

Two other students approached us. One was skipping and sliding across the ice. "I have the sure-footedness of a lynx!" he declared confidently, bouncing towards the icy cobbles.

My eyes met my companion's. Neither of us said anything.

With a slight whoop of surprise, said lynx-boy skidded into his friend who narrowly succeeded in holding him up.

"It really would have served him right if he'd fallen," my companion remarked once they'd staggered out of earshot.

I didn't even try to cover my smile as I agreed. We talked more about classes. It occurred to me that my new friend assumed I was an undergraduate. I wondered how I was going to break it to him that I'd finished grad school six years ago.

"Hey, do you ever go to the Starbucks on Locke?"

I looked surprised. "Yeah, often." Studying him more closely, I realised he was one of the barristers who often worked there at weekends.

"I recognised your accent and your face," he told me, pleased. "What is it you normally order?"

A scene flashed before my eyes of ordering the most complicated drink on the menu due to a story written by a friend about an anime character I role-play. I could see the conversation unfolding:

"Why did you order that?"

"Oh, well, I spend most of my free-time pretending that I'm a Japanese teenage boy. My friend --who incidentally plays another boy who my character is OBSESSED with-- wrote this story where he orders that drink. So of course, I HAD to try it. In the actual TV serious, our characters are middle school tennis players, but in her fiction they are all customers and barristers in Starbucks like you. That's why I go; I sit there and pretend all the staff are in complex love pentagons with one another."

Suddenly, the revelation about my age seemed to matter a lot less.

"You often get tea, right?"

"Oh. Ah, yes!" Quickly I clung to this suggestion. Tea. British. Likely. Safer. Yes.

The bus rolled up and we both got on. During the short journey home, my new undergraduate-barrister-friend asked me what I did and I explained I was a post-doc researcher. His jaw fell open.

Seriously, kiddo, you don't know how lucky you got.

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