The other day Raven and I set out to replenish our supply of printing paper, on account of we'd run out and I needed to print something toute-suite, as they say over in Hull.
Our mission was interrupted however as, barely out of the apartment, we missioned east towards Bank Street.
On a stretch of sidewalk ahead of us was a very old Oriental woman and a dark-skinned and much younger (not to mention taller) woman who might have been of east-Asian or Middle Eastern background. Or something else entirely. Onwards.
Raven and I slowed as there seemed to be something not right with the situation. But being and/or becoming Canadians, we were hesitant about just barging in.
But I clearly saw the younger woman glance at us, and then, take very definite note of Raven. She opened her mouth, closed it, then briefly spoke to the old woman. Then looked at Raven again and once more, almost spoke, but decided against it at the last moment.
This was a couple of weeks back, and I no longer remember if I stopped, if Raven did, or if the young brown woman decided to speak up first.
In any event, there was a slowing down and turning and we made it clear we were open to "getting involved".
"Do you ..." the young woman began, addressing Raven, "well, do you speak Chinese?" She stopped and looked down, as if she was worried she had committed some monstrous offense.
I presume I've mentioned at some point over the past couple of years that Raven hails from Macau? Her first language is Cantonese, Mandarin her second. (English and, lately, French, are coming up fast from behind.)
"Yes," said Raven, "I do? What's going on?"
"I think this lady is lost," said the young woman, but I can't really understand her. "Would you mind ..."
Raven had already started talking to the old woman. She briefly interrupted to let us know they were speaking Cantonese and that the old woman had got off the bus at the wrong stop. "I know where her building is," she said. "I'll take her home."
"Are you sure? If you tell me where it is, I don't mind taking her ..."
"No, it's fine," Raven said, and the woman seemed relieved and just a little surprised to boot.
Raven told me to get to the stationary store before it closed and said she would meet me there. I walked about with the good Samaritan. "I'm really glad you guys stopped," she said.
"I'm glad we could help," I replied for some reason donning the Royal We.
"I didn't want to assume anything," she said. "I mean, just because someone ... looks ..."
"Chinese?" She laughed, and nodded. I laughed too, mostly in an attempt to make her feel at ease. "You were in luck," I said. "Raven is Chinese. And I know she really was happy to help. It never hurts to ask.
"I guess," she agreed, but I don't think she really did. And who was I, the white guy, to argue? Maybe the visible minorities among you reading this can tell me how common it is — how frustrating or offensive it is — to be asked if you speak this or that language. Raven herself didn't mind, but she is an immigrant, so if someone presumes she speaks Chinese (or even asks) well, she does.
Maybe she'd feel different if she were born here.
Meanwhile, the young woman and I went our separate ways, and I never dared to ask where she was from. Her English was excellent, but with a hint of an accent. Just a hint, though, leaving me to forever wonder if she was from Vanier or Hull, or possibly from some place much further away.
For once I don't have any real thesis or rant to make. This was just an incident that has stayed with me, an uncomfortable encounter that I am not sure what to make of. (Besides being reminded that Canadians tend to be very considerate, perhaps to a fault.)