I’m on the bus headed to downtown Vancouver. I sit on the lonesome side seats, watching my scenery transition from Kits towards the Granville Street Bridge. I decide impromptu to get off at W 5th and walk because there’s no urgent desire to head downtown but a strange longing to stroll across the bridge. I’m rich on time with no destination in mind, the perks of being young I guess.
It’s a little chilly outside so I dig my hands into my pockets, realizing I left my gloves on the kitchen counter, next to the growing number of unwashed cups and mugs and empty tea boxes. It hits me, the subtle awareness of what I’ve forgotten to do-the dishes, the laundry, the bed. I left it all this morning. I left it and chose a life that was lived-in instead. Maybe I’ll deal with it tomorrow, maybe I’ll deal with it when my parents come to visit and I’m forced to appear like a responsible adult. But for now, I let the thought pass from my mind, float down like autumn leaves, fading to the ground.
I make my way onto the bridge. I listen to Ed Sheeran’s voice as he sings a question over and over. Do you ever wonder if the stars shine out for you? Not really I think to myself. I don’t think they shine for anyone, I don’t think they are anyone’s. The stars are just there, they exist merely for existing. It’s not about you, it’s not about the self. It’s just a star, nothing else.
I stop midway on the bridge and gaze down at False Creek and then up at the sky. It’s no longer that indefinable time of late afternoon or early evening, it’s clearly night now. The black sky affirms this. I see some stars I think. I wonder if they are planes or satellites or something else. Ed Sheeran sings on repeat and asks the question again in my ear. I guess those are stars, but they aren’t the only ones. Take me apart and I’m sure you’ll find some stardust in me, some remnants of long lost stars in my veins. If so, then maybe the question isn’t, who the stars shine for, but which ones shine, the ones in the sky or the ones here? Can’t people shine for each other? Why do we need to look up for guidance when it could be amidst us or even within?
I have no answers but more questions so I keep walking. I let my questions go unresolved and decide to search for coffee. I walk down Granville Street, take in the scene of the city on a Saturday night. It’s not late enough, it’s still too early for the night crowd but some are here to surpass the waiting and the lines. I pass them, the reminiscent smell of alcohol whiffs past me, as I decide which Starbucks to turn to. I settle on W Georgia and pass a group of giggling girls. I smile to myself at their shenanigans and the familiarity of my own girlfriends it alludes to. I walk in and order myself a hot chocolate because I’m trying to overcome my coffee addiction and I don’t want to completely fail, so hot chocolate is the compromise. I get my order and look for a seat but there’s nothing vacant inside. Instead, the outside cold beckons me with seats so I pass through the doors and find a chair. I take out my dystopian book from earlier and turn off my music completely but leave the ear buds untouched. I don’t want to be interrupted; I’m not up for interaction just yet. So I leave the ear buds in place, I want them to think I’m too occupied to be disturbed.
But he comes anyway like all the other boys, unexpected and unannounced.
He puts his hand out at me and asks for a lighter. I look up once and just shake my head. He exerts his frustration with profanity and scrambles around and asks others. I don’t make much of him, my eyes resort back to the words and pages of my book. He must have found a lighter quickly because I can sense the smell of tobacco coming my way. He takes a seat at the empty table next to me and takes out a pack and begins his routine. There’s a cup in his hand and a cigarette in the other, back and forth sipping and smoking between addictions while I read on.
At some point he resurfaces and I become an object of intrigue. Whatcha readin? he asks. I cringe at his diction.
I raise the cover of the book and he responds, isn’t that the new Hunger Games or something? I give him a one-worded affirmation thinking this will suffice but no, he persists on. He asks me questions, irrelevant small talk I don’t have the energy for. He banters on in slang and ignores my minimalist responses. I keep my eyes firmly on my book until he puts his hand out again and offers me his pack. Here take one; you look like you could use some.
And now he has my attention. I laugh. I tell him politely I don’t smoke. He says respectfully, bullshit. I reassure him of the truth and he looks at me dazed. How do you deal with shit then? By shit, he must mean life and all the anxiety it encompasses, and I tell him there are many coping mechanisms. He laughs at me and repeats, bullshit. I give him my list and he nods and accepts it as a sufficient answer. But still, nothing works better than this, he decrees gesturing his cigarette. My response is a shrug because this is a superlative comparison to which I have no knowledge of.
I am about to resort back to my reading but he interjects again. So what’s your deal? I tell him I don’t understand. He points to the book and then his hands gesture out at the scene on the streets. Who the fuck reads on a Saturday night at Starbucks? I laugh first and then answer him by pointing to the girl reading inside. He rolls his eyes and exhales more smoke in my direction. I whiff it away with my hands and decide to turn the tables. I ask him myself, so what’s your deal? Who fucking smokes alone outside a Starbucks for 30 minutes?
He puts down his cigarette and smiles. Touché. And I think to myself, now we have something. Now we have a story.
I’m waiting for someone, he says in between smokes. For 30 minutes? I retort. She’ll come, she just fucking does this all the time. I close my book, look at him more closely and ask who? He leans back in his seat, tells me in broken sentences of some girl, while furiously smoking and taking sips of his coffee. While he paints me a tainted picture, I notice his untamed hair and his buttoned shirt. He has no jacket, not on him or on his seat. He just uses the warmth of the cigarettes I guess. He sums up the details and looks back at me, she’ll be here soon, any minute now. I see his brown eyes defined by doubt. Of course, I reassure him, of course she’ll come.
He downs the last contents of his cup and begins a mantra of fuck, fuck, fuck. I ask him if he’s alright. He begins to panic. Fuck, why does she always do this? A rhetorical question I have no answer for. Fuck I should just find her, fuck maybe she didn’t get my text; maybe she’s already at the fucking bar. She has to be there, she has to fucking be there, right? He looks up in my direction and I think one thing but say another. I think she is long gone, I think he is in for disappointment. But maybe that’s because I’m just slightly biased from past rejections so I decide who am I take away his hope. She’s probably already there, and you’re just wasting your time here. You should go get her, I say. You’re fucking right, he says and jumps up from his seat. He throws out his cup and puts out his last cigarette. He tosses the slightly empty cigarette pack at me. Here, you might fucking need it. This time I roll my eyes and he laughs off, running in the other direction. I watch him for a few seconds, running past drunk herds of people until I lose sight. I watch him disappear into what I think is a trap but he thinks is a victory. I put my ear buds back into my ears and let Ed Sheeran ponder on about leaves and stars.
I wonder if these supposed stars will shine for him, for the boy with a cigarette. I wonder if his naive hope will do him any justice. I wonder if he and I share the same fallacies of life and hope. I wonder if they are even fallacies. I wonder who is right and who is wrong, I wonder if his relentless hope is worth having. I wonder if he will rejoice and I indecisively conclude that **uncertainty can only be tested by trying. Stars can only shine if we believe that they do and people can shine for us if we let them. We can shine for ourselves if we believe we can, if we entertain the thought that hope simply exists in ceaseless faith.