Iain kept breathing and decided to play it cool. He briefly looked about the terrace and listened in on the conversation going on behind Erica, between the huge Indian man and the black woman. The Indian was holding the black woman’s hands and rubbing his nose against hers.
“Nah, baby,” he said. “I deposited that cheque. Prob’ly didn’t show up ‘cause they gotta put a hold on it an’ shit.”
“I trus’ you, honey, ‘cept if they don’t take that hold off by Friday I got no money to buy good clothes. Understand? I don’t wanna look like no bitch at my interview.”
Iain smiled and took a sip of his beer.
“You have a boyfriend?” he finally said.
“I do,” said Erica.
A cold blast rippled his brain and spread through his body. The blood in his veins seemed to coagulate and, for some reason, his sphincter cramped.
Then what were they doing out here, drinking together at who knows what hour of the night? Why had she called him? Why the shameless flirting? He wanted to blurt out these questions. He wanted to stand up and scream at her. He wanted answers. He wanted to have sex.
“I thought you said you broke up.”
“No, I met a new guy. About three weeks ago. I’m so in love. It’s crazy. I never thought I could love anybody so much, so fast.”
He looked away and realized the Indian man and the black woman were completely soused. Their eyes were half-shut, their faces stunned and blank. They both just sat there, staring off into space, the Indian man looking down, the black woman looking up.
“You deposited that cheque? ” slurred the black woman. “Cause I need that money…I don’t wanna…”
With a huge hand the Indian slammed the table.
“I fuckin’ told you …cheque’s fuckin’…why you keep…”
Was this a game? A test? Did she say she had a boyfriend, and one she loved so much, to test his integrity? Was she not too drunk to be staging such an elaborate hoax? How could she fall in love so deeply in three weeks? Because she’s young and naive? And then the thought flashed through his mind: he hoped she did have a boyfriend; he hoped she was in love; he hoped they did have sex. He hoped her boyfriend found out.
“Lovely. Congratulations. It’s great to be in love. My aunt and uncle, they’ve been married for thirty-seven years and they’re still in love. It’s great. They never had kids, though. Didn’t want kids. They have a lot in common that way. Another thing they have in common is a love of cats. They have eleven cats in their house.”
“It is. They’re all strays they found on the street. Their house is a cat nursery.”
“Wow, that’s crazy. Good for them.”
She pressed her shoulder and arm against his and laughed her throaty laugh, then leaned back and swallowed more beer. He filled his glass with the remaining beer in the pitcher, drank it all down and slammed the glass on the table.
“The funniest thing about my aunt and uncle is, once I asked them, ‘Okay, I understand how deep your love of cats is, but why do you keep so many of them in the house? What I mean is, you never had kids, yet you have eleven cats. Why?’ They looked at each other and smiled, then my uncle looked at me and said, ‘We’re very disappointed in humans.’”
“Wow, that’s hilarious! Your aunt and uncle sound so cool and eccentric.”
He just stared right into her eyes, not angrily, a blank stare. She smiled and looked down at the table.
“Sometimes I totally know how they feel. Like, a few weeks ago I was at this very bar, on this very patio and I met a prostitute named Samira. She’s Indian. I mean, not Native Canadian, she’s from India.”
His ex-girlfriend invaded his mind. She was sitting at her desk at work. Her cubicle was surrounded by cubicles filled with handsome Indian men. They all leaned back in their chairs, gazing at her.
“She said she was eighteen but she could’ve been younger. Her mom was from one of the lowest castes and she fell in love with a guy from a higher caste.”
The Indian in the cubicle beside Iain’s ex-girlfriend got up and stood behind her, turned her chair around. She looked up at him and he stroked her cheek with his hand. She undid his belt, started pulling down his zipper.
“He got her pregnant and he wanted to marry her, but when he told his family, they forced him to give her up, so Samira ended up in an orphanage. She never met her mother, but her uncle took her out of the orphanage when she was ten and brought her to Montreal.”
His ex-girlfriend took out the Indian’s penis and put it in her mouth.
“He sexually abused her and forced her to work as a sex slave. She ran away when she was fifteen and became a prostitute. Isn’t that the saddest story ever? Stories like that make me understand the way your aunt and uncle feel.”
The other Indians in the office formed a line-up behind the Indian getting fellated. He was moaning and running his fingers through Iain’s ex-girlfriend’s hair.
Iain was torn from his reverie by the Indian man and the black woman arguing.
“How’re we supposed to get money if I can’t get no fuckin’ job? How am I supposed to get a fuckin’ job if I can’t buy no good clothes!? How am I supposed to buy good clothes if you didn’t deposit that fuckin’ cheque!?”
The Indian leaned forward over the table. “In this world there’s black people and there’s niggers. And yer a fuckin’ nigger!”
She slapped his cheek; he punched her mouth and she toppled over, slamming her head on the patio floor. The grizzled, middle-aged men at the next table bolted out of their chairs and pounced on the Indian who stood up, throwing punches in all directions.
“Fuckin’ wagon burner!” shouted one of the middle-aged white men.
The Indian took several blows but within moments two of the white men were on the ground. As the other four tackled the Indian onto a table, bottles crashing, beer spilling everywhere, Erica grabbed Iain’s arm and pulled him out of his chair and onto the sidewalk. A crowd of spectators encircled the terrace.
“I don’t live far from here,” she said. “Let’s go to my place.”