The sidewalk outside is a stream of activity, people coming and going from there to here and back again. Young mothers push strollers laden with bags and boxes and babies. Elderly women clutch the arms of their counterparts; love a greater grounding than a cane could ever be.
And we stand inside, waiting patiently for our names to be called. I don’t say anything to her, indulging in our silence. It is a bubble about us, a sphere of calm amidst the bustle of the eatery. And Lily Christianson is at the centre of that sphere.
She is the centre of many things: our happy silence, my pulsing admiration, our past conversations, my attentions. But not their attention; they still seem not to notice her, or each other, even.
Wake up, people! You can't stop to smell what you don't stop first to see, and this flower's perfume is near bliss.
Lily is looking at me, and my reverie is broken. She tells me that our food is ready, that she is anxious at its wafting spiced scent. I smile, walking to the counter.
“Declan?” the girl asks, looking at the bill and not me.
“Yes,” I say. “That’d be me.”
She skewers the white thermal paper on a large spike, the latest addition to countless other such squares of paper.
I pick up the two take-out containers, metal wire warm in my hands, the red Noodle Box insignia stamped on one side. Numerous letters are scribbled in sharpie across them: CH CP, MH – 2. They’re the baristas of noodle-craft, here.
Lily and I step out the door, grabbing bamboo forks and chopsticks before entering the street. Out bodies join the stream, and we are carried by it to the inner harbour. Sea smells overwhelm us, sea salt and seaweed mixing with the fragrance of our meal. I breathe it all in, filling my lungs and my mind.
The plush grass beckons us. We sit, planted between a row of hedges and a caricature artist. Chopsticks, like tiny swords removed from paper scabbards, are split. The boxes are opened as a brisk breeze blows, an intense aroma blossoming in my face.
I breathe in the sweet and spicy smell of the boxed noodles. I breathe in the sea air, damp and familiar on the breeze. And I breathe in Lily, rose-red and delicately fragrant, twice over.
I breathe, and I know this is how it should be.
“Is this real?” I mutter, overcome by the perfection of the moment.
Lily turns to me, knowing what I have uttered. She asks me if the breeze is real, the smells or sounds or tastes. She laughs and adds her own name to the list: am I real?
I share her laugh and reply, “Of course!”
We revert back to the steaming boxes, plucking and placing slick noodles with practised skill, patient with the foreign utensils.
The breeze sends another wave of smells drifting past us, carrying with it the noise of the downtown buskers, shoppers, and revellers.
It is all real: the breeze, the smells, the sounds, and tastes.
And myself with Lily Christianson.