The open-air market was empty for a Saturday morning. An early May breeze brought a touch of coolness to the sunshine and ruffled Johnny Mac’s dark, slightly unruly hair. He scanned the sparse crowd twice before shrugging and pushing his cart further along the sidewalk.
"Not a lot of opportunities for business today," he mumbled to himself as he slowly trundled along.
A block and a half later, he paused again. As he set down the cart for a moment to rest his shoulders, a young woman exited the coffee shop across the street. Johnny had time to notice a flowing sundress and bright white sandals that were pushing the season before she was right in front of him, bounding across the street and flashing a brilliant smile from ear to ear.
"Hello there, miss," he started, slightly surprised but not wanting to miss the opportunity for a sale.
"Tracey," she interrupted. She transferred a steaming cardboard cup from one hand to the other and held out her well-manicured right hand to him.
"Tracey," he repeated, allowing a hesitant smile to creep across his face and tentatively taking her hand. "Well, hi. Are you out shopping today?"
"Oh, yes," Tracey replied, holding firm to Johnny’s hand and continuing to shake it. "I just moved here from Beauville this week, and I couldn’t wait to explore this market. I can’t think of a more beautiful day for exploring, can you?" She looked up at him expectantly with her wide smile.
"I guess it is a nice day," said Johnny. He relaxed his hand and shook it slightly in an attempt to loosen her grip. "Now, would –"
Tracey interrupted him again: "The breeze just brings the smell of all sorts of green, living things, even into the heart of a city like this. And the sunshine! It just gets all into your skin and makes you glow." She leaned casually on the heavy wooden cover of his cart and took a sip from her coffee cup. "What’s your favourite part of it?"
Johnny Mac could tell that this girl was not interested in buying anything from him. Most likely she was lonely and tired of being cooped up in whatever apartment she had been able to afford. He scanned the growing crowds and surreptitiously rubbed his hand along the leg of his pants, not in a hurry to answer her question. When it became evident she was not going to be put off by his reluctance, Johnny sighed.
"I couldn’t really say," he replied, not meeting her eye.
"There must be one thing that you really like about today!" Tracey exclaimed.
To his right, a flower vendor shot Johnny a pointed look and cleared her throat.
"Look, uh, Tracey," he said, "I should really be going…"
"Oh, of course!" She straightened up from leaning against his cart and took another sip from the coffee cup.
Johnny Mac picked up the handles of the cart and began pushing it along the sidewalk at a brisker pace than his usual amble. Tracey walked alongside, her sandals making a slight clacking noise on the cement. Johnny tried to ignore her and started scanning the shoppers for potential customers again.
"So, what’s your favourite part?" Tracey asked.
"Favourite part of what?" Johnny answered absently.
"Of today, silly!" Tracey tossed her blonde hair over one shoulder and cocked her head to the side, regarding him.
"I really don’t have time for this…"
"We can talk about something else, then. If you could be anything other than a person, what would you be?"
Maybe she didn’t understand what he was trying to say. Maybe he was going to have to be more direct. Johnny stopped walking and put down the cart, turning to face Tracey directly. She smiled and blinked her eyes against the sun, waiting.
"Tracey, it was very nice meeting you, but I need to do other things today, so I can’t talk with you any longer."
"Okay, I’ll go first. If I could be anything other than a person, I’d be a bird. Not a crow or a gull or a jay, though; maybe just a little wren or sparrow or something like that."
Johnny sighed, turned, and picked up his cart again. He wouldn’t be able to make a sales pitch with Tracey right there, but maybe she would get bored and leave if he kept on moving. He couldn’t afford to stay in one place for too long, anyways.
It was mid-afternoon when Johnny noticed the silence. The market was bustling with early-season tourists and locals alike, but he hadn’t made a single sale thanks to Tracey’s presence. He looked over his left shoulder and saw that she was still there, looking at him, smiling. Johnny decided to make one last attempt at selling her something before giving up for the day; at this point, it didn’t look like the girl was going to leave of her own volition, so he might as well leave to be rid of her.
"Say, Tracey, would you be interested in –"
"Lunch?" She finished his sentence for him. "I thought it would never be time for a break. I’m famished!"
"No," Johnny Mac protested weakly, but Tracey was already guiding him and his cart over to a patio café.
Tracey asked for a table for two and eagerly browsed the menu while Johnny sat slumped in his chair. When the waitress came, Tracey ordered for both of them and Johnny merely waved his hand in acquiescence, too tired to protest.
"Well, I bet you feel better now," Tracey said after their meals had arrived and Johnny had mechanically shovelled a few forkfuls of food into his mouth.
"Mmmphhm," he mumbled, noncommittally. She was still beaming that smile at him from across the table. He slowly swallowed his current bite and gulped some water from the glass on his left.
"So, now that you know all about me, it’s your turn," Tracey continued. "Tell me everything about yourself."
"There isn’t really much to tell."
They finished their meal in silence, and when Johnny stood up to leave, he wasn’t surprised that Tracey stood as well. She left a handful of bills on the table and looped her arm through his. With her free hand, she guided one side of the still-heavily laden cart while he manoeuvred the other.
Johnny didn’t pay much attention to where they walked for the rest of the afternoon. Tracey would occasionally exclaim and point something out at a vendor’s stall, but aside from those few interruptions her stream of conversation flowed freely and ranged widely.
He was next roused from this reverie by Tracey standing in front of him, both of her hands on his arms to stop him from walking any farther.
"I’ll have to say goodbye now," she said.
Johnny Mac looked around him. The market was emptying and the sun was starting to set.
"Bye," he replied, still slightly stunned.
Tracey flashed him one last grin before turning and running off into the gathering dusk, blonde hair bouncing and white sandals clacking. Johnny stood where she had left him, not quite sure what had happened. Lost in his thoughts, he failed to notice the by-law officer crossing the street to him.
"Excuse me, sir? Can I see your vending licence please?"