As I dropped my paper cup into the dustbin and pushed the glass door open to step outside, my mobile phone began to beep and chirp. For the zillionth time, I told myself I really must change the bloody ringtone, but I wondered if I’d ever really remember, or, more precisely, if I’d ever remember during a quiet moment when nothing pressing was going on.
Of course, I knew who it was calling. I stepped out into the sunlight, pulled the device out of my jacket pocket, put the earpiece to my ear, and smiled.
“It’s me,” came her voice over the wireless connection.
“Hallo,” I replied, a jaunty lilt rippling through my syllables. “Spiffing day, wot?”
“Oh, stop,” she said, her annoyance evident.
“You’re never going to let me live that down, are you?”
“Well…” I said, drawing out the word just a bit. “I wouldn’t say never. I mean, when you’ve been around as long as I have, that word… ‘never’… well, it just keeps getting more and more sinister each time you think about it.”
“Fine, then. You’re not going to let me live it down for a very long time.”
I thought about that for a second. “Yeah… That sounds about right.”
I could almost see her shaking her head.
“Where are you?” she asked after a moment.
“Oh, I’ve just come out of the Starbucks.”
She snorted. “Leave it to you. We’re here in this lovely city on a gorgeous day, and you’re off looking for a Starbucks.”
“Well… I didn’t set off in search of it. It just sort of… came up on me when I wasn’t looking.”
“Yes, and you just stood there and let it eat you, I suppose. Not like you at all.”
“Well… I can’t kill all the monsters, can I?”
“You should have come with me. I’m having a grand time.”
“Yes, well…” I rubbed the back of my neck to push down the hairs that were beginning to stand up. “You were shopping, weren’t you?”
“Of course I was. The shops here are lovely.”
“Yes, well… Not really my thing… shopping.”
“You could do with a change of clothes… or two.”
“I have everything I need, thanks very much.”
“You’d never know it. You wear that same outfit all the time.”
“That’s not true. I wear the blue one sometimes. And I have loads of fresh shirts.”
I hadn’t meant to sound defensive, but part of me was really just playing along. She must have thought I was becoming agitated, because she didn’t respond immediately. Fortunately for me, the pause was just long enough for me to change the subject.
“Where are you, then?” I asked.
“Hmmm? Oh, I’ve just come out of a shop called Jennifer’s of Nova Scotia. They have all sorts of pewter ornaments and things. I absolutely adore pewter.”
“Mmmm, yes, I saw that one. Why don’t you head down towards me, and we can take a stroll down to the water.”
“Sounds lovely. Be there in a jif.”
I closed the phone and slipped it back into my pocket. I stepped away from the building and took a deep breath. Autumn in Halifax. Absolutely smashing.
I took a glance up and down the street. Loads of tourists were still about, I noticed, even though the weather was a bit nippy. I imagined it was a good time of year for cruise ships. Nova Scotia tends to get its best weather in September and October.
As I scanned the buildings and pedestrians, I caught sight of a rapidly-moving figure heading towards me from the right. As I turned towards the movement, and the figure resolved into a young woman in a denim skirt and a brown jacket, I realized why her movement had attracted my attention. She was walking briskly, slightly bent over, with her hands over her ears.
That, in and of itself, would not have been enough to set my brain to buzzing, but added to the fact that I had observed two other people, at two different times earlier in the day, in two different parts of the city, moving in exactly the same manner, it was enough to make me wonder if something odd wasn’t going on.
“There’s that look again.”
She must have thought she’d caught me woolgathering. She was mistaken, and her attempt to startle me was futile. I’d heard her approach and knew she’d been standing there for some seconds already.
“What took you so long?” I asked.
She harrumphed. “What, can’t a girl stop to look in a shop window along the way?”
I scratched my head and looked around again. “Have you been noticing anything odd?”
“What, you mean the people running around with their hands over their ears?”
I looked straight at her at that. I’d been hoping I was just blowing things out of proportion, but, of course, I should have known better. I couldn’t even remember the last time I’d blown anything out of proportion. My mind simply didn’t run that way. And now her statement of similar observations was confirming my concern.
She frowned. “I thought it was just some sort of local custom.”
I grabbed her by the arm and started moving further downtown. “We’re in Canada. Not sailing down the Ganges. This is odd.”
“Well,” she said. “I suppose that answers my question.”
“The question of why we’re here. There’s always a reason. We never just visit a place because it’s nice, or it sounds interesting, or it has lovely shops. There’s always a reason.”
“Having lovely shops is a reason.”
“Not the kind of reason that takes you anywhere. You always have a big reason.”
I allowed myself a slight smile. “A big reason.”
“A huge reason.”
I grunted. “Yes, well… We really must work on your choices of words, mustn’t we?”
She harrumphed again. She was quite good at that. “Not that kind of monstrous. I mean monstrous big, not monstrous... monstrous.”
“I know. But it always seems to turn out both, doesn’t it?”
“What, you think these people are all running away from some kind of monster?” She looked around. “Then everybody’d be doing it, wouldn’t they?”
She snorted. “Oh, I know that tone. You’ve got a theory already, haven’t you?”
I stopped short and looked at her. “Actually, no. Not a clue.”
She looked at me with a puzzled expression. “Then why are we heading for the water?”
I shrugged. “It’s a lovely harbour. Thought I’d see how much the waterfront’s changed.”
She put her hands on her hips. “So you’ve been here before?”
I nodded. “Long time ago, though.”
“How long is long?”
I put my hand on my chin and thought about that for a moment. “I guess it would be about... oh... two-hundred...”
“Round about two-hundred-fifty years.”
She glared at me.
I raised my eyebrows. “Give or take.”
“Yes, well,” she said. “I should imagine a thing or two has changed in that time.”
“Oh, I dare say,” I replied, looking around. “Old Eddie Cornwallis would be stupefied by it all.”
I returned my attention to her. “Edward Cornwallis. The man who founded the place.”
She shook her head. “I thought it was Lord Halifax who founded it.”
“Oh, no. They just named it after him. It was Cornwallis got the job done.”
“And I suppose you knew him, did you?”
“Oh, I met him. Bit of a stiff, actually. Knew how to get things done, though.”
We were at the end of the street and standing at a T-shaped intersection. I looked at the street signs: Spring Garden Road and Barrington Street. I took her by the arm. “Come on. Let’s get moving.”
“Ooo, best hurry,” she muttered. “The harbour might change again before you get there.”
“Scoff all you want,” I muttered.
“I will, thanks,” she said. Her scolding tone was softening somewhat, and I could see the beginnings of a smile when I glanced at her.
I was just about to turn down Salter Street towards the harbour when she stopped short.
“What is it?” I asked, feeling suddenly impatient.
“Can we walk along this street for a bit before we dip down to the water?”
I rolled my eyes. “The shops, I suppose?”
She looked askance at me. “Well, I’m not getting much else out of this trip, am I?”
I sighed and let her lead on.