Our apartment complex is quit diversified, which is one reason I like it so much. There’s an older woman and her daughter who wear the most beautiful saris, and the guy across the way is a young hip-hop rapster, or whatever they’re called.
There is one couple who has always fascinated me. I believe they’re Chinese, but they could be descendant from another nationality. For the sake of the story, we’ll think of them as The Chinese Couple.
Regardless of the weather, he’s out every day for a walk around the complex. Most days, his wife accompanies him. I use the word ‘accompany’ loosely, because she always walks five paces behind him. No matter what happens, whether crossing the street or rounding corners, she maintains that distance.
They’re an older couple but not elderly. Probably about five or ten years older than me. When the man walks, he does so with his hands clasped, firmly but comfortably, behind his back. He never looks right or left; never looks back at his wife, but always straight ahead.
She is not quite as rigid. She tends to look at the ground or his back, but I’ve caught her eye a time or too and she has a shy smile for me.
Today, was beautiful, with cool winds after last night’s storm. I was standing at the screen door, drinking my morning coffee when I noticed them. Both were wearing black pajama-like pants and black nylon jackets. He had a black t-shirt, she had a white and blue floral print. Today’s walk differed from all the others, as she was talking on a cellphone.
Now you know when you talk on a cellphone that your walking rhythm is disrupted. While she talked, she began to slow down. When he finished crossing the street in front of our place, she was actually 20 or so paces away from him.
He stopped on the corner, but not to turn around, either to admonish or to wait patiently. No, he lifted his head straight in front of him, and contemplated the top of the large tree directly across the way. Picture, if you will, a mature, distinguished Chinese gentleman dressed in black, hands clasped firmly behind him, face lifted towards the heavens. There he remained, face impassive, the only movement a slight flexing of his back — forward, as if he had risen on the balls of his feet.
She continued walking leisurely, talking on the phone, until she had crossed the street. She moved into her usual place, directly behind the man, but she stopped too soon and ended up being about ten paces back. He didn’t make a move, just stood there, legs locked, hands clasped, face turned to the heaven in contemplation.
Eventually, realizing her mistake, she moved forward five paces, still talking on the phone. It was as if she stepped on a switch, because as soon as she was her usual five paces back, he turned away from the tree, face directly forward, and continued his walk.
She was still on the phone, though, and her pace continued to be irregular. It was just before I was going to look away, just before they moved past the building across the way that I caught him–quickly, and as stealthily as possible, glancing ever so slightly over his left shoulder behind him, to see where his wife was; making an imperceptible change in his pace so that the distance between them remained constant.