I let him go. The face-off has now broken up and the rest of our two groups are wandering off. Mine gravitates to Evelyn, who leads us to the end of the block and right onto Sewall Avenue. Once we have turned the corner out of sight of the other group, a few seconds elapse before Shigem asks, “Was he looking at me just now? I think he was.”
Evelyn puts her arm around his shoulder. “I know what you mean, honey, but I don’t think he meant you specially, because that gesture, that was from something earlier,” and she gives a quick account of the waxwork head at Downstairs, which is tasty news to him and Kim.
“Still … it did kind of look as if he thought Shigem was responsible,” says Kim.
Evelyn glances at him, nods slowly and comes to a halt at Emory Street. “We’ll come back to this. OK, this is Pippa’s building,” she says, indicating a grimy residential high-rise on the left which looms up a dozen storeys. “But before we go up, let’s grab some food over there.” So we carry on a couple more blocks, to where the Hop Shing Chinese take-away is still open on Main Street. “Go ahead,” she tells us on the pavement outside it. “I’m going to call Pippa, to see if she wants us to bring any food up.”
After we’ve all placed our orders at the counter inside, a quiet voice on my right crackles, “Egg foo yong, please.” I turn and see a vacant-eyed, light-skinned black woman in her thirties, wearing a clean dark-blue sweatshirt with matching dark-blue sweatpants and a pair of black silk gloves. Her prominent green eyes look wet and hurt, as if she’s been crying hard, though there are no tear-stains. “That’s all,” she mumbles, distracted. Her gaze meets mine, and is then through me and beyond me, far away. I scent some emotional damage or absence in her, some churn of loss or deadened anger. Questions arise in connection with her order, simple though it was, and while she deals with these I notice there are tiny hesitations and freezes throughout her actions, as if all her movements have a slight stammer. There’s a sense of catatonic indecision and volcanic red embarrassment inside her. I realise that whenever she becomes aware of anyone watching her, she blushes; and those eyes really do look as if they must be regular water-pipes. At last her food arrives, along with ours. She pays, picks up her bag, turns away and floats out from this fluorescent box and into the summer night.
“Pippa,” calls Evelyn as I follow her out. “I’m meant to be coming to your place now. I thought you’d flaked out, girl! I just left a message on your phone.”
“Sorry,” Pippa blinks. “It’s always later than I thought…” She trails off, then starts again, as if confiding to Evelyn, “I once answered a pay-phone on the street. A man said he was behind a window, looking down at me. He said he didn’t know how to come down and meet people, and he wanted me to visit him because calling the pay-phone was the only way he dared to ask for company. I said sorry, no, but it probably wouldn’t make a difference anyway…” She notices the four of us standing around her with bags of food, and trails off again. “Oh…” she says and blushes.
“Pippa, this is Alaia, Kim and Jaymi … and I think you know Shigem?”
“Oh, hi … hi … hi… Hi Shigem, yeah, I’ve seen you round…”
“Did you catch that Sound & Vision thing I told you about on the General Network tonight?”
“I don’t know,” she says vaguely. “The TV’s always on but I keep the sound off.”
“If you don’t recognise his face,” says Evelyn, pointing at me, “then you didn’t see it… No, you didn’t see it. Anyway, they’re friends of mine from New York. Can they join us at yours for a while?”
“Oh … sure…” and she looks at us shyly.
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