I am being followed.
Which is not the same as I have a following. If it were, the words would match.
I am being followed.
By a cat.
A tabby. A mackerel tabby.
It boarded the same downtown subway car as me and exited at the same station seven stops later, followed me up the stairs, outside. Could be a coincidence. But it seems too coincidental to be a coincidence.
Why is a cat following me? For questions like these I call my neighbour Lora (see My Neighbour Lora). She's a poet. She traffics in the unknowable.
"Hey Lora, why am I being followed by a cat?" I ask.
She pauses. A long pause. A pause that feels like the pause had paused to consider the pause. I eyeball the cat six feet away. It's rubbing up against an elderly man's leg. The elderly man smiles, pets the cat. Don't be fooled elderly man. That cat isn't the cat it wants you to believe it is.
"Lora? Still there?"
"Alan, you're not the one being followed. The cat is. So stop following him." Lora says and hangs up.
I'm following the cat? This was a formulation I had not considered. I sat down beside the elderly man on the bench. Watched the cat roll on its back.
"Just because you're losing, doesn't mean you're lost," the elderly man says. To me. Not to me. I don't know. He wasn't looking at me when he said it. He takes out a linen handkerchief and blows his nose.
"Did you just quote a Coldplay song?" I say.
"I heard it at the hospital. I'm getting chemo for my brain. Tumour size of a grapefruit up there. The five for two dollar grapefruit. He's right. The singer. Just because I'm losing doesn't mean I'm lost."
"Right," I say.
How can Lora say I was following the cat? I was in front of the cat. The cat was behind me. If I were following the cat, I'd be following what's behind me.
"Hey, who did you see first come out of the subway? The cat or me? I think that cat's following me. My friend Lora thinks I've been following the cat," I say to the elderly man.
"Your friend is wrong. You haven't been following the cat..."
"Phew. Good to know."
"...you've been following me. Just like the cat," he says.
"Why would I follow someone who quotes Coldplay lyrics?"
"Why does anybody do anything?" The elderly man says.
"What kind of answer is that?" I say.
"What kind of question is that?" He says.
The cat licks its paw, stops, looks up at me, looks over at the elderly man, pauses, goes back to licking its paw.
I feel like I'm in a Harold Pinter play.
I should leave before the elderly man so he doesn't think I'm following him. Too late. The elderly man gets up from the bench and walks away. Seconds later, the cat follows.
They must expect I'll do the same. Not a chance. I'm staying right here. He's wrong. Lora's wrong. I'm not the one doing the following.
After about a half hour a woman sits down beside me. She's tall and slim, short auburn hair, translucent skin, a face that would've caused Plato to reconsider the form of Beauty. I want to make her spinach lentil stew.
"Excuse me. But-. You are so beautiful I'd like to make you spinach lentil stew," I say.
"That's nice. I have a message from my grandfather. He's the elderly man who was here."
"Okay." I should want to crawl into a hole after that exchange. Yet-. Her face. She seems to know.
"Stop waiting 'til the shine wears off," she says.
"That's the message?"
"That's the message," she says.
I lean back. Close my eyes. Take a big breath.
What is the world coming to when elderly men quote Coldplay lyrics?