It’s great living in a relatively small town, where most people know each other fairly well— really it is! But once a week, I call up Gertie and ask her to pedal me over to the mall or even the train station a few towns over. I love people watching— not the creepy stalky kind, but the kind that lets me flex my creativity. I head over the corner coffee shop in the food court and pick up a large peppermint mocha. I can smell the cookies as the baker pulls them out of the large oven. Hip hop music is blaring from inside a clothing store. I see a pair of keys on the ground next to the garbage can. I sit, waiting for the stories to unfold.

An elderly couple walks up to the mall directory— holding hands…smiling at each other. They have been married 52 years. They’re shopping for a birthday present for their seventh of eleven great-granddaughters. She is an aspiring ballerina. I look up and the sweet couple is gone. I hope they found the perfect gift.

A frantic woman tears across the food court— coffee sloshing from the to-go cup she is clutching too tightly. She woke up late and realized she completely forgot her boss’s birthday. She darts into a bookshop to snag a witty card made by a local artist. She’ll love the card, but will be more than mildly annoyed that Simone is late for the third time this week.

A car alarm sounds and my mind is jolted back to reality just as a young father struts past with his wee one strapped to his chest. It’s almost his wife’s birthday and he wants to plan something special for her. He finds her a luxuriously soft bathrobe and some herbal teas. Breakfast in bed for the new mom will be perfect. 

My phone buzzes and it’s time for me to head back home. I wonder what story someone made up about me— the sweet old man sitting on the bench waiting for his grandkids to meet him for lunch.