Monday, July 14, 2008

Fifth Business

" opera, in a permanent company of the kind we keep up in Europe, you must have a prima donna- always a soprano, always the heroine, often a fool; and a tenor who always plays the lover to her; and then you must have a contralto, who is a rival to the soprano, or a sorceress or something; and a basso, who is the villain or the rival or whatever threatens the tenor.

So far, so good. But you cannot make a plot work without another man, and he is usually a baritone, and he is called in the profession Fifth Business, because he is the odd man must have Fifth Business because he is the one who knows the secret of the hero's birth, or comes to the assistance of the heroine when she thinks all is lost, or keeps the hermitess in her cell, or may even be the cause of somebody's death if that is part of the plot."

-From 'Fifth Business' by Robertson Davies.

I'm pushing 40. I'm invisible to a group of teens outside of a Wendy's at Martingrove and Highway 7. There's grey in my beard and I'm driving an old Volvo and have nothing to interest any of them. They're grouped around cars that they probably think are set for street racing, clearly the kind of kids who take great pride in using Armor All on their tires. I never was, never knew, this variety of kid.

I'm at this particular burger stop for lack of anything else to do. My wife is at a wedding factory a few kilometres away, performing at a Persian wedding. I've just come from a barbecue and I'm not dressed inconspicuously enough to wander into the hall and watch her routine (shorts and sandals probably won't do). So I'm at Wendy's to drink coffee and read Salon off my Treo and wait for her to call when she's done. The restaurant is filled around 50/50 with kids who consider it a social event and shift workers just starting out or just ending. I don't fit into either category.

I read tiny pixelated text until my eyes begin to blur, and finally decide to drive back to the hall and watch the crowd smoking at the front door. But first, a trip to the men's room. When I walk in, I see a kid (maybe 20?) at the sink, delicately dabbing a wad of paper towel on a bloodied fat lip. He barely notices me and I walk around him. It's none of my business. After a few seconds, there's a knock on the door and a girl's voice saying "Hello...? Excuse me...?" which is geuninely unexpected.

I wash my hands quickly and open the door a crack. There are three girls, late teens, looking like something. Worried, pissed off or vaguely curious. I can't tell. One says "Sorry, but is there a guy in a yellow soccer shirt in there?"

I say "Let me check," since they probably don't know that the room is no bigger than two urinals, a stall, and two sinks. I close the door and the guy at the mirror looks at me. I sort of point over my shoulder and he sort of shakes his head. It'd be funny if he had fear in his eyes, or embarrassment, or anything, really. But he just sends the international guy-language shrug of "I'm not dealing with this, help me out, okay?" and I give the nod that says "None of my business anyway, gimme a sec," and open the door.

I told the girls that there wasn't anybody in a yellow shirt in with me, but I saw a guy in a yellow shirt across the parking lot at the ice cream place. I don't know if they believed me. I don't know if they gave him the fat lip, or were worried about him, or were about to explain to him that he'd gotten off light. I'm also old enough to have warranted a 'sir' out of one of them ("Thank you, sir") as they left.

I closed the door. He looked at me and mouthed "Thanks." I waved it off and left. A pointless bit of karma from where I stood. But I was just bored enough to wonder what events came together to shape that story, or what's going to come out of it. Probably nothing.

Somebody got hit. Somebody wanted a status report. I wandered in from the periphery and climbed comfortably back into nowhere. Not even Fifth Business to the events. Six point seven-fifth's business at best. I'd appear eighth-billed as 'The guy who gets the girls off the soccer-shirted kid's back for five minutes before he faces the music or shrugs it off in front of them.' Invisibility has its benefits.


Anonymous said...

I have to teach Fifth Business in the next school year. I'm not looking forward to it - it took me three tries just to finish the damned book. I can't stand the main character, and the hagiography bores me to tears. Sigh. Damned canon!

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