How do you get to know a person? You talk to them, right? Hi. What’s your name? What do you do for a living? Where are you from? Most relationships start with small talk, but there’s an intimacy to being strangers to someone that can’t be described with a single word or phrase. Because of clashing schedules and busy lives, many of us have spent at least one moment or another alone, whether it be studying in the library during a break, grabbing a quick bite or even commuting to school. When I’m not zoning out looking through a window or burying my nose in a textbook, I like to think about the endless possibilities to be had with strangers. As Alice Munro put it, it’s like “looking into an open secret, something not startling until you think of trying to tell it.”
Just the other day, I was waiting in line to order at Subway. I wasn’t sure what to order, so I decided to listen to the guy in front of me and copy his exact words. “One six-inch sub of the day on honey oat bread, please.” I noticed a slight tremble to his voice. Was he nervous to order? Was he, also like me, unsure of what to order? Or maybe he was just so hungry he couldn’t think properly. I wondered what it was.
Walking towards the 510 Spadina streetcar from the northbound subway, I trailed down the path where street musicians often play for small change. I happened to be right behind a girl who seemed to be my age. I figured we’d both walk by casually but then she reached into her purse and tossed in some loose change. Did she always participate in this random act of kindness? Or was the music especially deserving today? Was this something her parents or guardian had taught her to do? I wondered what it was.
I didn’t think much of these thoughts until we discussed Alice Munro’s Open Secrets in English Class (ENG215 if anybody is wondering). Through the few observations the narrator makes on a couple, she begins to wonder about the possibilities behind them and this startled her. We can see so much without even saying a word. We can choose what to say and what decisions to make, but at the end of the day, it’s the little things we do that reveal our open secrets.