Indonesian Restaurant Montréal, 1985 Monday, lunch time. I am meeting Ian and Michael in an Indonesian restaurant on Saint Denis near Sherbrooke, close to the bus terminal. We will eat outside, in a warm and pleasant Montréal summer. Late nineteen eighties.

I wait on the sidewalk. Five minutes go by. Michael strolls along. We shake hands and descend onto the sunny patio in the front part of the restaurant. From this level we can see the bottom halves of people on roller blades trying to avoid traffic.

Michael, a tall thin man originally from British Columbia, moved to the multilingual metropolis sometime in 1982 to finish his degree in economics and development studies. He always wears hand me down shirts. His face is a missionary pinkish white and will never tan. His slender nose lifts up slightly on the left side. He has on tight charcoal grey jeans and shoes with cruel metal tips, as well as a worn black dress jacket which has become shiny, a packet of Camels in the outside pocket. His brown hair parts on the left side, flopping down over his forehead. I first met Michael on a snowy evening outside the Bar Saint Laurent, which is across the street from Schwartz's Smoked Meat. Inside Schwartz's you can, if you want, donate money for Israeli soldiers. That night, when our hands shook, he slipped me a sincerely written propaganda sheet describing the effects of nuclear war. I was moved by his commitment to the anti nuclear struggle.

When they were in love, Michael and Ian used to kiss in a bar that a Euro African owned. Their open sexuality made me feel good. Back then, Michael's theory of activism was that it was a good idea to include the suburbs in consciousness raising ventures. Besides, he was curious about the assholes of teenagers who hung around pinball arcades and needed conversion.

That was his anti nuclear phase. Now he has risen into AIDS politics, where the search for research and support funding has become important. He's happy he became an activist and not a post modernist, about whom he used to say, "Nothing really mattered except that this kind of thinking could produce flashy careers, loads of international travel, maybe even a noisy, safe screw at conferences in Paris, or London: hand job sperm on a laser disc at warp speed."

Ian is shorter, sober, equally trim with a skin that tans. We see him walking up Saint Denis. He carries a shiny brown briefcase. He, too, has an AIDS related job in Ottawa.

"Hi, guys, how are you doing?" Ian says. "Fine," we respond.

Our waitress brings us Indonesian entrées which we start picking at. "Nice cuff links, Ian."

Ian smiles and places Somerset Maugham's East of Suez: a play in seven scenes on the table.

Our chairs squeak into position, and our elbows pull the white tablecloth tight as a drum. "I've had dinner here before," Ian remarks. "Just leave the ordering up to him, then," Michael mutters, looking into the menu. "Everything is going to be in a peanut sauce anyway; chicken, beef, lamb, pork, all cooked with great expertise in the extract of peanuts." Our waitress takes our order on a small pad with spiral binding. She wears large hoop earrings, maybe six inches in diameter. It is possible that they are real silver. It is possible that they are not real silver. A bead of sunlight twinkles in one earring with precarious fragility. Her mellifluously black hair gently flows back over her neck. She has on a white shirt. She whisks her peacock flared black dress against the summer breeze and walks towards the back of the restaurant, where she is engulfed in darkness. Michael looks at me. "Julian, don't you feel ridiculous, having thought about our waitress?"

"AZT make you a mind reader?" I joke.

Ian, snuggling his briefcase near his chair, asks, "Isn't she the one who was at your soiré of many races and languages? She's the woman who is doing her MA thesis on whatever from a typical ladies' studies point of view?"

"She leaves for Princeton in the fall, never judge a book by the cover," Michael says adroitly. Fire touches the end of a fresh Camel. Michael, the match, and the cigarette become one.

"It's wrong to have such an impression of her, but I agree she does dress a bit like some of all of them," Ian says flatly. Michael adds, "And she is doing a dumb fuck thesis like all of them, too." We glide from subject to subject: AIDS funding strategies, the number of cases in Africa, the number of new cases in Zaire, facts, the treatments. How nationalist African Americans visit Western African countries to bury their placentas. Placenta graveyards in Ghana, Senegal, the Ivory Coast, Gambia, Sierra Leone. "Placenta nationalism -- rather different from the nationalism here," Michael snickers.

"Let's talk about tolerance," I say.

Cover painting, "Four Pakistani Painters Boarding a Train for Paris," 1977, 1998 by Julian J. Samuel
Text ©1998 by Julian J. Samuel
Full copyright and publication information on Passage to Lahore
Excerpt, Chapter 16