Commentary, Profiles, Sandy's Drawing Room, Xavier Masson-Leach
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City Writers Room

Two Chinese men lean in but don’t look at each other. One is counting notes of different currencies, turning them over as he does. A cigarette rests delicately between his lips, the ash growing longer but he doesn’t touch it.

Neither does the other man and his cigarette jiggles in his mouth as he talks, writing subtitles in smoke.

Or maybe it’s writing something else. He talks urgently but neither of them seem concerned. He is wearing a leather jacket and thick black rimmed glasses that hide his eyes when he looks down.

He looks up and stops talking. He attempts to light a new cigarette from the butt in his mouth but it has gone out.

An airport is a non-place. People pass through without leaving their own worlds, waiting and yawning and thinking in different languages.

But in the smoking lounge everyone watches each other. Middle Eastern men have a particularly still and reverent way of smoking. The smoke curls up slowly and their eyes are cast down.

A middle-aged Canadian tries to start a conversation with two young guys. They smile and shake their heads discouragingly, speaking to each other in Arabic. One is small and effeminate with long straight hair and the other has a round head and swirling concentric crescents of facial hair. They both have expensive clothes and cheeky eyes. The one with the long hair takes a paper bag from his pocket. He carefully removes a pastry from inside and places it on top of the paper bag. They both nod their heads and smile at the Canadian. Take it. 

At a table outside a huge Saudi man is sitting with his family. He is wearing his crisp white robes as if it were a business suit. His beard is thick and black as a prophet’s and his hands are like shovels. He is making a face at his young daughter as he picks up his phone and sings into it:


He is grinning like a little boy. Sitting opposite him in every way, his wife is tiny and hooded in black. Her features are so light they drift away from her face.

Walking to the gate a Polish man, sunburnt and tattooed is swearing loudly and humorously at his wife. Perhaps he is not meaning to be humorous but this effect is created in the contrast between his red, bulging face and the jaunty straw hat he is wearing.

Behind them an Indian family is led by a tiny boy with eyes like overfull water drops about to drip.


Illustration courtesy


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