When I’m feeling particularly anxious, I like to mentally record moments of tenderness around me. A father cuts up a waffle for his son before digging into his own at a Deep Cove cafe. A man sketches the likeness of his friend as they sit on benches by the Seawall. So far, I’ve counted two forehead kisses blocked by masks from the couple hopelessly in love on the Expo line.

It gets me out of my head for a bit, and feeds into my inner flâneur, to watch little moments from strangers. I’ll wander aimlessly, or perch myself in a spot with an ideal vantage point—a window seat at a Gastown cafe on rainy Mondays, the smoothest rock jutting into the water at Spanish Banks in scorching July—and people-watch like it’s a sport.

Some days I’ll play that game where you make up stories about each passerby: she signed her divorce papers this morning and now she’s treating herself to red lipstick and white wine; they’re on a first date and already arguing about the validity of astrology. It doesn’t matter how close to the truth I get. Actually, the further from reality, the better. People-watching is an exercise in imagination.

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ayesha habib photos of strangersI like to think about how lives collide together and come apart in millions of ways just by walking down the street. Shoulders brushing against each other, fragments of conversation, a passing smile even though you don’t know them. Fleeting moments of connection. After months and months of deliberately avoiding strangers—keeping our guards up against potential carriers of virus residue—even the smallest of micro-interactions now feel meaningful.

That energy feels palpable lately, as if we’ve all been socially starved for one another, for conversation that’s not interrupted by poor internet connections and pixelated distortions. The man getting his morning Americano (black, no sugar) at the Narcissus lingers a little longer to chat with the barista about how he’s taking up Capoeira at Axé. He gesticulates adamantly and pulls out his phone to show the barista videos of the Brazilian martial arts form. I watch the interaction from a corner table and smile to myself; it’s nothing special really, just two people making small talk—and yet, it feels particularly special in the context of a world that’s been disconnected for so long. 

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In Vancouver, where social interactions can have a reputation for cliquey-ness at best or coldness at worst, watching strangers get a little more excited to chat to each other feels all the more wholesome. As I walk this city’s streets, I wonder if our time in isolation will make us more open to connection in whatever form it comes to us, even in the most minute of exchanges.