You Must Meet Lynnette

A short story about the connections - and disconnections - forged while choosing a movie at the public library

Uche Peter Umezurike - 08 February 2021

I waver at the stacked shelf, between choices, as I often do over movies. There’s a hint of citrus in the air, clementine or tangerine, I can’t tell. Voices trickle over the cubicles, hushed, like a couple pulling off mischief in the dark.

The titles whisper to me: Selma. Fences. Moonlight. Get Out. Just Mercy. Hidden Figures. The Secret Life of Bees. It’s Black History Month in Canada, and the Edmonton Public Library has a stand displaying myriad films about Black experiences. I think of how a gesture, an expression, a word, can be both ordinary and resonant. A touch can lift the heart but remain quite inadequate. It’s not uncommon to disregard such gestures.

Still, I waver. I’ve read Nella Larsen’s Passing and a passage about passing in Wade Compton’s After Canaan. But I’m torn between A United Kingdom and Loving. I remember a former student of mine had spoken fondly of A United Kingdom. She’d written an affecting essay, claiming that she felt connected to the woman in the film. On both covers is the image of a man and a woman—an interracial couple; the setting is pastoral. Yet, in the hues of the setting sun lurks a shadow, something or perhaps someone threatening connections, the intimacy of being.

‘That’s a good one,’ he says, his breath fans across my head.

I turn and see him towering over me—his face is the colour of his hair, wheat. He sports a black parka that’s open at the neck, and I can see the Edmonton Oilers T-shirt peeking through. He must have been brawny in his youth. But he is past sixty, stooped. Leaning forward, he reaches for The Green Mile. I notice the smattering of spots on his hand, spots you might find on an overripe banana.

‘This,’ he says. ‘You should watch it.’

‘I have,’ I reply.

‘Oh, really?’

The Green Mile and The Shawshank Redemption are my top two movies.’

‘You’re kidding me. A fan of The Shawshank Redemption, are you?’ The surprise in his voice betrays the disbelief on his face.

It’s naïve of me, but I sense a connection there, between him and me.

‘I’ve watched almost all the movies based on Stephen King’s novels.’

His eyes widen. ‘No, no, no, you don’t say. You have? You have?’ He glances around the hall. ‘You must meet Lynnette. She’s a film buff like you.’ His face breaks into a universe of smiles, and I imagine him two decades younger striding across the road to grab his neighbour in a bear hug.

‘Lynnette,’ he calls out quietly, motioning a woman over. He leans closer to me, brimming with goodwill, as though we’ve become neighbours. ‘Lynnette can quote a couple of lines from The Shawshank Redemption,’ he says. ‘She loves that movie.’

The silver-haired woman in a multicoloured Anorak walking towards us is squat, but her steps are sure, spry. I picture her hiking up a trail, poles in hands, rucksack slung over her shoulders. She squints, only momentarily, against the sun crouching over the Rockies. She puffs and heaves her frail body up the craggy trail—determined, autonomous. 

‘Meet this gentleman,’ he says, his hand hovering close as if to pat my shoulder. ‘I’m Tom, by the way. And here is Lynette. I was telling you about her.’ He kisses her on the forehead. I make a note to stop by at Safeway and grab some cinnamon rolls for my wife. ‘Lynnette has been putting up with my sorry ass for over thirty years.’

‘Don’t go all Barney over me, Tom,’ she says, slapping him on the shoulder. She stares at me like she’s struggling to figure out something.

‘I’m Uche,’ I introduce myself. ‘Nice to meet you both.’ 

Tom teases her to guess what my favourite movie is. Lynnette ticks him off for always wanting to show off. But they hold hands, warmly, accustomed to each other’s taunting.

‘Tell her.’ He prods me. ‘You’re a true fan of The Shawshank Redemption.’

‘And are you?’ She cranes her neck.

‘Hope is a good thing…’ I start to say.

‘…maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies,’ Lynnette completes the quote, smiling.

A connection, though slight, can be forged over a small detail. Lynnette and I dive into a whirlpool of recollections, reeling off titles until we fall short of breath. Then she asks what movie I’ve picked. Frowning, I tell her I can’t seem to decide. She offers to help me. 

‘You’d love this movie,’ she says, handing it to me. ‘It’s heartbreaking.’

Loving. That’s the title I’d been considering. I wonder what else I might have in common with this pleasant couple. I anticipate an invitation for coffee from the couple, not now, not the day after tomorrow, but soon enough. We could reminisce some more about movies! 

Tom suddenly asks what else I do aside from watching movies. For a second, I feel as if he’s scolding me, though he clarifies, ‘I mean, what kind of work do you do?’

‘I’m a student,’ I reply.

‘I see. Undergraduate—?’ He sees my green cap, with the embossed gold lettering, and exclaims, ‘Oh, you’re a student at the U of A. Our daughter graduated from the U of A. She has a master’s in biochemistry. She will be back to pick us up anytime now. If you’re still around, I’ll introduce you to her. She isn’t like Lynnette. She prefers watching a documentary.’

‘Oh great.’ It’s useless mentioning that I’m a doctoral student.

‘And what are you studying?’ Lynnette asks.

‘Masculinities,’ I tell her. She asks what kind of discipline that is. I explain that I study how writers portray men in their fiction. She looks genuinely surprised.

‘Now I see why you watch a lot of movies,’ Tom interjects, chuckling a little.

Lynnette asks if I’m an international student, I answer, ‘Yes.’

‘What country are you from?’

I consider saying, Antarctica—the same answer I’d given a man on the train who had interrupted my reading. I remember staring at an artefact in the national museum in New Delhi when a man walked up to me and asked where I came from. I looked at him and told him I was of the world. He squinched his brow and asked what part of the world that was. I swept my arms over my head. He moped at me as if I were lost and walked away, muttering to himself.

‘Nigeria,’ I tell Lynnette, stifling a sigh.  

‘I used to know a Nigerian family. Their children were well-behaved. But we’ve since lost contact.’

Tom asks, ‘How long are you here for?

I stare at him, imagining a cord being broken. ‘Depends on my program.’

‘There are many international students coming into Canada these days. Would you be returning to your country after your study?’

I waver only for half a minute. ‘My options are open.’ I turn to Lynnette, ‘Thanks for choosing the film. It’s been nice speaking with you both.’

‘You’re welcome,’ Lynnette says. ‘I hope we run into each other next time.’

‘You have a good one...’ Tom is saying. ‘How do you pronounce your name?’

I flash him a smile and head for the exit door.

Uche Peter Umezurike is a PhD Candidate and Vanier Scholar in the department of English and Film Studies at the University of Alberta. His research is on masculinities in Nigerian fiction. An alumnus of the International Writers’ Program (USA), he is a co-editor of Wreaths for Wayfarers, an anthology of poems, and his children’s book Wish Maker is forthcoming from Masobe Books, Nigeria, in fall 2021.