The square patterns of plaid on his shirt were worn and faded much like the skin visible on his face. The narrowness of his facial bones seemed intrinsically placed but were noticeably extra skinny through time and experience.
His jeans were loose and faded, and even more so at the knees. They were stained with filth but fitted to his stature.
His stare was blank as he stood with his eyes facing the metallic shine of the up and down escalators he stood in between. Metro-takers of a plethora of ethnicities, ages and social backgrounds stared blankly at the floor, passing the man, letting the stairs move them in motions that both defied and flowed with gravity.
I took the stairs in nervous contemplation to the level of Concordia that smells almost acidic of greasy pizza before returning to the bottom of the escalators to stand beside the homeless man.
Many questions of bribery flashed through my mind as I paused in front of him, parting my lips, letting some of the hesitation out in thoughts:
- “Would you mind answering a few questions for me? I can buy you a coffee and a sandwich…”
- “I’ll buy you want you want if you answer my questions…”
- “Do you want me to buy you lunch? If you don’t mind, I just have a few questions for you to answer please…”
No matter which inner monologue voice I used to practice my conversation starters in, they all sounded presumptuous, misinformed, and even a bit pushy.
“Do you mind answering a few questions for me?” I began saying. Displeased with my sentence I added, “It’s for a school project. I have to conduct an interview. I can buy you lunch if you’d like.”
“I’m not hungry” he said in an answer full of power fitted for my fumbling approach.
“I mean, I just have some questions. Are you interested in answering them?”
“How long will this take” he asked, protecting himself from my unknowness.
“Just a few minutes.”
We stepped aside closer to the ancient stairs that no one takes anymore before performing proper introductions.
“I’m Tamara” I said, putting out my hand for a shake.
He shook my hand firmly while pronouncing my name.
“What was your childhood dream?” I asked.
“To play pro sports” he answered without detail.
“What was the pivotal point that got you to where you are?” I wondered.
“It was a divorce and a work accident that put me on disability leave. When I moved here from Ontario, the Quebec government wouldn’t cover my disability.”
In my mind my eyes widened at the sheer familiarity of the word divorce.
“Do you have any health issues?” I asked redundantly as I read off of my paper, answering it with a yes on my own.
“Do you have any children?” I wanted to know.
“Yes. I have three.”
He watched me, contrived, write down in incomplete sentences whatever he told.
Foolishly, I may have asked, “What is the worst thing that has happened to you while homeless?”
“Probably the time I got stabbed” he answered much like you would in a high school “Most Memorable Moment” kind of way.
“How did that happen?”
“Well several guys swarmed me, wanted my money; we fought but they took my money, stabbed me and ran.”
“What is the best thing that has happened to you while homeless?” I said, trying at changing the subject.
“Nothing really” he told me with caution.
“Do you subscribe to any religion?”
“No” he said much like many do.
“What would it take for you to no longer be homeless?”
We both had our shoulders pressed against the metro wall, with just a foot and some of space between us.
“A living space, a disability pension” he answered assuming that that’s what it would take.
He watched me as I jotted down his answer, misspelling pension and not bothering to correct it.
“What about prison?” I asked without my paper. “I mean,” I said as I began to explain a possibly pretentious theory I have: “I like to think that if ever became homeless that I would try to go to prison because then at least I would have daily meals, a roof over my head and time to work on writing a novel and getting ripped. I wouldn’t go for a felony, but more for late tax returns, or because I shot a brick through a window.”
He expressed a great laugh at me; we both couldn’t help but to smirk at the nonsense and the lack of reality in the world that I presently live in.
“I’ve been to prison before and back in the 80’s it wasn’t so bad. I worked out, I made friends. It was a safe environment – believe it or not. Now, that isn’t the place you want to be anymore. Even if you just threw a brick through a window.”
I didn’t argue. I don’t know the first thing about actual prison.
“Does your family know that you’re homeless?”
I didn’t press to ask why.
“Can your family help?”
“No” he said. “I don’t want my kids to know I’m homeless. They’re in their 30’s and I have this idea that I am still supposed to be taking care of them until I’m much older. That’s what parents are supposed to do, right?” he asked, in search for my agreement.
“You know Tamara, my kids had everything. They were spoiled when they were younger. I had a great job, I was making 1.5k to 2k a week.”
I watched him as he opened up to me.
“I did contracting at some point. You know what that is, right?” he wanted to make sure.
I smiled. “I know exactly what that is. My father is a contractor.”
“Okay,” he continued with enthusiasm, “well I used to do brick laying – and man did I love that! I like physical jobs. I got a few jobs here but you have to be licensed, otherwise…”
“..You get fined. A lot” I said, in sync with his thought.
“So, what do you have planned for tonight or tomorrow? Do you visit any shelters?”
“I usually take it day by day. I don’t visit the shelters much, it’s not my thing. I don’t get hungry until later on in the evening and I don’t have much of an appetite anymore. I hate using the shelters because part of me wants to help myself. I guess it just makes me uncomfortable taking from them. The goal for me is to just save enough to live in a hotel for a few nights. Some of us get money, maybe 500$ or so from the government, but if you spend a week in a hotel, well it’s gone.”
“I see. And you’ve never used the shelters really?”
“Not much. At first I did, but now it’s a bit of a pride thing.”
“I get it” I said, “I guess similar to how you don’t want to take help sometimes or use the shelters or tell your family the truths about your situation, passers-by are mostly apprehensive in where their change is going, if they don’t just have any on them at all. I’m also fearful honestly sometimes too, because the only interactions I’ve had with homeless men and women begin and end with aggressive shouting as I walk by.”
He nodded in familiarity to my conceptions.
“Where would you like to see yourself in 10 years time, my friend?”
“That’s a hard question to answer. Hopefully just with a home and stable. That’s all I really want.”
I wish I could have said something like Oprah or Ellen at the end of this interview like: “Well, you don’t have to hope anymore because we’re giving you” as my voice and excitement would both raise in octave together, “a brand-NEW HOME WITH A COMPLETELY PAID FOR MORTGAGE!”
Instead, unfortunately in that instant all I could do was scour my wallet for 7 student dollars, shake the man’s hand, wish my new friend well, and maybe promise myself to smile at him the next time our paths cross.
As I began to walk away, “Don’t be afraid, Tamara” he conseiled me, “there are some destructive homeless people who are violent and dangerous, but there are some really nice ones too. Stay away from the violent ones, and just remember: we’re people too.”
Two days later at 11:00 p.m. inside of Concordia metro station, at the bottom of the stairs I saw the new friend I had made.
While my friends and I drifted to the bottom of the escalators, we rummaged through our bags searching for change.
“Remember me!?” I asked with grand excitement.
“Yes!” he said with a huge smile, trying to hide his drunken eyes.
When I noticed the gloss over his brown irises and the tiredness of them, and the oddness in his behaviour, I grew disappointed though I understood his choice.
He backed away from me with disappointment in himself as his body language changed, his shoulders softening.
I handed him a few fingers-grab of money and the apple from my bag that I had failed to eat during the day.
To the state I found him in only two days later, I couldn’t help but to think unhappily, “You’re drunk. That’s what you went and did!”
Except that’s probably what I would have done too.
A coffee shop chair warmed my bum as I sat aligned with a Filipino looking boy, looking quite my age.
He doodled for as many hours as I sat there reading.
We made fair eye contact in between our gazing out the window and staring at the street with all of its heavy flows of people.
I rested my book across the chairs’ arm, pressed my elbows into my knees and held my head heavy and low in between the palms of my hands. Closing my eyes I felt tired and sore like I hadn’t gotten rid of the plague-of-a-cold that has been circulating through Montreal these days.
Only letting my eyes open as large as a paper cut, the streets’ sun seeped through the open spaces I had left in between my fingers.
The Filipino boy looked at me and then back to his drawings, watching me almost as though I was a snake behind a zoo glass doing unlike-snake-things.
I caught him though, guys. Not to worry.
He then said, leaning forward, through the sounds of the music in my ears, “Do you have the time?”
I looked to him curiously because I had previously noticed his phone sitting beside him on the couch with some Dr. Dre Beats plugged in.
“It’s 1:57 p.m.” I told him with a tone of suspiciousness.
The man watching from one table over heard the boy’s question, saw my reaction and took an acute notice to the cell phone clearly on display beside the question master.
I began packing up my things.
“That’s a nice bag you have” he complimented.
“Oh, thanks. It was a gift from a friend of mine.”
I took out a pitted date from my bag and bit half of it away.
Pulling out the entire grocery store packaging next, I had an idea: if this boy is quick enough, I’ll give him my number.
Inching my butt to the edge of the chair, I held out the bag of Dates and said, batting my eyelashes, “Would you like a Date?”
The Filipino boy responded to my double offer in a squared-out, singular way: “Oh no, I’m pretty full. I just ate. Thank you though.”
“Alright” I said smiling outwardly to the coffee shop, but mostly just to myself.
Zipping up my jacket, walking toward the doors, and braving myself for the cold I thought with great humour, “Well, he WAS a bit off with timing…”
I remembered seeing those brown, bubble eyes before. They had a large, soft look to them like the fluff that forms on a knitted scarf after it’s been snagged on a patch of a child’s velcro.
I stood leaning on the doors of the metro watching him raise the muscles in the right side of his face to form almost the peak of a mountain; his eye winked and his lips smiled at me while he towered over his friend sitting down.
He leaned his right shoulder back, resting on the doors parallel to mine. There was lots of space and air between us until a tiny laugh ruptured from my belly hoisting up my lips, but mostly curving them up on the left side of my mouth. It wasn’t a complete smile you see.
Directing my look to another part of the metro car, I noticed a man who I had served just this past weekend at work. We stared at each other but he didn’t change his face which hinted at how he probably didn’t remember me.
I searched the STM app persistently for the most convenient stations I could get off at that I would only have to wait a maximum of three impatient minutes for a bus. Racking my brain through all of this, I tried my very hardest to pinpoint where this man and I had previously seen each others faces before. All ends were open – it could have been anywhere.
At Jolicoeur I slipped out of the train and the man followed tightly behind me, and then to my side leaving his friend to continue on, seated alone.
“Hey!” he exclaimed.
“Hi” I fronted.
“I’ve seen you before, more than once” he said, reading my mind.
“I know. I remember your face as well, I just can’t remember where” I said as we began to have a real interaction on this cold Tuesday.
“Maybe in La Salle” he gave as an idea, “you were with some friends” he told me.
“I think it was in the summer actually, on the metro. You were wearing a pink shirt.”
“I really don’t know, I don’t remember what I was wearing” he said, making me realize that it was a peculiar and a bit of an unorthodox detail for me to point out.
“This isn’t my stop but I thought I’d get off and not miss this occasion” he confessed.
“I realized” I thought to myself.
“You’re very cute” he said lightly smiling.
My green eyes smized through my bangs with the intent of thanking him as they stared into the deep pools of dark chocolate located on his face just bellow his eyebrows, just above his cheek bones.
“We should exchange phone numbers” he said as another idea.
“You should give me your phone number” I said carefully, pointing my index finger to him.
In a stream of sounds, my fingers retorted on my phone’s screen to the numbers I understood I heard.
Watching in a way, he said in front of me, “No, it’s 88 there, not 87.”
I corrected the number and laughed at the thought of taking down the wrong one.
He gave me his name as we shook hands but I kept my name to myself.
“I hope I see you soon” he shared.
“Right. Pleasure to meet you” I said, remembering my manners.
I walked away up the stairs not looking back on what had happened.
The softness of his eyes made imprints into my blank mind that was clouded in that present moment.
I didn’t quite know what to make of the pink, t-shirted, brown-eyed man I remembered from two seasons before.
Standing in line, my shadow was crept up on as the bus I had the hopeful intentions on taking pulled up alongside the curb. The sun dashed behind the large chunk of bus making it shine less on the frosted pavement.
My steamy, warm bubble that I was waiting in, busted and the richness of the image of the colour of his eyes that I was consumed in hastily left me.
He was a brown-eyed boy.
The metro slid through the tracks lining up to the indicator stickers stuck on the platform just as I walked down the stairs to the rhythm of my music.
When I came out from the metro, the bus that would conveniently take me to the corner of my place of work pulled away from the sidewalk fashionably 1 minute after I boarded it.
The morning was dull and the clouds were low and draining on the many faces that mine passed. I caught everything that morning on time as though a red balloon of luck and optimism were following, attached to a string behind me.
But then I caught a man’s attention, and well, he followed me instead.
Stepping off of the bus I felt a shadow mimicking my own.
I moved out of the man’s way and waited on the sidewalk for the pedestrian cross-walk-stick-figure sketch to tell me what to do next. The man I originally tried to avoid stood silent and beside me.
The green man from the cross walk box appeared like a Light-Brite creation ahead in my gaze, making me move hastily almost as though I took his countdown from 22 as a challenge.
The man followed and stuck beside me like the velcro on a child’s sneaker as he kept my pace.
The man spoke: “Hey, what time is it?”
“It’s five to eight” I replied, looking at my phone, lowering the sounds of my music but keeping my headphones in the caves of my ears.
Precipitously, the averaging on 40 year-old said to me as I continued to walk and keep my eyes staring at something in the off distance, “I like your boots.”
Without a moment of pause he asked faster than I could really make sense of the question, “Do you wear them a lot?”
“I mean, yes…” I answered.
“Do you watch sports?” he wanted to know.
“Not particularly” I answered, afraid to ask why.
The scattered pattern of his speech came to a switch when he began repeating instead.
“Do you go fishing? Do you like to fish? Do you, do you go fishing?”
“Yes” I said calmly, looking to his cheek.
He stared at my feet for a moment.
“And you wear those boots? Do you wear those boots when you fish? Do they laugh at you for that? Don’t they laugh at you for that?”
“No, because I wear those” I said, pointing at his feet which were protected by rain boots.
He glanced down making sure his own boots were appropriate for the activity we were discussing.
“But these are men’s boots. You wear men’s boots? Don’t they laugh at you, laugh at you, laugh at you?”
“Well I go fishing with my Dad.”
“They don’t laugh at you?” he spoke faster, “doesn’t your dad laugh at you?”
“My dad’s never really been one to laugh at me too much” I confessed.
We were halfway through the parking lot, two more minutes from the front doors of my work.
“Are you wearing a dress? Is that a dress you’re wearing?”
I began to laugh.
“Is that a dress or a skirt” he said becoming very quizzical, wondering why I had laughed.
“It’s a dress” I confirmed.
“Oh cool!” he said, oddly taking a pause, “do you wear that when you go fishing? Do you wear dresses when you go fishing or skirts or shorts when you go fishing? Do you wear that?” he asked, looking at my body.
I said very sharply, as suddenly as the something inside of my brain that cracked, “Okay. I’ve had enough now.”
The man, in that instant, literally ricochet off of me and began walking back towards the bus stop where we met.
Like I said, I caught everything that morning.
It’s almost like I went fishing.
Tucked away in the corner I sat face-to-face with Laptop.
We’ve been seeing each other for a while now, always gazing to and fro into the bright LED eyes of my soul mate; holding hands, sometimes dabbling and pressing each other’s buttons. There are moments too when he re-directs to other sites, freezing on the profiles of pretty, Facebook girls. He gets overheated sometimes, and shuts-down and won’t look at me for a while, angry and hot. I mean, I do leave him at home some nights when I go out – I think it’s just better that way for the both of us though – but somehow I later end up back with him.
In front of him always, playing with his keys only, letting him keep all of my deepest secrets and obsessions inside of him, never telling another hardrive about them. He’s been loyal to me, staying close beside my hips while we travel – he’s my rock, my ABS plastic.
We went out together today just to spend the afternoon alone, we wanted the out-but-tucked-away feeling and we found it.
It was so perfect, so cozy sitting in front of the window beside the heater with him while we talked about what we wanted to drink, the fresh snow that had just fallen – everything – we talk about everything.
A Persian man’s orange, tangy sweater was reflected off of the glass in front of us. He was still and silent.
“Hi” I heard from behind us.
I looked at his eyes that were printed onto the glass before I turned around to face him.
“Can I have your name?” he asked.
“No, I’m alright thank you.”
I looked deep into Laptop’s eyes to show that I am with someone.
“You have the internet there” he said as he looked at Laptop.
“Yup, we do” I replied for us.
He spoke again: “I just wanted to tell you how pretty you are.”
“Thank you” I said, while I turned to the glow of his orange sweater, “that’s sweet of you.”
The eyes of Laptop closed; they idled almost in fear to the sounds of the words another man gave me.
“I just see there that you have a Toshiba, and well, so do I” the Persian man said telltale.
Laptop’s eyes were still shut tight; it was as if he could not bear to look at me in front of this orange sweater-ed man.
Examining the coffee shop, searching outward from our corner, I pointed to across the room and said humorously but frankly, “Yeah, I think they have a Toshiba over there too…”
“You’re funny” the man spoke, “Haha.”
I looked back to Laptop putting my hands over his, warming them in an I’m-back way.
His eyes lit up again and shimmered at me, bright and happy that I didn’t leave him for the man’s orange sweater.
By the end of my Poetry class, a boy who always sits to my left of the room, handed me a lined piece of paper.
Written in pencil all over, and in verse style was his poetic response to my initial slam expression of a recent experience:
“Last class you sounded pretty angry, from a broken heart –
Read it over again next time you have a doubt.
If you’re looking for a hint, if you’re looking for a clue,
Just remember this: Mr. True will come to you.”