I stand alone, looking into a storefront window on a Toronto downtown street and ask myself, “Who am I? Am I a person?” Most don’t see me as that. I am an obstacle, a speed bump on a time-starved lunch hour. My spot is between the CIBC bank and the Bay Street subway steps. When I’m moved from there, I make my way downhill to Queen and University where at least eight more gather like pigeons in the park.
I see new and old faces, but it’s the familiar ones that get to me. Oh, I put on a brave face and sometimes even let my real face show – the sane one. People give you more if they think you can’t help it, I learned that quickly. Act stupid, mumble and smile, there’s breakfast. It’s as simple and as hard as that.
You see I live in the inner city. I sleep in alleyways and on subway grates. I eat from dumpsters and shower in the rain. My clothes could stand up by themselves and my feet are as worn and leathered as an old shoe. I am a woman, or used to be, now, only a part of this city. I am something to be talked about by travellers returning home. I am a famous stranger with a forgettable face.
My life before is a fractured dream and its presence stings my senses. My voice is soft when listened to for I fear what I might say. I may have to defend my reason for living and I don’t really have one, only what might have been if the world were on my side. I don’t think I would know how to live a normal life, if there is such a thing.
I am thirty-nine years old. I was thirty-five the night baby Charlie was born; the same night my husband Jack drove the old dodge caravan into the Niagara River. Little Sam got stuck in the car seat. Jack showed up at the hospital in an ambulance. Without my little Sam I was nothing. The booze woke me from my hollow world, but that led me here. Where they are now is just something I don’t want to know.
This is as good a hell as any I suppose. My life is as it is and the world moves with or without me. Little would change if I were not here. My spot would still exist. I hope it got the care it deserves, it is a good spot.
The smells of the city hover above, just out of reach. Smell is underrated. It propels me into unforeseen directions. I wander aimlessly towards such fantasies as fried onions and hot chestnuts or popcorn.
“Please sir, just a quarter, only a quarter and I won’t ask again tomorrow.”
But I will, for one day runs into the next, sometimes with no barrier between the two. Spring turns into summer and summer turns into fall.
Winter is coming.