The Good People

Posted on November 8, 2017. Filed under: British Columbia politics, Fentanyl, Health, Homelessness, Social justice, Substance abuse, Transportation | Tags: , , , |

The good people,

Neighbours, sitting across the aisle from each other

Discussed the cold that had taken everyone by surprise

“Snow’s coming soon,” the guy in front of me said

More knowing than the Canadian Weather Service

The exact science learned from living on the street

 

I had run out the door – late for a show

Forgetting that winter had arrived that day

Though I’d seen the icing-sugar snow covering the mountains

and had felt its cruel snap a few hours earlier

Now I see that I was meant to be reminded

of what it really felt like to be cold

 

I waited for the express bus at the corner, shuffling to keep warm

Needles of cold stabbing my naked hands

Wind blowing mercilessly through my hair

Its icy fingers reaching down my spine

 

Normally I’d walk to the next stop until it came

But it was Friday night on East Hastings

And I didn’t want to get caught in between stops

 

I wanted to fast-forward through the area a little further to the west

Not get too close to the pain

Or listen to the ramblings of naked loss

breathe the smell of old sweat and desperation

 

But the express didn’t come, and it was getting late

So I took the next bus

The number 14

And I shared a space with the good people of the neighbourhood

Who were warming up for a few blocks

 

The guy in front of me coughs – gasping

His shoulders shudder with the effort

He is wearing a thin acrylic sweater

that is even less of a match that night

than my own thin coat

 

A nasty looking cut, like a beacon, in the middle of his bald head

stares back at me like a cyclops

How such a cut could have happened I cannot fathom

How it will ever heal I despair

 

Will  he make it through this freezing night?

 

I know nothing of his life but this misery I see

I imagine him as a boy, his mother cuddling him tight

Or running in a playground, laughing

Later going out on a Friday night with his lover

to see a show

and having a first kiss.

Holding a baby in his arms

 

I submerge myself in my newspaper

Jackie Wong’s review of Travis Lupick’s book on activists in the DTES in the 1990s

Lubeck’s cautionary note about our temptation to be smug because we have Insite.

This year, more than a thousand have died of overdoses in the province

And the DTES is the epicentre

 

Tut tut

 

While I’m reading I feel

a subtle change in the bus

The din is louder, fuller

The dirt and the dinginess is greyer

The blue interior lights cast longer shadows in the corners

 

A jolt of adrenaline breaks through the surface

as an ambulance passes by

Everyone is watching

Who will we lose tonight?

 

I’m struck with the surreal feeling that while I’ve been reading about the drug crisis

I’ve arrived in the monster’s belly

Stranded in the sea of mayhem that is Main Street

 

I could get off the bus right now

Walk my solid leather boots passed the misery

hail a cab to take me away.

To where I can distract myself again

And not have this pain rub off on me

 

But I can’t do it

I can’t shove my privilege into their faces

Unfair enough that I have it

I am not an extravagant person

But compared to this life, I am a queen

 

It doesn’t feel good

 

These are my people just as much as my neighbours

Yet how thin is the thread that holds their lives together

That calls on their courage every night to sleep on the sidewalk

With others who set up their encampments at dusk

 

A tarp

A shopping cart of broken dreams

Of found objects that someone might buy

An old sleeping bag with duct-tape repair

To keep the stuffing from coming out

Modern-day foragers

Survival artists

Block after block after block

A macabre banquet laid out to see

 

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