Yesterday was the day after payday, and so after the metaphorical work whistle blew (read: After I got sick of playing solitaire) I trotted home, picked up my black canvas grocery cart and began my walk to Loblaw’s for groceries. I put in my iPod, and rarely skipped over any songs. It was like a pleasant, me-created radio station without commercials and with songs that make me think, “Oh yeah, I love that song!” (Like Hootie and the Blowfish songs) I walk down my street, past the hotels and shawarma shops, the bars and the patio restaurants. Then I turn the corner after the Chinese tea and coffee shops and suddenly the story’s atmosphere changes. Old men and women sit with their backs supported by beer store and bank walls. Their skin is tanned and the lines across their face hold crevices of dirt. Their eyes are often half-opened or dramatically wide and animated. Some are surrounded by plastic shopping bags stuffed with what I only notice to be rags. I don’t stare at the contents long enough to be sure.
Some have torn pieces of cardboard in front of them, some with witty sayings, some pleading for my money.
It only gets worse as I walk by the beer and liquor stores, where harrowed-looking, old men and women with long hair, torn clothes and a pushy act ask me for money. They are increasingly desperate as compared to those who sit along the wall when I first turn onto the street. Some are in wheelchairs, some have the appearance that they suffer from mental disorders. Some yell, as if in conversation with an invisible person. Some smile, hoping, I suppose, to charm me into opening my bag, then my wallet and then sifting through it to find something for them.
I pass the worst, the scariest of the bunch as I cross the old movie theatre that now shows independent movies. This part of the street seems to be where drug dealers and wannabe (or perhaps legitimate) gangstas hang out, under the blue shade of the theatre. They have shaves heads or cornrows, they look sideways with their red eyes that all seem halfway closed. Their ears sparkle, either with real diamonds or other stones that are supposed to make them look rich. Some talk on cell phones in loud, obnoxious voices, some pace nervously, as if waiting for someone, or more likely, some substance.
Eventually I step back into the sunlight (or so it seems) and go into the grocery store. It plays happy 60’s music and the fluorescent lighting almost mimics morning light. Eventually, though, I must complete my purchases, and exit this time with a full canvas grocery cart, to make the same trip home. I don’t dare take anther route, because that would mean walking in front of the homeless shelter, down the alleys behind the likely stolen material pawnshop, or worse yet, into parking lots without cars, surrounded by building walls and filled with still more tanned-skin, dirty-faced people.
I have never been sure what my role is, what I should do. Should I continue being the passerby girl with a purse and a cart full of groceries that offers only a smile, or worse yet, who passes by without looking, ignoring what’s right in front of her? Should I stop for one, or all, to dispense a few coins here and there? Can they see on my face that I feel vulnerable and defenceless as I make this walk? I haven’t given out any money since I began having to make this walk when I moved into my current habitat last August. I feel like taking the time to take out wallet, unzip change compartment and pick out change leaves too much time of me standing in front of a potentially volatile, mentally ill street person who could easily run off with my stuff while I search through my wallet. Or worse, that they will take my money and buy intoxicants to further deplete their progress. It’s a mixed up bunch of feelings I have in this situation. Regardless of the scenery, I don’t dread these walks any more than I do others, because in the end, I get food (a major plus!), but also I’m reminded to think about life at the other end of the spectrum, and that’s not so bad.