Cassandra’s Tears

Tears of joy, tears of pain, we are reflected in the salt-water pools we create. So let us build a fleet of paper boats and sail them on our ocean of indecision, laughing at the wind-whipped white-crested waves that would wash over us, drowning us in our own despair, yet somehow never vanquishing us in the end.

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Location: Lennoxville, Quebec, Canada

Thursday, November 16, 2006

“I know you.”

I gave a dollar to a homeless person who looked up at me out of squinting eyes in his leathery face, his nicotine-stained fingers clutching my sleeve, and said, “I know you,” his voice hoarse from cheap whiskey and cigarettes he could ill afford, and a chill went up my spine that had nothing to do with the cold prairie wind whipping through the walking mall in downtown Calgary. I wanted to turn around, to walk away, embarrassement bringing more colour to my already rosy cheeks, but he held on fast and I could not move my eyes from his compelling gaze.

After what seemed an eternity, I said, “You do?”

He let go of my sleeve then to fumble for a handkerchief as a coughing fit seized him and I took the opportunity to step back out of reach, although I didn’t turn and run as I longed to, but waited respectfully until he spat something into the soiled cloth and stuffed it back among his layers of clothing. I felt he deserved at least that much dignity.

“Sure,” he answered at length. “I seen you a few years ago, you was outside the big bank that used to be a record store, now it’s just empty. You was reading the sign on the pillar and me and my friend asked you for some spare change. You gave me a dollar. You was awful pretty then. You still are.”

I stared at him, my eyes tearing in the cold November wind, and remembered exactly the incident in question: two native men, bumming, but in a much better way than this poor derelict at my feet, his back against the outer wall of The Bay; and yes, I remembered he’d complimented me, making some joke about whether I was married or not. I never expected him to show up again in my life, but weird things like that happen, and even though Calgary is a big city and I don’t even live there, it’s a small world.

Feeling like I really should say something, I asked, “How’s your friend?” The beggar spat on the sidewalk and I winced.

“Jimmy’s dead,” he said, his hands trembling as he lit himself a cigarette and took a long drag that set off another attack of coughing. “He froze to death two winters ago.”

I continued to stand there, staring at this man, this human being, and I thought about how lucky I was and how fate or fortune could reverse our positions so that it could be me on the sidewalk bumming spare change from passers by. I unwrapped the thick woolen scarf from my neck and handed it to him. “Stay warm,” I said, turned on my heel, and walked away.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't have anything smart to say about this, but this post is beautiful. I mean, it's really amazing.

Oh, and I'm hiding @ for a little while, in case you're interested.

11/16/2006 2:32 PM  
Blogger Ilana said...

That is a pretty story, mommy, but sad too.

11/16/2006 8:48 PM  

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