Thursday, December 17, 2009

He looked at her, standing there in a fluorescent windbreaker. It hung from her body as though draped over a broken umbrella frame, the pockets weighed down, the left side white from the snow. She fumbled in her pockets, searching for change.

"Go on," said the bus driver.

She went past him and took a seat near the front, setting her Nike gym bag beside her. She had close cropped hair and dark eyes. Her face was swollen and red. Her hands looked coarse and hardened, and everyone on the bus could smell the heavy punge of living in the same clothes, of piss and shit and open fires. No sooner had the bus started moving than she closed her eyes and her head nodded to her chest.

That winter was especially cruel and it wasn't unusual for the temperature at night to hit 45 below. After every cold snap the story was repeated in the newspapers: homeless person found dead under bank of snow. Some days they were found in backyards or in seats out front of the Greyhound station, and sometimes they weren't found until spring. One story emerged of a man burned to death in a dumpster because the candle he lit to keep warm had fallen over, igniting the garbage in which he slept.

Some said it was their own fault, that there were shelters and organizations to go to. Others said it was the responsibility of the government and that more should be done. Still others said it was drugs and social decay and a loss of religious values. But all the talk and fine words amounted to nothing on a cold night in the richest city in Canada.

The bus banked around a corner and her head shot up.

"Stay away from me!" she yelled as she jumped to her feet, pulling a hunk of granite from the pocket of her windbreaker. "Don't fucking touch me!"

The driver hit the brakes and she fell in a heap in the aisle. He got out of his seat and started towards her. She struggled to her knees and she threw the rock at him. It landed well short on the floor with a dull thud.

He grabbed her by the hair and dragged her to the front. He pulled the bar to open the door and shoved her with his boot into the snow bank.

"That's what I get for trying to help you, eh? You fucking bitch!"

As the bus pulled away the passengers saw her through the condensation on the windows, lying face down in the snow, and one of them noticed her gym bag, still sitting on the seat.

30 comments:

Lust With Wings said...

Intense. Well done.

Famous Last Words said...

You describled something so very real. When reading it, it was as if I was there, witnessing it all...

the walking man said...

I could easily write the next section but reality will do it all on its own.

Derliwall said...

this was very real to me too. What a feeling of powerlessness.

kate said...

beautiful and sad, created rich images in my head, but now i am feeling guilty for being in a warm house.

chook said...

great jon, very real and moving.

Annette Allison said...

Talk about tugging at the heartstrings. Great job! I hope there will be a part two, becuase now I keep think "whats in the bag?"

/t. said...

damn

love yr stuff, jon

are you in to? calgary?

[nohoksh]

/t. (medicine hat)

Jon said...

LWW,
Thanks... but somehow, this isn't a story that I'm happy about

FLW,
all too real for too many people... and that's the reality i witnessed too many times... thanks for your comment...

walkingman,
You said it man... not much left to tell...

Derliwal,
powerlessness is a good word for this... though I'd like to believe that there's some possibility for some good to come...

Kate,
no need to feel guilty... being aware and conscious of the great privilege you/I/we enjoy is a wonderful start... thanks for your thoughts

chook,
thanks for stopping by... glad that this resonates...

Annette,
everything she owns... and without it there's nothing left of her story... thanks for your thoughts... perhaps I will give a second section of this a try

/t,
thanks friend... i like if i can get some of this out on the page from time to time... i've been writing about street life for a few years now, in different capacities... i think it's important to tell these stories...
i'm currently in small town southern ontario, but this is based on my time living in edmonton where the real cold weather dwells... but you'd know all about that in medicine hat!

p.s.
[nohoksh] ???

/t. said...

edmonton,
yep... too cold

your writing... lucid

[feriesp] word verification

/t.

charlie said...

At any time of year this description should be "out" there to read, but it resonates particularly well at a time of mass consumption when most of us have everything we need, and more. I liked how you mentioned that it happened in the richest city in Canada. Though it is a dark story, it is reality too, and am glad to see you write, so well, about it. Yes, the richest city, and a G8 country, but what does that really mean? Nothing, to many people who for any number of reasons, despite some peoples' caring, still experience a caring void in their lives. Great reality write-up!
Charlie
St. John's

christopher said...

Thanks, Jon. This is where you took me. I landed on hard snow beside the road.

Kicked Off The Bus

I shall fall apart
flying through the cold gray air,
landing on the snow
packed down at full speed
by so many who ignore
my daily losses.

I shall separate,
become the drab emptiness,
sad indifference,
lie here raw, exposed
before the weeping lost God
of this dead old world.

Jon said...

/t,
ah... that was the word verification... i should have known... it's me that gotten in the habit of writing them down... sometimes i don't think they're so random even! thanks for dropping back and clearing that up... now i can sleep!

Charlie,
Thanks. I thought this was particularly appropriate around this time of year... the irony of that is not lost on me... I'm glad you liked this post and that you left me a comment. I appreciate it!

Christopher,
Thank you for your poem. I am glad that you were drawn in to the experience of this woman and were able to feel the coldness of the snow, and the other people. Your poem does a wonderful job of extending some of the things I was trying to bring into this prose writing. Thanks again.

Anonymous said...

Your story is too real for too many people in too many countries, you're right JON!
It is unfortunate that the homeless are a reality, a human being in the minds of people, only during the winter time!
especially when they die! tragic irony, don t you?
all will not go into the shelters proposed by the associations and humanitarian organizations because they want to save their only wealth: their freedoms and their "Nike gym bag " ... freedom always has a high price!

frenchtony

BBC said...

He looked at her, standing there in a fluorescent windbreaker.

He looked at her standing there in a translucent windbreaker.

Harlequin said...

Jon... this powerful piece works on so many levels.....
for one, it had the power to put me on so many seats on that bus, meaning that the experience can be " seen " from so many perspectives;
and also it is so local, the misery and violence so close to home, and something that I, in my own community, could do something about even in a small compassionate way;

and, even more agonizing for me, given my history, I could so easily have been the woman fighting those demons and being dragged by the hair, and thrown off the bus...
I love how compassion can be called forth in tandem with outrage, this is such a strong feature in your work, like a pulse or a river....
well done

ps... I was quite moved by the responses your post evoked in others

Devin said...

Jon this was also spectacular-and I super -just super enjoyed reading the comments -all of them-many of the comments themselves were wonderful too-and christopher's poem was lovely I thought-I should just shut up because I think Harlequin summed this all up so much the very way I thought!! I think you are indeed inspiring other people to keep going with their own work-and that is beautiful in itself!!
In the Phoenix Metro Area we have the "opposite" type of heartbreaking deaths in the summer months-either from people simply being baked to death by the summer heat on the hottest days-or dying for lack of a glass of frikkin water-one of the most common elements in the universe!
I am starting to "grok" more and more the fellow (once again memory fails as to who) that said "Property is theft."
all the best in the world to you my friend-I find all of your writing beautiful or inspiring and more often than not -both!
and I still have a long way to go before I have seen nearly all of it!!

Jenny said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jenny said...

Hi Jon,

I could not stop reading this... Piercing images, which become even sharper by the concise narrative style. Like electric discharges in the night.

The setting reminded me of Stockholm or Helsinki. Canada and Scandinavia resemble each other in some ways, I suppose. The cold and cruel air. Sadly, the situation you describe is reality for many people.

I always like writers and poets who are not afraid of writing about uncomfortable issues. What really scares me is people who pretend that unjusitice does not exist.

Thanks for this post!

Jon said...

Tony,
thanks for your comment. I'm glad that you brought up some of the things that you did about why some people don't want to go to the shelters... it's not worth it if they have all their stuff stolen. also, lots of people aren't welcome in the shelters if they are drunk or on drugs... sort of a catch 22... but it's all too often that i hear that it's all their own fault for being on the streets when there are shelters out there... it's just not that simple...
thanks again for dropping by and for sharing your thoughts...

Harle,
Yes... it seems that some people are a bit hasty in criticizing and passing judgment on people in distant countries when in their own backyard there are things that could use some attention but are inconvenient... all too easy to turn a blind eye to what's happening in our own communities and to think that everything is hunky-dory...

Devin,
I'm glad that you enjoyed the commentary on this post... I'm always so pleased to get comments from people on my writing because it opens up the writing in a way that I hadn't imagined... it's the best thing about the blogs for me...
I find it sad what you say about people in your home town in the heat of summer... I imagine that it's a very similar problem... the elements are unforgiving and the wasting away happens, all the same...
I like as well the point you make about property being theft... i think that this is an important insight... anything we own is only provisionally so...
hope that you're well... and i'll catch up with you @ Dev's Questions soon

Jenny,
thanks for the comment... it does seem from what i know that Scandinavia and Canada have a similar freezing cold winter... and probably some of the same social problems... and yeah, i'll second what you say about how scary it is that people deny homelessness or dismiss it as just their own fault... for me it's something about inequality and greed...
not a nice light post, i know... but i appreciate your stopping by and your thoughts... take care Jenny..

/t. said...

merry christmas, jon,
or whatever you celebrate,
or none, whatever, have a good one
&
all best to you in the new year

[rehelogo]

/t.

Jon said...

Merry Christmas to you as well /t. best to you and I'll catch up with you again soon!

Escapist said...

Into a deep thought....



Joolliieess:)

spottedwolf said...

Isn't it ironic how industrialism with all its supposed benefit still makes only....apportionable mark....on the 'canvas' of survival. Stories of this nature prove the fallacies attached to anthropocentric identities. For all our effort to rise beyond our animistic origins....we, as a whole, have only increased the volume of our own fear and its derivatives.

human being said...

.

i got on the bus hastily... so happy i was leaving the cold behind... the only passenger on the bus was the driver... and a Nike gym bag left on one of the front seats... i told the driver about it... he just shrugged... i took a seat by the bag... opened it to find any clue whose it was... i had returned many lost bags to their owners before that time... there was nothing in the bag except a notebook... so heavy and old and dirty... on the cover you could read, the book of changes...
i opened it... on the first page a very beautiful handwriting read:

this belongs to all and none... and is written by all and none... you can have it as long as you'd like... but when you want to depart from it, you should answer the last question and add a question of yours... no matter what is your answer or your question, you will change in a way there will be no return to it... that's what this book is doing to you...

i started reading the questions and answers... and tried to imagine each person who wrote them... it took me years to read them... to understand them... and to think if the answer to the question was a good one or not... good in the sense that it could help me to go on...

then one day i felt i could depart from the notebook... i answered the last question:

- when do i get there?
- when you don't want to get there anymore...

and added this one:

- can i ask no more questions?

.

human being said...

sorry:

*no matter what your answer or your question is

Sorcerer said...

wow!! that was one nice read
thanks for that..

Jon said...

Escapist,
Deep thoughts so often spring from the everyday...

spottedwolf,
thoughtful and thought-provoking comment as always... though i'm not sure that it the anthropocentricism that's i take issue with... perhaps i'd like to see more of this... at least in the sense that people can care for one another more...
this is not to say that i disagree with an eco=centric outlook on the world... in my view, this would necessarily include humans as well... thanks for sharing your thoughts...

Human Being,
What I most love about your comments is how it opens up the things I have written in a new way and makes me reconsider my position in writing... i love this continuation and the way it brings me so much closer to the narrative... asks me to be an active participant rether than just a reader or a writer or an outsider... you do me a great service by sharing your words here like this... I appreciate it... if you don't mind, could I add this section in at the close of this post? and maybe try to continue with an answer and a question of my own?
thanks again!

Sorcerer,
Welcome! glad you like this post, and i hope you'll stop back another day and say hi...

human being said...

this came to me when i was reading your work... so it's yours...

rain falls down on the land... in some places it just slides on the rocks... and in some places it is absorbed by the soil... water is water... the land is different...

and
you are very clever and sharp... yes when i wrote my question, i left the notebook here...
so you can have it as long as you'd like...
:)

Little Lamb said...

Merry Christmas, Jon. I hope you have a great Christmas!