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.