The bus arrived 4 hours earlier than I expected.
I gather up my way-too-many bags and find lockers in the back of the bus station to store them.
ATM -> coffee -> $2 change.
I have unintentionally left a $20 bill in the cash dispenser of the machine but don't realize. A man, who I likely never would have approached based on his dark,ripped, jeans, t-shirt and long greasy hair, approaches me with a $20 bill at the end of his outstretched arm.
“You left this in the machine.”
“Wow, thank you so much.” I am blown away by his honesty and am grateful for this opportunity to shine more light on my own unfair prejudices. He walks outside for a smoke without even acknowledging my thanks.
Bags secured. Time for an adventure!
Left or Right? Let's tryyy left!
The sun has just come over the hills to the left, awakening the quiet morning. Wisps of grey decorate the nearly cloudless sky. I make a plea to the sky for rain. Dryness plagues this landscape too. The water tower stands above the hills; signs advertising bathtubs and things I'm not interested to read, plastered to its sides.
As I continue down the empty street, I see a man at the bottom of the hill that stretches up to the sidewalk. He is standing in the doorway of what appears to be his housing complex, smoking. I nod to him from the sidewalk. He waves. He yells something incomprehensible to me. I yell back that I can't hear. He yells again. I hop over the barrier and walk down the hill.
"Where are you going?" he asks.
"That way," I point in the direction I'm walking.
"But where? It's 7am and you're walking by yourself. Nothing is open over there."
"I know. I'm on an adventure! Just going to see what happens," I say.
He is confused and surprised. He seems fearful for my well being. He asks more questions. I answer them, explaining how I got to Sudbury, why, what i'm doing here.
I'm not afraid. He makes it seem like I should be.
He looks at me as if I am crazy but the kind of crazy that needs his (or someone's) protection. I appreciate his concern and don't let on that he is underestimating me. I know my temperament makes me seem much younger and more vulnerable than I am. . .or perhaps it is exactly that which somehow protects me. He invites me in to watch a movie. I decline, I prefer adventures. If I see him on the way back, he will invite me in. I will probably still decline.
I continue in the same direction. I get to an intersection and sense that I should turn.
Left or Right? Right.
I walk past the mall. The same one, I'm almost sure, that I went to when I lived in Sudbury for a summer as a kid. Things have changed but the name is familiar, 'Hart'.
A middle-aged man crosses the street to talk to me. He is smoking. He says something in French that I don't catch. He realizes I don't speak French and switches to English.
“I thought you were French.”
“No, sorry.” I always feel the need to apologize for not knowing the other national language.
He wears a baseball cap, white socks pulled up to his calves, a t-shirt and a pack around his waist. There is a water bottle holder and a pouch for money. His face is wrinkled from age, his body is stiff but his spirit is animated. Like a young knight trapped inside rusting armour. His name is Stephane, pronounced 'Ste-fan', the French way, not like a girl.
He introduces himself and asks me what I am doing in Sudbury. I explain the story. Sudbury is more on-the-way from Ottawa towards Iron Bridge than anywhere else my parents could have picked me up. We are going to my grandparent's cottage for a couple of weeks. I didn't think the bus would be so early, so now I have lots of time to hang out in Sudbury.
He tells me about himself. He has an injury, his leg. He fell off of a scaffolding or some kind of high structure on a job he was doing a number of years ago and injured himself badly. He is on disability and lives in subsidized housing. He takes medication for the pain twice a day but tries to walk around and get out of his apartment as much as possible when he's able. He's happy to have company, other than the folks that hang around the streets in the down town. He doesn't seem to be especially put off by the other people standing and sitting around smoking, but also doesn't especially fit in. He is visibly more coherent, alert, aware. He's travelled around a lot. Lived in the back of his truck for a few years. Fishing on Manitoulin Island, hanging out with people on the reserves. He's been married and has a son. He was the youngest of a family of four girls and himself. He tells me of his once long blonde curly hair that resulted in people teasing that it was actually a family of five girls.
We get up and walk around. I want to see some of Sudbury. I ask if there's a farmer's market, he takes me there. It's the first time he's been. I buy a pint of raspberries and we eat them and continue walking and talking.
He invites me to breakfast at the soup kitchen after the tour. I accept.
We walk past the police station, arena, fire station, a man sitting on a chair beside two kittens on leashes.
I motion to pet them but am dissuaded by Stephane's expression. Once we are out of earshot of the man, Stephane informs me that he is the biggest drug dealer in the city.
We walk up a hill and arrive at Stephane's apartment. He takes me inside his building, up the elevator to his room. He has a kitchen, a sitting room a bedroom. It's small, but he has made it into something comfortable and homely for himself.
A part of me thinks of my parents, probably on the road towards Sudbury by now, “why on earth would you follow a man you just met into his apartment?” They ask the inner me.
“He seems nice. And I'm curious.” the inner me replies.
The inner inner me thinks, 'If I have to be so afraid to open myself to other people on this planet, then I would prefer to die.' Compassion is a coping mechanism. And hope believes that love attracts love. No lightening bolts appear out of the sky to reckon my ultimatum, so, I'm good.
“But please, we worry about you.”
“I'm fine. Don't worry.”
We leave the apartment and walk up a trail to the top of a hill that overlooks the city. There is a monument and the stages of the cross represented on the other entrance to the mountain. We go backwards, from the crucifixion, at the top, down the stages to the road and walk towards the soup kitchen.
People are lined up for food that is spooned out by ladies behind a counter. There is conversation amongst some of those in line, sometimes heated, but the threats are mostly empty. Like the tough kids teasing each other on the playground. Stephane seems to know, or at least recognize everyone. He greets some of them, passes me a tray and we make our way to a table.
The soup kitchen is full of people. There are older people, families, most of them are white. We talk to a man in a cowboy hat who says he used to be a dentist. His teeth aren't very good. He says fluoride in the water has improved the quality of people's teeth greatly. . .maybe so.
We leave the soup kitchen, after finishing our meal and walk to the mall. There is a shop selling goods from Nepal, Tibet and India. We go in and talk to the man running the store. He is Nepali, from Kathmandu. We talk about Nepal, Tibet and Buddhism. He mentions that he just decided today that he would no longer ask the creator for anything material. He is happy to walk the path that has been laid out for him. Submission.
45 minutes pass. We head to the food court and sit down for a while and then walk back towards a coffee shop. We walk by a park to our right and decide to sit on one of the bright red metal benches since the weather is nice. Cloudy, but nice. Stephane tells me a story.
When he was 19 he was in a car accident. He was in a coma for a month.
I have never had any experience with comas and I ask him what it was like.
He doesn't remember the car accident actually happening. He doesn't remember the 2 whole weeks leading up to that car crash, what happened, who he talked to, how he got in the car crash, who's fault it was, nothing. He's pieced together some things from people telling him but has no first hand memory. During his coma, however, he dreamt. He was continually in very nice, pleasant situations. People invited him to feasts, palaces, utopias, but something always felt a bit off. He wasn't sure what, or why, but there was unrest underlying everything. Like the eye of a hurricane. They wanted him to stay. Begged him, pleaded. But it felt like a trap. He kept going, kept moving, he was always the distinguished guest, always well-revered. The situations got more and more comfortable, harder and harder to leave, but the unrest never went away, always made him uneasy and forced him to keep going until finally, he woke up.
I try to understand how it's possible to completely forget 2 weeks of your life. How unnerving that must feel. Like everything Stephane said just now, disappeared. Like I just wasn't there anymore. I have goosebumps.
The clouds rolling in are darker than before and we decide it might be better to wait for my parents inside a coffee shop. We buy coffee and cookies and sit in chairs in the front. I pull out my knitting and he reads a French newspaper. After about 20 minutes, he decides to go home for the day. He needs to take his medicine and rest. He puts his fist out for me to meet half-way. I do. Bitter-sweet.
On the way back to the bus station to meet my parents, I pass by the downtown and the apartment complex where I stopped to greet the man I met in the morning. He is nowhere to be found.
|Later that day. . .|