Opening words . . .

Friday, 8 April 2011

Being local downtown

Trish, who announced her name with each greeting, was in a neighbourly frame of mind for a rush hour commute on a cold January day. She had taken the front seat, meant for seniors and less mobile people, and greeted each new rider as they stepped up into the streetcar. Her “Hello, how are you?” greeting prompted quick glances in the direction of the clear and direct, but friendly voice.

As usual, the streetcar jostled and jerked, bumping us against each other as if we were being carrying along Queen St. West in a shopping bag. This is Toronto. You don’t have to greet people or respond to greetings to you. It sounds rather subhuman to be so antisocial, but it really is accepted. There are those who do greet strangers, of course, but their too friendly demeanour is met with skepticism. Just about everyone was caught off guard and greeted Trish in return.

Each time the light turned green, the streetcar would lurch forward again and Trish would pick up the conversation where she left off before acknowledging the newcomers, welcoming them like a party host. Trish was completely unintentional in her demand for attention, oblivious to her stage presence.

“Wanna go for a coffee?” she queried the TTC driver. “I have a free coffee card. I’ll get you a coffee.” “No, it’s okay, but thanks,” he responded again as if this was the first time she asked.

Another stop. More passengers get on, much to Trish’s delight. A beautiful woman with long auburn hair sat down in the aisle seat sideways to her. She was in the later stage of pregnancy and this did not go unnoticed by Trish.

“So, are you living with the baby’s father?” Trish investigated. Surprised by the directness, the lovely lady blushed, but then smiled at the open question and quietly answered “No.”

“So, you’re on your own, then,” Trish surmised, her face revealing a little pride in her own conclusion. There were embarrassed smiles and some just good hearted ones. We were enjoying the show, waiting anxiously for the next possibility.

Trish decided to answer questions about herself that people were probably thinking, but of course, weren’t asking. She was in her late twenties with dark hair and pleasant features. She informed us that the people in the apartment complex where she was staying were kind to her, but there were a few issues of concern.

The reflections on her living space at the apartment apparently triggered her next act. She began to scratch her mid section and then hiked up her sweater displaying her ample middle. The conversation had definitely moved on to her personal matters.

“Bedbugs,” she pronounced as she stretched and scratched. Everyone prickled in their seats. I resisted the urge to scratch, telling myself that being two seats back was safe.

Trish looked for interest from among us, while continuing to scratch, reaching around her side and scootching the sweater a little higher for better viewing.

“Bedbugs, yep!” she repeated, in case we hadn’t heard the first time. There was no denying the problem of bedbugs in the city - the news was all through the papers and regarded with disdain as if bedbugs themselves were in the folds of the pages.

By this time, smiles had turned to giggles and even a few shoulders were now shaking. Ahead of me and between the seats, I could see “the bites” and the scratching was leaving long red marks on her bare skin.

Her stop arrived and with a good-hearted “Goodbye,” she was down the steps and out the door. I saw Trish walk back a little on Queen, assuming she was headed for the coffee shop for her free one. Her candid display of what her life was like for her, I’m sure touched us all. It was definitely not my average streetcar ride home nor one that I would easily forget.

Note: "Trish" was not the girl's real name - I can't remember her real name :-) Also, if this story is too "real" for you, I would ask you to consider the reality that there are many in our cities, provinces, and country who live the "tougher" side of life, most of the time. Help out when and where you can!