Tripping over the man’s legs that were stretched over the heating grate in the sidewalk etched many things into my mind about my first trip to Toronto. Many things have been tucked away for never forgetting.
I had turned the corner carefully because in front of me I was pushing a stroller holding my toddler. The smoothed out snowy city sidewalk was white with a layer of paper-thin compacted snow. I pulled back suddenly because I unexpectedly saw a man half sitting, half laying, shifting his body into position on the ground right in front of me.
My first thought was that this man was not homeless. He was making himself comfortable as he probably did every night after supper in his own living room; I was simply hallucinating; seeing him here on the sidewalk.
I paused close to him with my mouth open, my arms reaching out to him as if I was going to pick him up to carry him home in my arms.
“This isn’t right” I wanted to say, but his eyes darted a quick glare into mine, “No, it isn’t right. I know.”
He reached his hands out and rearranged his legs and hips for optimum warmth over the grate beneath him. The way he lifted his legs with his hands, well, I don’t think his legs worked normally anymore.
My companion looked at me with the usual disgusted grimace meant for me only. I sighed as I continued my walk to the Japanese restaurant.
I’ve never met a stranger in my life so I’ve never felt the need to take seriously the constant fright-inducing eleventh commandment, “Do not thou ever talk to a stranger.” With its unwritten Biblical corollary, “Or thy will be kidnapped, molested and abandoned.”
The two of us and the babe in stroller trudged across the road making scrunch, scrunch noises with our treaded boots.
Inside the Japanese restaurant I could not see anything for a very long time, even after being blindly led by the pretty dark-haired hostess to a privately screened table. The heat and steam of the food condensed clouds of water on my eyeglass lenses. The plastic lenses were probably a temperature equal to the outdoors, many degrees below zero.
When I could see I drank some Japanese beer which I usually drink with enjoyment because it is my favorite. I sipped it without enthusiasm thinking of the man sitting on the street. And the mushroom soup was very light and nice, my favorite soup is Japanese mushroom soup but I felt no great rapture from my slurpy swallows.
After the meal back in the hotel room my stomach then my whole body went through a wrenching bout of food poisoning.
Was it the food from the nice Japanese restaurant though?
Or was it from the social poison of knowing people were sleeping on the other side of the hotel wall with no bed, no shelter, no hope.