April 08, 2005

"Little Guy" and "Homeless Dude"

There's this homeless man I call "the little guy". He's about 5 foot 4, with red hair and a beard. He always seems to have red marks or sores on his face and forehead. What strikes me about him the most is his hesitant, almost deferential body language. He stoops, has a little trouble making eye contact, and can be hard to hear over the noise of the street traffic. He seems like a harmless, gentle person.

A number of months ago, I saw him at Stadium SkyTrain Station, and he announced that he was going to go to his friend's apartment that evening to eat sandwiches and watch some colour TV. He seemed very happy about it, and it made me happy for him. I told him to have a good time, and he said "Oh, I will!"

A while ago, outside a Starbucks coffee shop, I gave the little guy my Starbucks card and some change. He told me he really likes coffee and sweet things. "It gives me a boost without getting me all full".

He told me he used to be a houseman at some big hotels, which he named, but I cannot recall. I pictured him in a uniform going from room to room, cleaning up, having friends among his coworkers, and getting a regular paycheque, while working inside where it's warm and dry.

The last time I saw him, he was about a half block ahead of me on Beatty street in the Yaletown area of Vancouver. He was wandering in front of the Terry Fox memorial, towards BC Place Stadium. He stopped a few feet in front of a woman who was walking her kids home. I could see his hands palms-up in front of him and knew he was telling her his story and asking for spare change in his quiet voice. She glanced at him for just a second looking either concerned or afraid, and then kept on walking away. Some days are better than others.

* * * * *

One Homeless guy I usually see at Stadium Station is a black guy I have been chatting with for the last couple of years. I cannot recall his name. He told me he's originally from back east, like Ontario or somewhere. My wife and I just refer to him as "Homeless Dude at Stadium Station".

For the first year and a half, he seemed to be ailing with a spectacularly runny nose. He said he had a lot of trouble with inflammed tissues in his nose. I saw him looking rather dusty or powdery on at least one occassion. Combined with the raw running or bleeding nose, I can only guess at what he was into.

Some days he was quite lucid, and other days, not at all. One time, he went on to me about God, and quoted a bunch of things from the bible, and a few things that I think he may have made up. He might have claimed to be Jesus' brother James or someone like that. I thought it was nice that he was finding some comfort in religion, although he seemed far too agitated about it.

This past winter, we had some extremely cold sub-zero nights, and I noticed that between Christmas Eve and late January, I didn't see this guy at all. I had started to wonder if he'd died or something, when I saw him sitting in a wheelchair at Stadium Station one day day in early February. He told me he'd sufferred frostbite from sleeping outside and had almost lost a bunch of toes. I told him that aside from that (which I said I was very sorry to hear), he looked quite well. I noted how his eyes looked whiter and less cloudy than they had, and his nose wasn't running at all. I figure he must have gone through some detox when in the hospital. He said he felt a lot better now.

The other day, I saw him sitting in his wheelchair at Stadium Station, laughing to himself. He told me that he was just sitting there thinking his own thoughts and enjoying watching all the people go by.

He told me that he still wasn't sure if he'd be able to keep his toes or not. The doctor told him that they had to heal more before they could decide. He thought maybe one of them was almost dead already. It had been frozen right up to the top knuckle. Now, he wears these little thick red slippers instead of shoes, presumably because his feet are still covered in bandages.

It was a sunny and relatively warm spring day. I think he could have lost his life on the streets. Compared to that, it's better to just lose a toe.


New Westminster Living said...

This was really touching.

Anonymous said...

I always wondered what that guys story was - nice to know that someone took the time to find out.