The man was sitting on a cardboard box on the sidewalk outside the Book Depot, his back against a thin tree in the dim wet afternoon. He was handsome, weathered, persistent. He had a friendly smile, as if to make you feel okay if you don’t give him any change. His lap was shrouded in a baby blue cotton sleeping bag. A black duffel bag was next to him, the name “Rick” written on the side.
Rick’s independent career as an HVAC technician in Burnaby was cut short by a client who stiffed him for over three-thousand dollars then disappeared. The police found a deserted office and no forwarding address. Rick piled the tools he hadn’t yet sold into his car and smiling though it pained him drove east out of the rich ocean-side Delta through the foothills of the Rockies. Slowly.
“I sleep in my car,” he said, smiling.
Grateful that the car made it at all. It almost broke down in Thunder Bay; the brakes needed replacing but his Visa card was maxed. It took thirteen bottles of brake fluid to finish the journey to Toronto, or Brampton, where his mother lives.
“She doesn’t have the space for me. I go there once in a while to take a shower, wash my clothes. She knows I go down here. She doesn’t mind too much. She knows I come here.
“I sleep in my car.”
HVAC: Heating, Ventilation and Air-Conditioning.
Heating. He was wearing a baseball cap under the hood of his sweatshirt.
“I’m glad it’s not raining.”
The ground around us was wet.
“It’s chilly today.”
Ventilation. Plenty of air flow around him.
What remains of his tools is locked in the trunk of his car. That’s been towed.
“I had $650 in my pocket when I got here.”
“Look over here.”
Rick points to the left of his lap. A baby chickadee is nestled in a grey T-shirt, shivering its little breast pulsing.
“It must have flown into a window. I was watching. Some kids found it on the sidewalk. They were going to kick it. I ran over, Hey what the hell you doing!”
“Humans,” I snarl, “are such superior creatures.”
Rick looks at me, smiles. Then he looks away.
“You should see Bay Street in the morning before people get to work. Dead birds all over the place, hitting the windows and sides. They pay a guy to clean them up before anyone gets there.”
He caresses the bird’s furry skull with a grease-stained finger. The bird blinks and jerks its head around, looking here, there.
“They were going to kick it. It’s still got its yellow fur. It’s just a baby. I don’t mind if it shits in my undershirt. It can shit all it wants. I can wash it later. I don’t care.”
“If it dies here, it dies peaceful.”