It was one of those clear March days when dozens of crows line the branches above the stop and defecate on unsuspecting folk waiting for the southbound #3 — a typical 2pm in Vancouver at the corner of Hastings and Main.
"Mind if I ask you a question?"
Preoccupied with dodging bird dung, I barely heard the man — took a minute to realize that his query was directed at me. I slowly moved my gaze from the birds to the fellow and his full set of crisp white teeth. "Huh?"
"You look like an intelligent person," he said, shifting weight from right to left in his rumpled blazer and soft faded jeans. "I'd be curious to know your opinion on something."
"Sure," I replied, though I was in no mood to engage.
"What are your thoughts on the drug addiction problem?"
Crap, I thought — not a conversation I wanted to begin.
Didn’t answer, but noted the grey chin-length curls atop his blazer and jeans. An academic or a hippie-era activist, I pegged him, or a radio documentary producer with a recording device up his sleeve.
"You don't have an opinion? Don't you care?" And he took a step toward me.
"Certainly I care," I said, hoping the promise of bird droppings would make him move away. "What do you think?"
"Horrible, really horrible, very bad," he said, shaking his head. "My mom gives me money. Every month, she gives me money. She shouldn't do it, but she does. I just spend it." Then he cupped his hands before throwing them in the air. "Poof!" he yelled, like a magician who makes things disappear for good.
I took a step closer, looked him straight in the face; noticed reddish-black bruising beneath his milky skin.
"I get a thousand a month for disability," he said. "It’s not that much — 400 comes off the top for rent. I used to be a triathlete, you know."
Searching for evidence to support his claim, I quickly scanned his physique, then said, "Really? Now that would kill me."
"I’m serious. I used to bike, run, and swim dozens of miles, all the same day. I’d train every day."
For a moment there was silence, but then he leaned closer and shared again: "Everything fucked-up when I went swimming in really cold water. Mountain water. Don’t know what happened. It messed up something inside me. Can you believe that? I got into coke. That’s where it all started." He looked down at the ground where bird shit blotted the urine stained street; the stench lingered like an old friend.
Suddenly his mood lifted. His face lit up like a hundred watt bulb as he whipped open the flap of his blazer and reached for the pocket inside where he found a three-quarter full bottle of cooking wine. "I’m a major alcoholic," he declared, then took a swig. "Major boozer." Wine dripped down his chin.
Through the corner of my eye, I saw the #3 turn off Cordova Street onto Main, heading south. "Hate to cut this short — I've got to go," I said. The wheels scraped the curb, muting the screaming birds overhead.
"Wait!" he shouted.
I walked up the steps, dropped my cash in the fare box, then turned to face him.
He stretched his arms wide. "Marry me!" he pleaded.
The doors slammed shut. All I saw through the soiled glass between us were his eyes — stuck on mine — as the bus inched away.
published 25 February 2012