Each time I stepped outside the lobby to smoke, he sauntered across the street from the park’s stone washroom building. I gladly gave him what I had. His face is beautiful, shaped such that a smile is its most natural posture. Eyes partly closed, but twinkling. His weathered complexion made it hard to guess his age. So I asked. 45. He doesn’t hear well, so would gently raise his hand to his ear if I didn’t shout loudly enough.
The shelter a few blocks over won’t admit him. “I’m not funded…”
“What brought you to Saskatoon?” His ex started sleeping around on their reservation. He traveled away: “I’m healing…,” he struck his breast tenderly. He’ll have to go back as the season turns. Too cold here, and he’s not funded.
I wondered if the fixed smile–as I perceived it–wasn’t also a wince from hurt carried constantly conscious. Inescapable. I don’t remember what I said that made him laugh and cough, but then I knew. It’s a smile. Surely it’s both. Pain and joy. Fear and freedom. Desperate, but content to be sharing a cigarette with a stranger. The stranger content to be too.
He raised his cap and massaged his brow, and I tucked my near-empty pack into his leather-skin coat pocket as I readied to depart, shouting, “For later…”
Negligent of my own soul this morning, I didn’t ask to be blessed. But I was.
One cheek rose higher toward a sparkling eye. “Oh…you’re an angel…” He high-fived me.
You are too, Samson 45.
Neil D. 2019-07-24
[Related: Green Shirt]