Thursday, May 18, 2006

India mentioned in her blog, a couple of incidents with street people. she lives in LA, in Hollyweird, so she's seen some good ones. it brought to mind a couple of the -- well, let's just say "odd ducks" and leave it at that -- that i've seen in Calgary.

i was walking downtown in the city a few years back, heading home with my friend 10-13 [his initials; and, incidentally, CB radio "ten code" for "advise of road/weather conditions -- Ed.] from one of Boy Hollywood's plays, "A Farewell to Kings". the play wasn't that great; the original pre-production read-through was much, much better. it wasn't as melodramatic and clichéd. (dude, what were you thinking? workshop, sure, but don't listen to every prophet!)

anyway, as we walked down some generic concrete avenue, we saw a woman sitting on a bus stop bench. she was speaking in very calm, conversational tones to the person (or persons, or thing or things) sitting next to her. of course, there was nothing there. actually, at first i thought she was just talking. but then she started to argue. and i mean strenuously argue with her Invisible Companion™® ***.

10-13 and i kept walking, though our eyes remained fixed, our heads turning as we moved, so as to keep her in sight. i wonder if we were both entertaining the possibility that she and her Invisible Companion™® would race across the street, kill us, and eat our brains. actually, we weren't really worried about the eating-of-the-brains part. it was the killing that had us on edge.

but she didn't even notice us. or the rest of reality for that matter, and just kept on keeping on. as we rounded the corner to the next block, we could still hear her.



the next person i saw wasn't a street person in the sense of "homeless", but a street person, in the sense of "the people that you meet when you're walking down the street" (a la sesame street). or in this case, the train station.

he was an older Native man. really tall, i'm sure over 6'5" -- or maybe my memory just makes him bigger because of the impression he left.

it was before 7am, and i was standing on the Brentwood C-Train platform, waiting to catch the train to work. it was early fall, and really cold. there was frost everywhere. a slight breeze stole any hint of warmth, anywhere. and even wearing my leather jacket and red scarf, i was shivering.

anyway, i'm huddled there, with maybe ten or fifteen other early-risers, when this First Nations guy steps out of one of the train shelters to have a cigarette. he's wearing western boots, jeans, and a plaid shirt. he's tall, like i said, making my 5'8" feel like 4'3". his dark hair is shot through with wiry grey, and it hangs down his back in a thick braid that reaches down between his shoulder blades. he has lit the stub of a cigarette. i don't know if he's one of those peculiar smokers who knocks the cherry off their cigarette and stores the butt for later use, or if he is smoking somone else's discarded cigarette butt.

but i can hear him saying something between puffs. he holds the cigarette like i do, between the tips of his thumb, index and middle fingers. as the smoke coils away from him in the bare breeze, i realize he's not talking, he's singing. just little phrases, little repetitive rhythms; all of them sound the same until my ear really tunes in.

he's not singing, he's chanting. well, maybe he is singing, but it's in his own native language and my caucasian ears pick up the rhythm before anything else.

hey ya, heyyy...hey ya...hey yaaa...hey ya-hey...

it's quiet, one notch above a stage-whisper; a child confiding to a friend in church. the syllables slip out as he paces the concrete platform.

ya-hey, ya-hey...

he's into it, whatever he's saying. i wonder to myself if he's singing a prayer. i wonder what it would be.

hey-ey-ey...hey-ey-ya...

i feel silly trying to transcribe the exact words he used, because this happened five years ago... i am probably recalling things i've heard in a million movies and TV shows since then. but the one thing i need to convey is the peace that the words brought me. i don't know what he was saying; i haven't a clue. maybe they were just random syllables that brought him comfort; an analogue to a tuneless tune whistled in the dark. maybe he was out of his element and feeling it, and a familiar song, a familiar sound, was what he needed. maybe he was praying -- for himself, or the city, or us on the platform, or me, or even just that the train would arrive on time -- who knew?

but it was a wonderful, exotic thing to which to bear witness. i felt priveleged. and, like i said, there was a peculiar comfort that came from hearing that man singing. and his imposing stature, to which the small and gentle sounds contrasted, made the experience even more incongruous and, somehow, beautiful.

soon the train slid into the station with an electric whoosh and a blast of air. we all crowded to the doors, and as he ducked into a car, his towering figure was lost in the mass of business suits and overcoats around him.

i have no native blood in me at all. but i've always felt something that draws me to that culture. the stories and legends, the beautiful and diverse artwork, andin particular, the connected and powerful spirituality. so this experience was, for me, a special one.

wow. now the footnote at the bottom of this post is going to seem incongruous and disrespectful to the memory i just shared.

well, hopefully you followed it as a footnote and read it before you read this part. if not, oh well.

more later, maybe. the sun is prompting me to write, these days.

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2 Comments:

Blogger humblemuslimah said...

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2:24 PM

 
Blogger melissa said...

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2:45 PM

 

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