Why?

“The other lightbulb burnt out and so I got a new one to replace it.”

“Why?”

“What do you mean, ‘Why’? I already told you. When I said, ‘The other lightbulb burnt out’ I answered your ‘why’ before you asked it. I’m onto your ‘whys.'”

I had that conversation with my three-year-old daughter around lunchtime yesterday. I think she’s just talkative and hasn’t learned the art of conversation yet. Sometimes she tells stories to people that go on for several minutes, but mainly she just asks ‘why’. Sometimes she asks, “What are those guys doing?”

She asked that one time while we were walking down a cobble-stoned street in Scotland surrounded by mediaeval buildings. Two university students were walking the other way wearing helmets and carrying swords and shields.

“They’re anachronists,” I responded. I couldn’t think of a better answer since I’m pretty sure she doesn’t have a firm grasp on history.

“Oh,” she said.

After her nap yesterday we walked down to the local grocery store to pick up some yogurt and orange juice. We walked by a woman in front of a karaoke bar doorway. She was kneeling down scraping at a crack in the sidewalk.

“What’s that lady doing?” my daughter asked.

I knew she would say that. Often I know the answer: “She’s selling old CDs.” Sometimes I know the answer but change it to make it age appropriate: Instead of “She’s stoned out of her mind,” I say “she’s dancing in the park.”

In this case, I didn’t know the answer and we were so close I’m sure the woman would hear what I said in response. “I actually don’t know,” I said and we kept on walking.

After purchasing our yogurt and orange juice we walked back the same way and the woman was still there. She had dug out quite a few things from the crack in the sidewalk and was sifting through them. It was no clearer to me what she was doing. Whatever it was it seemed awfully inefficient. Nevertheless, it was remarkable the artefacts this archaeologist was able to dig out from between the cracks of a city sidewalk

When I was out getting the lightbulb earlier in the day I stopped to read at a coffee shop. This was on the outskirts of the neighbourhood where downtown meets the Downtown Eastside. The coffee shop is at the base of a skyrise apartment building, which has social housing in the same building as market housing (one can buy there a 2 bedroom, 1150 square foot flat for $717,500). I saw out the window of the coffee shop a man pick up three cigarette stubs near the bike racks and walk away. He would take those and recover the unsmoked tobacco and roll that for himself.

The woman we passed on the way back from the grocery store did not seem to be doing anything like that. My daughter, fortunately, didn’t ask again what she was doing a second time. But maybe if I were alone I would have asked her myself.

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About azlewis

I'm an academic living in the poorest neighbourhood in Canada. I also teach at a local seminary.
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