The block between Hastings and Cordova always causes us the most stress, but it’s unavoidable on our walks to school. The other night, my wife forbade our daughter from walking ahead due to some intimidating looking young men loitering next to a building. The girl didn’t seem to understand since she walks the block so often. But the night time is different.
This morning was beautiful one. The moon was a sliver in the blue sky and it was just cold enough to see our breath. When we reached that notorious block the boy noticed a woman crawling on the sidewalk, the hood of her coat covering her face. She was inspecting the cracks in the pavement for drugs that might have escaped her. The boy stopped, turned around and pointed to her. “Ha ha, she’s crawling on the ground.”
He thought it was funny because it looked like a grown woman acting like a child. Grown-ups don’t act like kids, but when they do, they’re usually trying to make you laugh. I tried to keep him from embarrassing the woman and grabbed his hand to lead him on to school. I noticed that he was standing right next to the white plunger shaft of the inside of a syringe. The outside casing containing the needle wasn’t present so I declined pointing it out.
We kept walking—me, the boy, and the girl—and greeted our old neighbour D— with a wave and a bird call. He always greets people with a bird call. He also only walks on the grass. We tell our kids never to walk on the grass because there might be hidden needles there—in the long grass or under the leaves. Where was the casing of that plunger? Beneath the leaves? D— may already be HIV+ or have Hep C, so maybe that’s why he didn’t seem concerned as he shuffled toward the park.
“D— looks like he’s having a bad day,” said the girl.
“Did he?” I didn’t notice. He didn’t seem much different than normal. What is a bad day for D—?
Once we crossed Hastings, things seemed softer. Some paramedics were questioning a man whose nose was blistered with gin blossoms. I didn’t recognize him. The kids were interested in the ambulance. The school is on the very next block but we have to walk around the other side for the boy’s preschool.
On the sidewalk, a crow was digging through a bag of ramen noodles. It flew away when we approached. The boy laughed again and said, “Ha ha, that bird was pecking at that package.” We looked at the abandoned bag. Next to it was the butt of a joint. Alcohol and weed south of Hastings, crack and heroin north of it.
After dropping the kids off I walked back home the same way. The woman who was crawling on the sidewalk was now standing on the corner, advertising her petite body so she can buy more drugs. It was C—. I couldn’t see her face when she was on the ground but there she was, standing up, mouth open wide. It rarely closes. She is a grown woman in age alone.