Wednesday, April 09, 2008


It’s a gorgeous morning when I walk to the drop-in centre. The streets are nearly empty, I guess because it’s still fairly early and Sunday, except for a sporty red car with Tragically Hip blaring out its open windows. Happy Hour… Happy Hour… Happy Hour is here…


The police come. Apparently they show up once in a while looking for someone. One officer comes in the front door and the other goes round through the back. I wonder if there will be a violent take-down, if guns will be pulled. They meet near the washrooms, and one officer goes into the men’s while the other goes back around the computers. I remember that a man I hadn’t seen before went into the bathroom, quite a while ago now, but he must have come out without me noticing. I only noticed him because earlier I found him and the woman he came in with a bit scary, especially when the woman rebuked him: if you do that they’ll be even more suspicious. Don’t do that! After a minute, the bathroom officer comes out and stands sentry next to it.

Sister Christine speaks to the policeman and the word indisposed, carefully enunciated, floats over to my ears. Guess that guy hadn’t come out after all. After a while, the man comes out of the bathroom, and the cops escort him calmly and uneventfully from the building.


Someone donated five boxes of candy canes, and Sister Christine asks me to put a couple out for people to help themselves to. Immediately, a man comes to the counter. He doesn’t look very old, maybe 35ish, and his blue toque matches his round blue eyes. He has reddish gold curls sticking out from underneath his toque, and stubble the same colour covers his jowls. “Are these for just anyone?” He is incredulous.


“Oh great.” He speaks slowly. “I’m going to take some for my room at the shelter, for when I can’t smoke, it will really help.”

“Oh, good idea.” I’ve smoked before. I know how much nic fits suck.

“I’m James,” he says, holding out his hand. I notice he has a silver ring on one of his fingers, and his hands are nice, big-knuckled yet smooth and hairless.

I shake his hand, “I’m Kate.”


Later, people line up for lunch before it’s ready. I start to go down the line, finding out who’s paying or using an account. It doesn’t really matter if people have money or not, but we like to have some idea of how many meals we serve. And some people like to pay for their meals.

I can’t remember the name of a man who got a coffee from me a little earlier, but I know he has a card. He’s wearing black skinny jeans and a short black blazer that ends at his waist, nipped in. His long brown hair is in a pony tail, and I tried not to notice the tremor in his hands. But it was obvious. As I reflected on the possible causes of his tremor, I noticed my own hand shaking. I worry it’s carpal tunnel, but I remember the days when it was really bad hangover.

“I’m sorry, I’ve forgotten your name.” The long-haired man in black reminds me, and as I search for his card, he asks me how long it took me to grow out my hair. I find this a strange question and figure I must have misheard, but no. He asks again, and I heard right. It takes me a long time to think back. I cut it to shoulder-length right before Swee’pea was born, so it’s been about two years. It’s suddenly crazy long now.

“Wow. That’s a lot of growth in such a short time.” I feel bad for thinking about cutting it off last week.

James reminds me that he’s at the shelter, so he’s not expected to pay. “But,” he says, “I may not eat right now. I might eat in a little while. I’m on methadone, and I just took it, and sometimes it” – he rubs his belly with a pained expression and I can’t hear his exact words as they peter out, but I get the gist. Methadone can upset your stomach. I get the impression that if he didn’t time it right, he might even lose his lunch entirely. You learn something new every day.
We serve more people than I think I’ve ever served before.


Later still James comes up for a coffee. “Hi James.”

He looks a bit confused. “Pardon?”

Shit. Maybe I got his name wrong. “It’s James, right?”

“Oh.” He relaxes. “Yeah.”

“Did you get something to eat?”

“Oh yes, thanks… What’s your name again?”



Earlier, Sister Christine asked me to come with her to get kidney beans from the storeroom. We walked through the centre, passing tables and computer terminals, and she said good morning to everyone, asking one man if he was feeling better today (yes). As we passed the people on computers, she touched each person’s head as she said good morning, her hand resting longer than strictly necessary, and I imagined grace and love flowing through her fingertips into their hair follicles and spreading across their being. It looked like a benediction. I suppose maybe it was.


Mimi said...

Nice. I love these word-snapshots.

Beck said...

Lovely writing, Cin.

jen said...

sister, it's tremendous in it's realness, isn't it? i felt like i was right there with you.

and an aside on the James piece...i think so often folks in these situations are not addressed as individual people, and when you do it, it might catch them off guard. it's heartbreaking really. i don't know if that was what was going on, but it's what i've noticed in my world.

Janet said...

You did a wonderful job of bringing me there with you.

I think we sometimes underestimate the power of touch. I can still remember the shivers of warm recognition running down my spine when my older sister, and one of her little classmates, gently touched my head as they passed by where I was sitting. And this memory? It's from preschool, 32 years ago.

Pearl said...

Great storytelling. It feels real even from this distance.

Lisa b said...

I loved working at the Out of The Cold Program and think about it often.
I still see some of the men who used to come in downtown. Which is nice. Some of them came to my wedding because the program was in the church hall
I don't think I'll ever forget my suburban boss' face when one of the guys cut him off in the receiving line.

flutter said...

Oh my GOD how I love this post.

Kyla said...

This was an excellent piece. I loved it.

Christine said...

you are a great writer, and this post was written with such clarity and with love. it made me want sister christine to bless me, too.