07 January 2015 – Most days working downtown I go for a quick stroll on lunch. Before the calendar changed I could count on seeing a particular girl along the way. Camped out on a corner (near a lingerie shop if it must be known), her belongings and takeaway food containers strewn about a fair radius from where she sat, back against a street lamp, comforter draped over her shoulders. Even when it was raining.
The first few times I saw her it crossed my mind that this wasn’t the place for her. Maybe because she looked so young (I’d have guessed 15 or 16, tops). Or her physique (she was quite chubby). Either way, she just didn’t look the sort to take to the streets or otherwise hit the road.
For one thing, her stuff wasn’t the camping kind. No large knapsack, no bedroll, no sleeping bag. Also, she wore decidedly indoor clothing and from what I could tell her only footwear was a pink pair of fleece-fur slippers (with stitched-in eyes). If anything, her corner had the appearance of a messy bedroom brought outside—without the niceties of furniture, walls, privacy.
Nobody, of course, should have to resort to asking/begging/noodling for the kindness of passing strangers. But, how to put this…right or wrong, most appear to play the part well enough for it to seem there’s a choice involved. They write up signs, put out cups or dishes, play music, display their pets, emote…. Whatever their gambit, whatever the reason for them being in their position, most of these (accomplished streeters? spare change artists?) will acknowledge a hand out in some fashion—a thank you, a nod, a smile, a flash of the eyes.
Not this girl. I often put whatever I had left of my lunch within arm’s reach of where she sat and never got a reaction. She just sat there. No matter what. Gaze in a haze. Face devoid of expression. Indifferent to the goings on around her. Entranced by something akin to boredom. As if stuck in her bedroom on a dull day.
You get used to things the more you see them. They become part of the routine. The embedded thoughtless routine.
The other day the corner by the lingerie shop was vacant. Today a young woman took up the spot. A rakish thing with dreds, a dog, hiking boots, and a goodly-sized knapsack. She sat on a folded sleeping bag and busied herself with one of those ‘adult’ colouring books. At her feet a pair of hyacinth (purple and pink), an upturned bumblebee toque and a small cardboard sign that read (in fancy lettering): love conquers all.
I had a little baggy of celery and carrot sticks and asked if she would like them. Her face lit up. ‘Look Dido,’ she said to her dog. ‘Real food.’
As I strolled back to work I wondered after the other girl. I don’t know why but it occurred to me that maybe she was part of a performance piece. A live action street exhibit. Filmed to document passing reactions to a scene from everyday reality, decontextualized.