I usually get on the 7 Nanaimo just above the Granville Bridge. For the first part, riding down Granville into downtown, the number seven pretty much resembles any other bus. Then you turn east, through Gastown, past Oppenheimer Park, past small old houses, an old Chinese woman bent over sweeping the sidewalk with a handbroom, past wooden warehouses between which you see can Burrard Inlet and the docks. Right around here the bus turns into a time machine: now you’re riding into the past.
The people getting on the bus know each other. They wear 70s-style jeans. If it’s Cheque Day they grin, and sometimes you see their front teeth are missing. Their faces look like the faces I knew and was familiar with when I was 22. I stare out the windows at old hotels that have always been there, the old Rogers Sugar Refinery, the railroad tracks and the white and grey and darker grey skies above the tracks. Sometimes I open the window to hear the seagulls bark as they swoop in to eat the wheat that has fallen onto the trackbed.
When I get off the bus I walk up Lakewood to Sorrento Barbers. It’s an Italian shop located almost at the corner of Nanaimo and Hastings.
Cars and buses noisily filling up the street; people walking side by side on the sidewalk. I go in. CBC Newsworld is playing on a small TV mounted up at the back. I sit down with the other customers on the long black bench facing the mirrors and the barbers’ chairs.
Gently, nervously, as if I’ve been sick, Mino my barber says, “Hey, Joe – how are you doing.”
“I’m doing good, Mino. How about you.”
A little old man comes in. He wears a black suit and a white shirt with the collar buttoned up. I notice his sunken cheeks, his smoking eyes. He sits on the window sill, his feet in their small black shoes dangling in the air. Then he starts arguing in Italian with Joe, the barber by the window. Mino joins in. The little old man’s hands move up and down. He grips them between his knees; releases them. They fly around. Joe and Mino are barbering, so they can’t use their hands. But their shoulders shrug. Their elbows lift out and back. Their knees gesticulate. I love this. I’ve been coming here for fifteen years, and this is why.
Usually when I see them I think: wharf rats. They alertly sidle along; they check you out with their sharp black eyes. I like to watch them drink, turning their beaks sideways at a puddle or water fountain, and I like to watch them eat, dropping the mussel shell from twenty feet up, tearing the McDonald’s bag apart to get at the fries.
Smart birds. But I take them for granted.
Then about a month ago, nesting season, I saw one come in for a landing on the tree outside my apartment window. It carried a twig in its mouth that was twice as long as itself, and it was flapping its wings. It was coming in too fast; just before landing it leaned back in the air and opened its wings wide.
In the daylight a crow’s outer feathers shine with a dull gleam: they have the greyish sheen of an old black suit. But the underside of a crow’s fully extended wings eat light like the black of a torturer’s cloak. I only saw it for moment; but for the next few hours the sight kept reappearing in my mind’s eye
At the end of April I went for a walk to the Hollywood Theatre. (They have weekend matinees now.) Wet sidewalks, grey skies, and all along Seventh Avenue, in front of the old houses, apple and tulip trees in pristine silken bloom. Days like this wrench at my heart; as I walked, I felt surrounded by times gone by, the years when I was young and lived on Cypress Street and walked for hours through Kits in the rain, trying to relieve my unhappiness.
On Balaclava a man in his fifties was gardening. His old cocker spaniel, muzzle white with age, walked slowly up to him, wagging its tail.
“Oh, you’re a good dog,” the man said. He smiled at me, then crouched down and scratched the beast’s ears. “You’re the best dog,” he whispered, putting his arm around it. “Aren’t you, girl. The very best.”
759 words, May 29, 2004