The air is more solid than I remember, a thick soup filled with grass clippings, alley piss, exhaust, and impending rain. The clouds have been gathering for hours, thunder cracking and rolling like avalanches and I fool myself into thinking that it will bring down the humidity, clear the air, but I know it won’t. These downpours seldom do.
My shirt is already wet with sweat. I’ve been using it as a rag as I retrace my steps back to the house where I will be staying until the end. There is a bit of barbecue sauce on my fingers courtesy of Fat Boys Ribs and it ends up on my shirt as well. I’m too hot and too tired to be embarrassed. Besides, it’s Ribfest and I’m not the only one.
London Ontario is a sizable city of over 350,000 but it’s a small town in every other respect. Change comes slowly, if at all. The Scottish pub I drank in and laughed in and weaved my way home from turns on it’s carriage house lights signifying that it’s open for business. The little parlor that served up enormous slices of mediocre pizza after a night of dancing pumps out it’s familiar mozzarella smells. The used bookstore opens it’s door and Ace Is Base sings memories down the street. I sing along until I’m out of range. If you wanna leave, I won’t beg you to stay…
I have a cold cider in the pub and leave a sizable tip. I’m feeling overly generous and sentimental and both younger and older than when I first walked in. Afterwards, I’m back on the sidewalk and I make my way to the bus stop on the corner. I’m hot again, already.
A man in a torn tee, baggy jeans and a cloak of body odor smiles at me, a rib bone sucked clean and hanging from his greasy lips.
“Saw you at the Ribfest,” he says with a nod to my shirt. I fold my arms over my chest even though it’s too late. I don’t want to engage him but I can’t help it. I nod back, eyes fixed on the bone and the orange drips forming on his chin from his drooling maw. He contorts his lips and adjusts the bone from one side to the other, sauce leaking.
His hair looks like it’s been cut, badly, with kitchen shears, long and short sections mashed to his sweaty head. I doubt he’s run a comb through it in weeks. I doubt that he could.
The waist of his pants are too large and cinched tightly to his wiry frame by a worn belt, his stomach curving in toward his spine before disappearing under his dirty shirt.
He smiles and tips his invisible hat with one hand, rubbing his belly with the other then he jumps up onto the thirteen Wellington. It’s the one I’ve been waiting for as well but I hold back. I’ll wait for the next one. Old Greasy might think we’ve developed a report and I don’t want him to know where my stop is.
I’ve been living in Vancouver for the past ten years and I’m used to men like this. I’ve watched them come and go from the alleys behind my building searching the dumpsters for bottles and anything else of value. Sometimes, but not often, it’s food.
When I used to live in London, there weren’t as many homeless. Or, maybe, I just didn’t notice them. Now, I see them everywhere. They mill around downtown, catching the shade in the alley between Dundas and the Farmer’s Market. So that’s one thing that’s changed. Another, is me.
The number thirteen lurches forward and pulls away from the curb and I sit on the stoop of the nearest building and wait, wiping the sticky hair off of my forehead with the back of my hand. I pull my handbag unto my lap and I wait for the next bus, in the afternoon heat, forgetting that buses don’t come as often here. I keep craning my neck to look down the street in vain.
My knuckles, tightly wrapped around the handles of my handbag feel the first few drops just as the thunder lets out a loud crack that makes everyone on the street do a startled hop and look up. Then they casually dip into their bags, pull out their umbrellas and begin unfurling. They don’t miss a step.
I haven’t got an umbrella. I’d forgotten about these summer storms that strike with little warning. It’s another in a long list of things I’ve forgotten.