They Call Me Red

……

 

7 November 2013

“Good morning Chuck, Goldie,” I said.

“No sign of Joy today, but I’ve heard that she’s alright. She’s looking after somebody.”

“You don’t know who, do you?” I asked. “I wonder if Mariah is having problems with her back again?”

“I know these people to see them, but I don’t know their names.”

I asked, “Do you remember Antonio, who used to stand across the street, in front of the library? A small man, wore sunglasses all the time, very quiet, had his teeth kicked out while sleeping on a bench in the park.”

“Yeah, I remember him. When he’d come by he’d never say anything. When I passed him I’d give him a couple of cigarettes, say ‘Good morning’. He’d nod. That was terrible what they did to him, all because he was sleeping on a bench in the park. I hear he’s living in the west end now. He has his disability pension sorted out. I hear he’s doing okay.

“I can’t understand why they would do something like that to a defenseless man, even kicked him while he was asleep. What kind of coward does that?”

“Yeah, and they set fire to Shakes.”

“I know  Shakes. I never heard that he’d been set on fire. When did that happen?”

“It was at least three years ago, that’s how long I’ve known him. He has black scars on both shins. Infection and gangrene set in after the burn.”

“I’ve heard some stories about Shakes. He and Eddie and two other guys were drinking behind the old Rainbow Cinema. One of the guys was bragging about having raped a little girl and her mother. The other guys didn’t take kindly to that. He made another mistake, broke a cardinal rule of people on the streets. These guys had shared their bottle with him all evening. Then he got up to leave, pulled out his own bottle and refused to share with them. You can imagine how upset they were. They were drunk and high. They probably didn’t know what they were doing They beat him up, then set him on fire. Eddie was charged with it.  He decided to take the rap for all of them.  Shakes was in the clear, but he felt guilty. He confessed, to a chaplain at the Mission,  like you would to a priest in the confessional. He wasn’t even sure he’d done anything, but he thought that he might have.  A priest is bound by his order to keep secret anything that is said during confession. It’s not the same with a chaplain. He reported it to the police and Shakes served about fifteen years as an accomplice to murder. He would have been free and clear. He ratted himself out.

“They didn’t have enough evidence on the third guy. He had some blood on his pants. One of the guys carried a stick, with a nail in it, and hit him in the leg.”

I said, “There’s another person I wanted to ask you about,  an artist, sells her drawings on Yonge Street.  She was featured in the Star a while back.”

“That doesn’t ring any bells. It reminds me of a time I had gone to the beer store, bought a case and was looking for a place to drink it. I headed down this trail towards the river I saw three natives, a guy and two women. I guess they had the same idea that I did. Anyway, I sat there, drinking my beer,  it started raining. I heard them say, ‘Where can we go now that it’s raining?’ I said, ‘If you want you can come over to my place.’ The guy asked, ‘Do you trust us?’ I said, ‘Sure, underneath, we’re all the same color.’ So they came to my place, we partied, had a good time,  they ended up staying for about three months. One of the women, Jenna, became my girlfriend. We were in front of the Eaton Center. She was at the front of the crowd waiting for the bus. I don’t know what happened, if she stepped out, or lost her balance. A bus came along and hit her, killed her instantly.” Tears filled his eyes.

“That’s heartbreaking, Chuck.”

“Yeah, it happened a long time back. I try not to think about it.”

“I’ve met your son, Chuck Junior, do you have any other family in town?”

“Yeah, we had four kids. If you’d been in front of Tim Horton’s yesterday at noon you would have seen my two daughters, my granddaughter and grandson. We don’t get together often enough.”

“Well,” I said, “It’s nearly time for me to go to work, so I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“You’ll see me tomorrow, but I don’t know about next week. I hear it’s going to be snowing on Saturday, after that it’s getting really cold. If it’s too cold I don’t come down. I’ve saved my money. There are a few treats that I like. I like to have pizza once a week, a sub once a week, and a small dessert every day. I like chocolate brownies, and some kind of cheesecake, I can’t remember what they call it. I get them at the Metro. I also like to go to the food court at the Eaton Center and get one of their fruit salads. I’m not supposed to have them, because of the sugar, but I don’t tell my doctor.

“I make about twelve dollars a day, down here. It covers my treats and Goldie’s care. I go to the odd movie and hockey game otherwise I have a television set with a forty-four-inch screen to watch sports.”

“See you tomorrow, Chuck.”

~~~

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