‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
The old man turns and gathers up his excess saliva/snot with a combination snort, gurgle and a contortion of the mouth. He lets it fly with abandon; his lack of concern for the surroundings is utterly complete. The spittle lands with an audible plop on the semi clean linoleum floor beside his cot. A resting place that is a balance between a prison bed and a fold out army cot. Simple and impersonal, well worn blankets that have covered many bodies before.
He groans with every movement. His body feels weaker and stiffer than he can recall. Slowly he shifts his legs to the edge of the cot. He would like to stand up and make the short distance to the washroom that is only a few feet away. But the cot is too low and his legs too weak. He grunts indicipherably to the air. Grunts again louder this time. A young man in a nearby cot is roused by the voice in the semi darkness. “Gotta Pee” in Cree, brings the younger man to action. “I’m coming” “Fuck, Allan it’s too fuckin early!”
He gets up and aids in maneuvering the old man to his feet. Gets the walker positioned so Allan can start shuffling towards his goal. There are times lately when it is just too far and not enough time. It can’t wait for the rest of his body to catch up. There are the diapers that sit in a discreet unmarked box in the nearby washroom. That will be the next step, soon.
The morning discomfort in his joints does not let up. After his business is wrapped up, he slowly shuffles, pushes his walker through the dorm past the rest of the snoring, sniffling, snuffling men who have won a placement in this stark haven of sleeping humanity. These men made the grade. Passed the intoxication test and so made it into the warmth, the security of the inner sanctum. Many do not. they spend the night in the cold foyer trying to sleep on the floor or a hard plastic chair. There is also the ATM vestibules, or huddling by warm airs ducts or even staying up all night and walking the streets to keep warm rather than the alternative; Dead frozen or the police cells.
Allan’s mobility has limited his options. He cant sleep outside any more. His legs wont carry him around the block never mind walking all night. No one snuck him any liquor last night and he is between trustee paydays and so he is not hungover. He thinks he will have to get a drink today, or he will lose it.
He shuffles past the cold foyer door. He can see through the security glass door that some of the regulars have showed up and are passed out or waiting for the doors to open at 8am. He knows most of them. Most are long term street people or some with unstable housing. There’s a million and one stories out there hiding in the hearts of men and women like Allan.
“Good Morning Mr. Moccasin!” breaks the dullness of the morning. The upbeat shelter support worker is nearing the end of a long 12 hour night shift and he is giddy from exhaustion. Allan is not much for niceties in the morning. His pain takes priority and he makes sure the worker knows it. “Give me my pills!” “Hey!, Hey! Wheres my fucking pills.” The worker turns from surfing Facebook and takes in Allan and his request. He responds kindly: “Ok Allan, pills coming right up.” “How did you sleep?”
Allan grunts and waits for his Tylenol to arrive. The support worker quickly delivers pain relief and water. Allan swallows, hopes for quick relief; and turns to walk down hall towards cafe. He passes a woman sleeping on the floor, drool and blood from her nose dried on to her winter parka, toque pulled down over her face. The support worker is keeping an eye on her to make sure she keeps breathing and isn’t seizuring. Allan walks by without a glance. He makes the cafe slowly, turns the walker that is supplied by the shelter around to sit on. He ackwardly pulls himself up to a table, hoping someone is working that will bring him a coffee. Its too early, the dining area is just getting rolling. The smell of coffee are just beginning. Morning or night, it doesnt matter that much anymore. He sleeps anytime, sometimes right at the dinner table, half sleep, half passed out.
A younger Cree is up and about, shuffling around, looking for something. He isnt paying attention to the elder. He doesnt know Allan or obviously traditional treatment of elders because he makes no move to getting Allan his first coffee.
“Hey”, Allan grunts. The stranger comes over. “Coffee”, Allan points to the Bunn percolating in the corner of the dining area. The kid walks away in a fog of meth psychosis, scratching at invisible bugs under his skin, mumbling incoherantly.
“Fucking Indians!” Allan curses in Cree. He flips the kid off as he walks out into the frigid winter chill in the shelter pyjamas; Tshirt and boxer underwear. No respect anymore. The drugs they are doing make them crazy. Allan longs for the old days. The days when a man was a man and a woman a woman, alcohol was the only drug you needed. People werent so crazy.
He is frustrated. He cant just up and leave anymore and do what he chooses. His body has caught up with him. The shelter is not so bad. Could be worse. So many rules though. That new manager is always checking him out and telling him what to do. Allan laughs to himself. “Fucking bald whitey! Lol.” He thinks he is in charge. Big Bossman, some of them call him. Let him think that. If he gets too close, I could still take him out with one punch. I did it to that cop a couple of years ago. Got to spend the winter in jail. Warm and 3 meals a day. Dried out for a bit and everything. Not so bad. Bossman better watch how close he comes.
Oh, fuck. Almost forgot what today is. Some girls from some home are coming again to get together with me. Bossman keeps telling me about like its a big deal. Met them a month ago, signed some papers to go live in a old folks home. Thought it might be good. Tried it for a few days. Was total BS. Too quiet for me. Nice to be around the nurses, but everyone was not just old, they are half dead. Too quiet, they dont take well to me doing what I want. No freedom. Even the smokes are locked up.
Tried to punch one of the nurses, then started banging on locked door. Told them to let me out. Got a cab and went right to park for a drink. I knew shelter would let me in. Bossman is white, but also a Christian. But Jesus I needed to drink!
Made it back to shelter that night. Cant climb those fucking stairs and damn elevator wont work. The boys had to carry me up. Staff just looked at me, like they seen a ghost. “Allan, what are you doing here? You got a new home!”
“Open the fucking door.” They buzz me in. Just gone a few days and the indians greet me like a returning hero from war. They really missed me. But manager couldn’t believe his eyes. Ha Ha! He thought he got rid of me forever!
Bossman asks me to come in the office a couple of days later. Scolds me like a little kid. He looks stressed, bags under his eyes. He heard from old folks home that I wasnt too good. Says something about that he cant take care of me anymore. You need a better place to live than this shelter. You need proper medical care, nurses and food. “We arent set up to take care of you Allan,” “We are going to have you assessed again and an intake done for the home again. If you leave the home again, we cant let you back in the shelter.”
“My money, give me a few bucks. Come on?”
Bossman looks frustrated. He gets me my allowance for the day. I get a kid to buy a bottle and sneak it into shelter. I dont want to think…anymore.
The same girls as last time are here today. They are very nice to me. I sign the papers again. The Bossman doesn’t look any happier after. He and the intake workers are just another long line of do-gooders who want to help the homeless, drunken Indian. I really don’t like that place, the old folks home, Its too clean, too many rules, the others who live there are so out of it. I can always escape again after they get tired of me. I know Bossman will let me in again. He’s a sucker. Those Christians are soft.
Two months later a cab pulls up in front of the homeless shelter. Allan sits in the backseat. The Bossman is alerted. They have been watching for him just in case. The nursing home said this was the last time they would take him back. Allan starts to get out of the cab. The manager meets him at the back door of the cab. They speak.
The manager stands as if to block the door from opening any further. The taxi driver is impatient. Allan’s one leg is outside the cab with his foot on the pavement. His eyes look off far into the distance as he slumps back in the seat.