It was a hot and sunny four o’clock as I left Loblaws in Westboro.
My two cloth bags didn’t seem to have much in the line of groceries – yogurt (on sale!), cheese blocks (on sale!), oranges (on sale!) and a few other things already forgotten — but still set me back seventy two dollars and change. Heading out the door I heard, then saw, the bus just taking off. That’s fine, I thought, the next one will have fewer people on it. Number two’s come constantly.
Ahead of me, just short of the bus shelter, was a young woman who also missed the bus. Her plastic bags strewn on the pavement, she bent over gathering spilled groceries into the flimsy carriers. I can hear the clink of bottles. Wince.
I got to the bus stop. I stood waiting in the warm sunshine. She was inside the glass shelter. Grocery bags plopped down unceremoniously on the wet and dirty concrete floor. I mentally reviewed my inventory: nope, I hadn’t an extra cloth bag to “loan” her, just the two I had already filled. The woman, a girl really, looked like a typical student. Early twenties, zipped-up college fleece, even though the day is hot. One-person-sized grocery order.
Clink of the bottles again. Along with the pale green plastic bags Galen Weston supplied, I notice she had a four pack of green coolers. Not the good Woody Mexican Lime that the LCBO stopped carrying before Christmas, but the anemic Hard Lemonade ones. She also had a Loblaw’s wine store bag with two bottles. Grocery priorities. Typical student?
A moment later I heard a glugging sound, and noticed she was still sitting on the bench, but with bottle bottom to the sky, wine gurgling out of the bottle at a high rate straight down her throat. About a fifth of the bottle gone in one gulp, she screwed the cap back on and struggled to get it back into the bag. I studied the street. Then stared west, willing a bus to appear.
The No 2 arrived, and the small crowd of travellers got on. She struggled to gather up her bags, the sound of glass bottles dragging over the concrete. She stumbled into the bus, falling to her knees, groceries spilling onto the floor. Bottle of tomato sauce. Bottle of something else. A PC block of cheddar. A baguette – a store-brand one, not the expensive ACE ones – folded in half to fit into the bag. The driver giggled. The girl gathered up the goods and lurched into the sideways seat behind the driver. Girl leans back, closes eyes. Sleeping?
Another stop, another woman gets on, with an oversize jogging stroller and a fragrant box of French fries in hand. There is a major struggle to get the stroller into the bus. The driver giggles. She asks the girl to move, who drags her bottles across the aisle to the first regular seat. Clink, clunk. She misses two of the handles, so the bags sit on the floor in the middle of aisle, contents spewed on the floor. One of the coolers slips out of the cardboard carrying case. It rolls on the floor.
The woman with the stroller tries to engage the girl in conversation, in thanks for having vacated the seat near the door. She waves her child’s hand. She doesn’t seem to recognize that the girl is drunk. So young, so well dressed, so typical student.
Next stop. Another guy gets on the bus. He has obviously had a hard life. He is clean and yet scruffy. Greets another woman in seat in front of me. They haven’t seen each other in some time. They catch up on news.
She’s been clean for a while now. Out of rehab and got a job at _____. She’s broken up with her boyfriend, who is back in jail for two years. She avoids answering where she lives now, the police don’t know where she is so they don’t hassle her. She doesn’t seem to connect the lack of hassles with going clean. He is still living at Saint _____’s. I make a mental note of that, I didn’t know they had a sheltered residence. Neighborhood trivia. Their conversation continues: The police – haven’t caught me yet, he says matter-of-factly.
At Parkdale, the woman with the big stroller decides to get off. Her’s was a pretty short ride. With that big wheeled stroller, why didn’t she just walk it? She struggles to get off, dragging the stroller backwards out the front door while holding her still-steaming fries and trying to pass three Asians who just got on and are trying to make themselves skinnier so she can get by. Eventually they get off, she gets off, they back on. The driver giggles.
The girl in the meantime has awoken. She starts up, gathering up her bags from centre aisle and lurching for the back door. Bottles drag and clank. I await the pungent smell of red wine. Surely a bottle must break. She sounds like 5am on a blue box Monday morning. Another passenger presses the yellow strip to activate the doors. She stumbles out, the bottles dropping onto the concrete sidewalk as they are being dragged rather than carried. None break. She lurches into the shelter and sits down, eyes shut. The corners of her mouth turn down so severely they must be weighted by bricks on strings. The unhappiness is so expressive, so exaggerated, it is unbelievable except that she lies there in the sun tidy and well dressed with her college-branded fleece zipped up tight on a hot spring day.
Baguette, tomato sauce, brick of cheese, red wine. Was there perhaps a packet of spaghetti in there too? Will there be wine left to go with that comfort food, or will she wake up hours later with the spaghetti gone cold and soggy? Does she even connect wine with food, or does it have another purpose?
The bus moves on. I scan the streets for a police car, a para-medic. What will I do if I see one? After Bayswater there is a long gap before the next stop at Preston. The bus speeds up. Making up for lost time. I get out there. Thank you for the ride, I say to the driver. He giggles. I stand up right, my cloth bags firmly in my hands. Before the light can change for me to cross, another No 2 pulls up. Much emptier. The driver looks bored.
By time I get home, my resolution to do something has fled. She becomes, like the other passengers, an anecdote about My Trip to Loblaws. I sit on the back porch and we laugh about the matter of fact description of the boyfriend in jail and the police haven’t got me yet.
The girl with the makings of the spaghetti dinner and bottles of wine wakes me up around 1am and keeps me awake for an hour. Then I forget about her, until she wakes me up at 5am this morning.
Will telling the story get her out of my life?