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Short Story: Hope and Misery

homeless person sits in busy street

By Orrin Farries

My name is Les and my life is good. Or, at least that’s what I tell myself. I don’t have to go to school anymore, and I don’t have any responsibilities. Sure I don’t have much money, or many friends, or a steady job, but I’ve got what I need. I’ve got my mother, Hope. She has taught me everything that I need to know to get on in life. When I get hungry, she’s taught me all of the shops that are generous to the poor, and when I get cold, she’s told me which buildings I can sneak into without getting caught.

The city is marvelous in summer, a beautiful spread of green trees and blue skies, with a warm wind that carries the mélange aroma of the city’s bustling downtown. Ever since my mother and I hitched a ride to safety from the clutches of my dad, I’ve always found the smell of diesel fumes to be as sweet as spring lilies.

Then my mother died. We’d set up camp the night before in a hovel we’d found beside a poorly-attended parkade at the bottom of the hill going into downtown. She’d been nursing a dry cough for a couple of weeks, and insisted that I have the blanket for the night. I offered to share, but she told me that that was a sure way for me to catch what she had. The cough never sounded that bad.

Wandering the streets without my mother, I ran into a funny stranger standing atop a milk crate, a funny little microphone taped to the side of his face.

“And you sir, what have you done to secure your souls place in the kingdom of heaven?” his voice boomed and crackled from his tiny speaker.

“Well, uhm, I don’t kn—“ I was cut off by a car driving by, its front passenger protruding his torso from the window, flipping both middle fingers at the nice man standing on the crate.

Completely unbothered, the man continued,
“…for he who does not enter the kingdom of heaven like a child, will never enter it.”

“Well I’m not a child, sir,” I said, feeling confused and ashamed.
“Like a child, my child, like a child. Have you a mother? A father?”
I broke down.
“My mother, Hope, she died this morning, or last night, and my father is as good as dead to me.”
“Well, my child, it seems as though you are in need of guidance, of enlightenment.”
“I’ll pass. Without my mum, I don’t want no one else telling me where to go and what to do.”

So I went on walking, and I ran into several other kind strangers. A fella by the name of Bootless Joe showed me how I was supposed to beg for money. Funny, up until that moment, I’d always relied on mum to get the money from strangers. Sometimes we’d stand on a corner, the two of us, and some strangers would put money in a tin can that we kept. Other times, a stranger would come, and him and my mom would go around the corner, and she’d come back with a fistful of five dollar bills. She never told me how she got the money.

“It doesn’t matter how we get the money, what matters is that we’ve got it.”

For seven days after my mother died I walked around the city, trolling the old corners, but the money was never as good. I would ask some of the guys who used to give money to my mom if they had any change to spare. They’d ask where my mom was, and when I told them, their gazes would turn to their feet, and they’d walk on as if they’d never talked to me.

A month after my mother died I was starving, my clothes had started falling apart, and the winter’s cold was setting in. I got caught breaking into an apartment that had eviction notices all over the front door, and some government paperwork deeming the place “uninhabitable”.

I spent the evening in a jail cell, grateful to have a little nylon blanket and a sleeping pad to rest upon. When the guard woke me the next morning, he asked if I had anyone that could bail me out. I told him that I had no one, and he rolled his eyes.

“Well I’m not gonna have you be my problem, using this place as a way out of the cold,” the guard said, pulling a thick wad of slips from his pocket, “I’ve cut a deal with the bus station in town, I’m giving you a one-way ticket to anywhere but here.” The guard said the last three words in a dreary almost rehearsed tone. He told me to take the ticket to the lady at the front desk of the bus station and to have her help me pick a place to live.

When I got to the bus station, I felt a shift in my soul and spirit, I was finally getting out of this city. I could become anew in a different city, sure I still didn’t have good clothes, money in my pocket, or my good mother to guide me, but I felt this was a very good thing. I got to the front desk at the bus station, the lady behind the desk was young, perhaps around my age, dark-skinned, and had eyes that shone in unison with her smile. She asked me where I wanted to go, I told her some place warm and friendly, and after some furious typing on her keyboard, she had told me she had a bus leaving for Bella Coola in British Columbia.

I waited for the bus in the lobby area for a couple of hours. When it finally screeched into place in front of the bus station, I got up and went to say goodbye to the only city that I had ever known. I turned to the lady at the desk.
“Thank you for your help Miss, by the way, what’s your name?”
“Grace.”

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