Here in Montréal many of the panhandlers are perfectly bilingual. Scrawled on ripped cardboard box parts, the signs read:
“J’ai faim. S’il vous plaît aider.
I am hungry. Please help.”
In the dead of the Québec winter they line the interior tunnels leading to the subway systems, or metro as we call it here in francophone Canada. Most are sleeping, some are drinking openly visible bottles of alcohol, others are slumped against a wall and staring vacantly into space. I have even seen some of them shooting heroin, not at all bothered by the sight of perturbed pedestrians in broad daylight.
I never spoke very much to any of these homeless people. I knew their lives were much more complicated than a simple summary could attempt and were often marred by drugs, mental health issues, and broken homes. I sometimes gave them food but never money as I have been afraid that my donation would serve as a vehicle to fulfill any addiction urges. Though many of the members of the homeless community in my cities of residence became familiar faces, I didn’t know them. I didn’t know anyone who was homeless. Until recently.
A week ago I was comfortably perched on a café stool, an overpriced pot of tea at my right, my books at my left, the view of my neighbourhood street ahead. My laptop was at the centre and my piano fingers were quickly tapping out some notes when a new email popped up in my inbox. It was from “Mike”, my ex-boyfriend. We had broken up many years ago.
Mike was sending me a barrage of emails after almost a year-long bout of silence. I had asked him not to contact me many times but, per usual, he circumscribed past the imaginary boundaries that I had erected between him and I. Mike pleaded for me to be his “friend” again. His emails were block letters, ellipses, and irregular grammar. He told me he was homeless.