Flash in the Pan
A Quarterly Posting at Tiny Lights
by Marion Agnew
We call him Walking Man. When my husband and I see him, we're usually driving somewhere-often, the ten miles or so across the city. He's always on foot. We see him on both the north and south sides of the city, sometimes several days in a row. We've been watching him-in a way, watching out for him-for nearly three years now.
In the summer, he wears jeans, a t-shirt, dark tennis shoes. In the winter, he has thick reddish leather hiking boots and a parka, heavy knitted gloves and a stocking cap. Rain or shine, he often carries a couple of those flimsy white plastic bags from the grocery store until they are scuffed and gray, but he doesn't otherwise seem the stereotypical street person. He keeps himself tidy and shaves. He never appears drunk.
From his salt-and-pepper hair, he could be anywhere from forty to sixty, but his stride is vigorous and purposeful-he's going somewhere, on his way, intent. Late last spring, my husband and I sat on the balcony of our apartment and watched him walk up the long hill across the street. At each streetlight, he carefully stepped off the sidewalk onto the street for a few steps, so that the light never was between him and the street, but he never slowed down.
His rough face is darkened red by weather, his voice surprisingly soft. I know this because in the early summer, Walking Man came into a fast-food restaurant while we were eating lunch. He respectfully asked the counter help if he could use the washroom. I wasn't paying attention and wouldn't have noticed if my husband hadn't surreptitiously poked me.
We aren't the only ones who notice Walking Man. One day as last summer wound down, he came into the church on a Sunday morning just after the service. The pastor got him the requested grocery store voucher and invited him to stay for coffee, but Walking Man declined. I was glad he'd come in, because the summer had been a hot one and we hadn't seen him for awhile. Later, I asked the pastor about Walking Man. "Sure," he said. "Told me went back west for a month to sign up for disability again. We see him everywhere, always walking."
So that day late in the fall, waving to Walking Man seemed like the natural thing to do. I was pulling out of the parking lot after working out at the gym. He seemed to be heading for the warmth of the donut shop. I stopped to let him pass in front of the car.
"It's Walking Man," I said aloud and lifted my hand from the wheel with a smile.
He shot me a look, dark and suspicious.
And then it occurred to me: Walking Man has a name. A real one. Glen, or Bill. Raymond. I don't know what it is, because much as I pretend I do, I don't really know him.
Marion Agnew lives and writes in Thunder Bay, Ontario.
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