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Three boys cross a bridge

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I almost got "jacked" on my way downtown a couple of weeks ago.

I was walking over the Slaw Rebchuk Bridge when I spotted three boys coming my way. The oldest couldn't have been a day over 14.

I'm usually wary when I see a group of kids coming towards me in the evening. But it was a sunny morning, and my mind was elsewhere. Then for some reason, my spidey-senses got to tingling.

They were dressed in the usual uniform: faded T-shirts, runners, jeans. If I had to guess, I'd say they were Métis kids, or "Métis in appearance" -- whatever that means.

They could have been poor white kids.

I could see similarities in their features, so I'm guessing they were brothers or cousins.

They had that rumpled look about them; like they hadn't slept because their parents had been drinking all night, or maybe they were on the run.

It was a school day, so no doubt they had better places to be than walking from Central territory into the heart of the North End. "People before profit," said the sign.

They were moving slowly. We were going to cross paths at the top of the bridge.

The third kid -- the smallest one -- was giving off a nervous vibe as I got closer. Yep, something was up.

I decided to play it cool and look friendly. After all, plenty of kids in the hood get sneered at for no reason other than just being there.

Maybe I was wrong about these boys. I've been wrong many times in my life.

But I am street smart.

I've watched cons go down when I was four. I was a teenager on the streets for a time, and my life depended on fast judgments about people and their intentions. I was lucky to never make a mistake.

I wasn't going to fight them if something happened, but I was going to try a little yelling and running away.

Then it happened. The decision was made in seconds. Just as we were about to meet, the middle kid turned to look at the tallest kid for some sign of confirmation.

I saw a flicker in the tall boy's eyes, who was maybe four inches taller than me. Without a sideways glance, he delicately shook his head. It meant no. His sidekick turned to look at me as the trio passed me.

I'd like to think I was wrong, but I know in my heart I wasn't.

Those poor kids were looking for someone to jack, but I'll never know why. I can only imagine the worst.

In times of desperation, maybe I would have tried the same thing given the right "mentors" to teach me.

I do know they weren't seasoned vets -- not by a long shot. My guess is they had a little bit of shoplifting under their belt, if that.

Take it from someone who was once a kid like that herself.

Perhaps they changed their minds about me because my purse was worn cross-body style, or I reminded them of their mom. Or maybe it was my toddler and her bright smile that made the tall boy change his mind.

It could have been because there is still innocence among them. Well, I'm grateful for whatever reason it was.

People make split-second decisions all the time that affect their entire lives.

My guess is people in my neighbourhood get robbed for their money, cigarettes or valuables all the time; they call them poverty crimes, I think.

We only hear about them in everyday gossip between friends.

Most people don't have much to steal but get robbed anyway. They feel like it's too much of a hassle to report it to the police. They likely won't get what they've lost back anyway.

Maybe it's a good thing in a way.

I like to think those boys didn't rob anyone that day since it might cause their gradual downfall. It was a fleeting thought of desperation and then it faded like a breeze.

Nobody wants that for their kids, or anyone else's, for that matter. And yet, it happens time and time again. The things kids do to survive sometimes boggles the mind.

Bless those boys as they make their way in the world.

 

Colleen Simard is a Winnipeg writer.

 

colleen.simard@gmail.com

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 9, 2012 J1

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