On a warm evening last July I decided, as is my wont, to have a coffee at one of the many outdoor cafes on Corydon Avenue.
After getting my order I picked up a newspaper and went outside to enjoy my coffee and paper at one of the unoccupied tables. I had barely sat down when a gentleman in his mid-50s sitting at the next table with a suitcase at his feet said, "There’s lots of room here." As I’ve been spending too much time by myself and go for coffee to interact with people I decided to join him.
It was obvious he wanted to talk to someone. After introducing ourselves he mentioned that he grew up in this neighbourhood. He pointed to a side street across from Corydon and told me that hidden behind some tall trees was the house where he grew up. In his day the trees were mere shrubs. He mentioned that in those days he knew almost everyone in the neighbourhood and now there’s not one familiar face still around.
During our conversation I found out that he had moved to Toronto some 30 years ago and was in Winnipeg visiting. I also found out that though he has relatives in Winnipeg there was some problem preventing him from spending time with them. He also mentioned that he was out of work and due to a medical problem would need surgery.
I didn’t want to be nosy but he appeared to be a decent guy and I wondered what had happened to bring him to this state in life. He was well-spoken and seemed to know what was going on. He was either separated or divorced and had not seen his children for years. He couldn’t look for work until he had his medical problem addressed, but was vague as to what he was doing about it.
After another coffee and talking in generalities for awhile I decided to call it a night. Knowing the approximate route I would have to take to drive across Winnipeg to get home he asked me if he could get a lift. I agreed and asked him to let me know where he wanted to be dropped off. When we got downtown he asked to be let off near Princess Street and Henry Avenue. As there are no residential houses in that area he must have been staying or intended to stay at the nearby Salvation Army hostel. I wasn’t about to ask and was reluctant to look to see where he went with his suitcase. On my way home I realized I should given him my phone number in case he wanted to continue our conversation.
Having some experience revisiting places I was once a part of I can appreciate some of what he may have been going through. It’s as though you never existed, no one you knew is left and many of the old landmarks are gone.
It was a painful experience for me and probably more so for him. I had to restrain myself from crying out for a time of innocence and a way of life that no longer exists.
As one who has made many bad choices in life, and fortunately being only mildly scarred, it saddens me to see decent people have to deal with so much misfortune.
Ron Buffie is a Winnipeg-based writer.
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