It's still dark when I ease the car into the lane behind our Vancouver condo, first perching at the top of the parking-lot ramp to watch the security gate close behind me in the rear-view mirror. Dark enough that I ignore the promise of dawn, admit that the Honda's Daytime Running Lights aren't quite enough, and switch on the headlights as I turn onto the road that runs along the beach, curving around the West End. I'm short on cash, and I've decided that if there's easy access to available parking, I'll stop at a branch of our bank and visit the ATM.
I'm in luck. The light traffic moves freely, and I have no trouble sliding into the right lane, then off into the small parking lot where only a yellow cab sits, its interior light illuminating the driver who's jotting down notes as he waits for a passenger. I grab my purse, lock the car, but leave my case on the seat, assessing the risk of theft as low in the two minutes it will take me to fill my wallet. Still, I'm careful to check the space around me as I push my way out of the dawn darkness and into the bright light of the bank vestibule. Conscious of my visual surroundings, I'm also noticing a smell, what is it? feathers, one semi-conscious part of my brain answers. And then I see him, in the corner, on the floor. At least I think it's a man, although all that's peeking out of the grimy white duvet is a head, the short, dark, scruffy hair being the only clues to gender or identity.
Perhaps his presence, alone with me in this enclosed space, should make me wary, uncomfortable, but just ten feet away, just outside the door, pedestrians head to their office jobs, to the gym, or for the morning's first much-needed coffee, and fifteen feet away, drivers navigate the early morning streets. Yes, he could be feigning sleep, ready to pounce up and demand whatever cash I extract from the machine, but I sense only deep, exhausted slumber from this fellow human who must take his rest on the dirty, tiled floor, under the bright lights of a room whose relative quiet is regularly punctuated by bank customers like me. Still, the warmth, the momentary safety -- again, relative -- must be an unexpected relief for someone with no home to sleep in, especially on this night that dipped perilously close to the season's first frost.
The machine and I have our little chat, me inserting my card, pushing buttons, it assessing, making me wait, finally deigning to dispense my twenties in a whirring spill toward my fingers, pinched, ready to transfer them quickly to my wallet, not so uncautious that I'm going to linger here with a large amount of cash. The wallet goes into my bag, my bag gets zipped, and I'm out to the door and into the car, wondering if the unknown sleeper was ever aware of me. I wonder, too, as I reverse the car into the lane adjoining the parking lot, then swing it forward and turn back into the traffic, whether the security guard who patrols regularly has decided to ignore Rip Van Winkle for now or if The Sleeper is canny enough to have timed his nap with the guard's schedule. I suspect there are CCTV cameras at work in that small ATM vestibule, so pretending not to notice a duvet spread out across the floor could have consequences -- has someone decided that honouring humane instincts is worth risking employment? Or is this a kindness that extends even further up the chain?
Whichever the case, I drive toward the bridge that takes me away from the city with its homeless, back toward the ferry to a big island, then my smaller one, all the time pondering John Donne's centuries-old message, remembering that any man's homelessness diminishes me. And feeling more sheepish than ever about missing my fridge poetry.
So much beauty in the world. And so much sadness. And joy, yes, and ferocious comfort and apparent injustice. And too many words that try to form sentences that deserve the backspace key. . . It's just a vignette, and I'd best just leave it be . . . .