Inspired by true events
Today, I am a man who stands behind a subway stop. I have been this man before. He wears layers of clothes and lugs his belongings in a two-wheel mesh cart that grandmothers use for carrying groceries. This man wears a beanie because he’s afraid his ears will get frostbite. He wears fingerless gloves and shiny business shoes. None of that is very important. His favourite item is a pair of aviator sunglasses with the left lense popped out. People can see one eye and not the other. It is his halfway mask. It is a pirate patch.
I see the pigeons behind the subway stop. They squabble and peck each other. I laugh when someone walks by and they flurry up in panic. Have you ever seen a baby pigeon? Sometimes I think these birds multiply using cell division. One pigeon divides into two. That’s why some of them are so big: they’re about to divide. I see a toddler waddle into a flock of them. He squeals when they fly up and he runs towards me without realizing I’m sitting here. His mittens are attached to the sleeves of his coat and his nose is red. I smile at him and he stares at me with uncertain eyes. I can speak to him without saying anything. Come here. Come talk to me and be my friend. The mother scoops him up and they take the train away.
I am the eyepatch man. He stands behind the subway stop and sometimes he shares his sandwich with the pigeons. Most people don’t notice him until he wants to be noticed. He’s a good hider. It’s nighttime now and the pigeons are gone. I see two girls walking to the bus stop close by. They are laughing and speaking in English with fake British accents. The eyepatch man has a British accent and speaks English too.
He likes these girls. They are wearing good clothes. One of them has black curly hair and is wearing black boots with heels. The other one is wearing a purple hat and white sneakers. They have a backpack and a small suitcase. They have different skin colors. He wants them to feel pretty.
I can walk all the way up to them without them seeing me because they are talking to each other so carelessly. They have nice laughs.
The eyepatch man has no money, so he asks them for help. They seem like nice girls.
“Hello, ladies. Spare any change? I need to make a call.”
They both have startled eyes like that toddler from before. They shift towards each other. Babies. Baby girls.
The one with the hat speaks first. “I don’t have any cash,” she smiles, uncertain.
The other one is quick to follow. “Me neither, sorry.”
The eyepatch man is kind. He understands. “Of course, I was just asking.”
He walks back to the phone booth where his mesh cart is hidden. The babies are talking to each other from the corners of their mouths. He doesn’t like that. They’re saying rude things about him. Teach them. Teach them manners. He takes his cart and returns to stand beside them. They stop talking again. He smiles. He can see them through one lens and one normal eye.
“Where are you two from?”
They look at each other. “Canada,” and “India,” slip from their pretty mouths.
The eyepatch man wants to tell them how rude they are to not ask where he is from, but I hold him back. They’re babies after all. They don’t know better. Yet.
The bus arrives and I push the button so that the doors slide open. I sweep my arm for them to go first because the eyepatch man is a gentleman. The bus is empty and he wants them to sit down with him but they stand beside the door. These are the rudest girls I’ve ever met. I could teach them to be polite. I have some things in this cart for teaching lessons like that.
They don’t know, but I can see their faces in the reflection of the bus window. The one with the curly hair has a face like a stone. She is paler than before. The one with the hat has eyebrows that point up and big worried eyes. She’s talking a lot. I don’t like that. The one with the curly hair grabs her wrist and she stops talking. The bus stops and neither of them move. The bus is about to lurch forward when the one with curly hair lunges forward and punches the button to open the doors. They both get off the bus. It’s too late to follow. They turn and see me through the glass. I glare at them as the bus moves on. I smash my fist against the side of the bus until my hand is bruised.
Today I am walking around Vienna. I see a pigeon limping on the sidewalk. I make soft cooing noises so that it lets me come close. I lift my cart and bring it down on the bird’s back. There is a delicious crackle. I thump the cart down again. I hear the bird bones break and the blood spilling out. Teaching manners. When I’m done I cradle the feathers and other goop in my hands and place it in a nearby bin. Manners.
Today I am a man who drives for Uber. I have been this man before. He lives in a neat apartment with an old cat. He wears a baseball cap and has dice hanging in his rearview mirror.
Artwork by Edward Steichen “Charlie Chaplin” 1925.