118th Ave. in Edmonton has a bit of a reputation.
In a very honest way, it lacks artifice. Those who live on it or near it come from all walks of life. For some, it is a place of desperation. For others, it is a place of emotional investment and reconciliation. It always seems to be a work in progress, both positively and negatively. I think you get my drift.
Me and the elder n00b were busting ass to get to the Abbottsfield Library because, “Only jerks slowly walk to the library” (Canada’s first library laureate, Edna Chaswell Winston 1878-1994). Anyway, he was in his wagon pounding a yogurt drink and I was his Blitzen, pulling him through the cross-generational landscape.
We pulled up to a set of lights at 118th and 41st (it was 4:30 PM) and there, not so hidden in the shadows of a building, was a prostitute trying to only be obvious to the cars driving by. At a glance, she looked rather seasoned and I felt it safe to assume that this was not her first day on the job.
Anyway, my son (oblivious to her working hours) said, “Hi,” as loud as a three-year-old on a sugar-blasted lactose high could yell. Her composure and body language immediately changed. She wasn’t working anymore, she was like someone you just bumped into at the grocery store. She leaned right towards him.
“Hello young man, how are you today?” she asked with a gracious smile.
“Good,” my son said. “My daddy and I are going to the library.”
“Really,” she replied.
“Yes. We are returning some books for mommy,” he added.
“That is very nice of you,” she said.
I then realized something. She was, to everyone who had seen her minutes before this interaction, a person living in a somewhat incautious manner. For whatever reason(s), this was a readily available line of work for her. To look on the positive side, maybe she was good at it. Maybe she enjoyed it. Maybe it was just a hobby. But for whatever reason, she was doing it. And to be honest, I do my best to hold judgment towards people whose stories I don’t know and will probably never understand. At what lengths would I go to get what I deemed necessities?
My fucking point is: It was the moment my son talked to her. All posturing floated away. She was a mother or a sister or a friend or a saint. She was that person she is in her mind when she thinks about herself. She was talking to a young innocent who only saw her as a living being with a soul. As far as her pendulum could swing one way, it easily swung back. It was the magic that only children can conjure.
The light then changed and we started across the road.
“Bye,” my wonderful monster yelled.
“Bye bye sweetie,” she called back.
As we hit the far corner, I looked back at my son. He was trying to get the last bit of yogurt from his cup with the concentration of a person trying to raise a mast on a ship in a bottle. And the lady on the corner, she was back to work.
A block further on I turned to look. She was gone. Then my little guy asked me to tell him a story.
And life continued in all its opulent glory.