He arrived on a slab of concrete one day at a time over the last few years. Through neglect and abuse with nowhere else to go. No family or friends to turn to for help. Stuck on a slab of concrete. Sometimes, he hates himself and feels worthless. Loathes the life he can’t escape. Wishes others would help so he could move off that sidewalk.

He’s in his twenties, wearing a yellow shirt and blue jeans. His hair is long and unkempt.

People look down at him. Others look down on him. They apologize. Say they’re sorry they can’t help him more; sorry the system put him here. A few yell at him. Tell him to get up off that concrete slab and get a job. They don’t understand why that’s not possible.

He could have been a carpenter, a firefighter, a doctor or even a teacher. But not now. Not ever. And that’s when it hurts most inside. When he thinks about what he could have done with his life. But he’s still here sitting on this slab of concrete under the shaded tree outside the bookstore on a hot, muggy July morning.

It’s cool inside the bookstore where aisles of books are neatly stacked. But he can’t go in there. Shoppers browse and buy all sorts of books. But nobody buys his story. Only he could tell it like it is. Not someone who spent a week on the streets. Instead, he sits all day waiting for a kind word and some spare change.

The heat makes him thirsty and weary. He can’t sleep properly but he needs the rest. His bed of concrete is cold and uncomfortable covered only by a blanket of indifference. When he manages to sleep his mind is full of empty dreams.

If the billboards far atop the buildings that frame the street where he sits could talk, would they offer him their clothing, their food, their million dollar homes? They watch over him yet can’t bring him any comfort.

His family is long gone. Not dead. Just gone so far from his memory they no longer exist. They tried to help. Wanted to bring him back home. He went for a while but eventually returned to the streets.

Like life, the cars pass him by. Drivers and their passengers look and turn away quickly. He hears the streetcars rattle along the tracks. Watches riders getting on and off. He can’t afford the fare.

Overnight, he gets relief from the daytime noise and the heat. It gets quiet, almost too quiet. That makes him feel lonely. So he gets up and goes for a walk. He’s surrounded by everything he can’t access. Restaurants, hotels, retail stores and shopping malls. He peers in through the windows and wonders what it would be like to eat a splendid meal, to sleep in a real bed or shop in a store.

Sometimes he thinks about his existence. The meaning of his life. He’d like to emerge from the shadows and walk in the light of day with everyone else. But he’s afraid of the glares so he stays hidden under the shaded tree.

He’ll die long before his time. His suffering finally over. 

John Bonnar

John Bonnar is an independent journalist producing print, photo, video and audio stories about social justice issues in and around Toronto.