When you’re walking around Toronto in July, hundreds of sights and sounds compete for your attention. This sensory overload demands exactly zero commitment, which is about as invested in anything as any city dweller ever hopes to be. The pungent, rotten-feet-wrapped-in-rusting-tampons smell reminds you that it’s garbage day, but then you overhear a couple arguing about who’s prettier on their way to dinner and you ignore the smells and listen in on their conversation for a while. Endless permeations and combinations form what you’ll see and hear when walking the cityscape, and it’s this randomness that makes even the most unwelcome of circumstances (i.e., a homeless man asking you “how much?”) all the more welcome, if only because it’s a random experience. It may be ugly, but it’s never good or bad. It’s just the city.
Last night, I was taking in as much as I could on my usual Monday night route when I saw something moving on the sidewalk. Immediately writing this off as a mouse or a piece of garbage, I trotted on. But then, I thought about it critically: the thing had been moving, but it hadn’t been going anywhere, which was a pretty fascinating feat. I doubled back, and that’s when I found it.
Morphologically, it was clearly a bird. But other than its basic outline, it lacked all trademark bird characteristics—feathers, a developed beak, and (apparently) the ability to fly. What I was looking at was very smooth and very pink and very tangled up in a very smooth and very pink ball. It was lying on its side, and its neck was jerked backward in a manner that appeared so painful and unnatural that breathing should have been impossible. But breathing it was. Heavily. Very heavily. Just looking at it, you could feel every single breath. Thinking back, I can hear the breathing, but this has to be a false memory. Its entire body moved up and down, and the nearly-translucent skin clearly indicated the labour of its lungs. I’ve never seen anything or anyone try that hard in my entire life. It was fighting so hard just to take in the muggy, Toronto air. Its brain wanted so badly just to live; its body refused to cooperate.
I cried all the way home.
This morning, I was taking in as much as I could on my usual Tuesday morning route to work when a woman on my bus fell. Hard. I didn’t see the origin of the fall – it was possibly related to the slamming of the breaks at the bus stop which most drivers seem partial to. Regardless of the origin, it was a hard fall, and it made the entire bus stop and turn. Earbuds were removed from ears. Coffee cups were withdrawn from lips. Everyone looked at this poor woman as she lied on the floor of the bus, her Tim Hortons latte sprayed around her like a wave crashing behind a rock. She was curled on her side with her neck cocked back in a way that was clearly painful, and she just laid there. We had all heard her hit her head. The bus was full of people and nobody did or said anything. I half-heartedly reached out my hand to help her up, but she still didn’t move and I still didn’t leave my seat. After several minutes, she slowly struggled to get up, and the intentions behind the faces around the bus were transparent. The bus driver came back to half-heartedly check on the woman; other passengers whole-heartedly checked their watches. I’ve never seen a group of people try or care less in my entire life.
I couldn’t have made myself cry, even if I’d wanted to.