Thursday, 7 November 2013

Tales of the Unexpected

It's the rattle of the ticket machine that gets my attention, and the way the man pokes fruitlessly at the display. I had gone into Yuppietown to get dandelion leaves from the organic market, and now I was waiting for the train, dandelion leaves, raspberries and oranges cradled in my arms because I was too cheap to buy a reusable bag, and my wallet tucked under my left armpit. It's never just the one thing! Jill Potenti is sympathetic to people held hostage by the whims of machines, so I ambled over and asked, "Is it not giving you a ticket?"

"Nope."

"Hmm..."

"It says push any button. I am doing this right, aren't I?"

It's been ages since I had to buy a ticket, but we walk through the process, just in case. "Durn thing took my three dollars!" His accent is amusing; I would have thought he was from Ontario if he didn't say Nova Scotia. He has a wide. friendly face and a bushy mustache.

"I would just call the transit info line and maybe they'll send you more tickets."

"This is great. I only been here a few days. Not that I want to be. My brother is dying."

"Oh. I'm sorry." Jill Potenti is also sympathetic to those suffering the whims of fate.

"Yeah, I was gonna go see him. He's at the F----------. Don't know how I'm gonna get there."

"Well, I would just go one stop over. Get off at the mall and tell the bus driver the machine ate your money."

"They told me to get off at L----- and catch a bus."

"Oh no no. There's no buses that stop there. You can catch two buses to the hospital from the mall. But it's not just getting there. It's getting back. One bus has the same number, but it goes in different directions. If you take it in the wrong direction, like I did, you go all over the northwest. But I would do that, when my dad had a stroke, that's what I did."

My transit knowledge impresses him; the train arrives just as I was going give more advice so he won't suffer the whims of a fickle transit system. I expect him to get on with me, but he doesn't. "You have a really nice day, thanks, you're a real sweetheart." He touches me on my left arm and smiles before he goes.

I shuffle over on the train, and then the panic hits me after the door closes - I was just the world's worst mark. I squeeze my arm and my wallet is still there. I have a sudden urge to check my pockets even if it means oranges rolling all around the train. What was it about his casual, friendly manner that now makes me think it was a smooth, practiced pantomine? Why do I now think he was patiently waiting for me to say "Oh, here's three dollars I can give you," at so many points in the conversation? And instead all I could give him was free advice! Duh!

Mr. Potenti rolls his eyes as I recount the conversation for him. "Riiiiiight." he says more than once. Grifting three dollars from transit riders probably adds up fast. Thinking the worst of the fellow makes me feel guilty, because I like thinking the best of people. Maybe he is new in town. Maybe he really does have a dying brother. And goodness knows those ticket machines break down a lot. But maybe too, when I mentioned that my dad had had a stroke, he changed his mind, humoured me for a few minutes and moved on to find someone that would make him feel less guilty about taking three dollars. I'll never know for sure. I jot down these little stories because they're always fodder for larger ones. The banal can be oddly interesting. Someone once said that writing is forgetting, but for me, writing is remembering, as well as sometimes an exercise in giving the benefit of the doubt.