By Elsiewhere. They are straddling the greasy ties, sitting, eye-to-eye, on opposite rails.
You aren`t wearing your glasses, and, from the distance, can`t make out their faces. See figures only, probably female, a purse at the foot of one, a white bag on the ground between them. Cans in their hands, and one at each of their sides. A wisp of smoke in the air, then vanished.
You hear voices, theirs, and inside your head.
Voices of caution. Who are they? What might they do if you approach? Is anyone watching? Is someone hiding in the bushes? What if you’re mugged!?
You grip your phone harder and keep walking.
They’re young. And you announce your intentions in advance. Say who you’re not, and what you’re not after. Then say who you are, and why you’ve walked out to meet them.
“Perfect photo op!” you say. “So perfect! Might be my funnest one yet!”
They laugh, and make no move to hide anything.
The one on the right looks up and declares, “I’ve seen you. I know you. You were in that picture with Jason, weren’t you?”
“Jason of Champion Jack’s?” you say.
And, sure enough, they know Jason, shop in his store, attend the shows hosted occasionally there. And what’s more, know, also, one of your sons.
“Small world,” you all say. And you ask permission to feature them on this page.
The are immediately keen. You ask for their names and where they work. One is a hair stylist, the other a server. One lives a few blocks away, and the other in Mission, though she attended some years of school in Abbotsford.
They’ve been here before. But why today?
“Well, this is Wednesday evening in Abbotsford,” they say, and laugh when you ask where everyone is; and what’s to do in this city on a weekday night?
And the banter continues, so you sit down beside them, talk to one about her tattoos (“It’s embarrassing. Her ex-boyfriend did it…”) and they ask if they should pose. You say no, just keep talking.
By now you’ve also discovered that Jill, on the left, is a follower of the facebook that inspired this one: Humans of New York; and that she’s the daughter of a well-known, former Abbotsford News reporter. You tell her she’s the second offspring of a journalist you’ve met. The other also a young person, encountered on Sumas Mountain, on your walk, and he, with his friend, up there “watching the sunset.”
And then you start asking questions which both find a challenge to answer. You say it’s an oft-asked question on the Humans of New York site. “IF you were talking to a group of people, what would you tell them?”
They shake their heads. Look at one another, at the ground, and back at you. You assure them not to overthink the question, perhaps some advice they wished someone had given them, or something they’ve learned from their lives thus far, and wish to pass on to someone younger than they.
“Be happy,” quips Robin. “Yeah, that’s it.”
“Talk to strangers,” adds Jill.
“Because…?” you ask.
“Because…if you do, you might meet someone interesting.” Pause. “And end up on a facebook page like this!”
They both laugh at that, and now you ask the question about their being in this particular location. Here, on the tracks, in the vicinity of Abbotsford’s homeless. Who live just down these tracks. Are they afraid?
They laugh. “We already came up with a plan; if someone shows up who seems a threat, we’ll offer them a beer.”
More laughter. You tell them that there are more homeless women in Abbotsford than homeless men; and this surprises them both. They think it might be easier for homeless poeple to move to Vancouver, “to the centre of things, in the downtown Eastside. Especially the women.”
You tell them about the Warm Zone, and they’ve not heard of it either. Think it’s a great idea, and place of support.
Had no idea it’s only a few blocks from here, across from Jubilee Park, where, yes, they attended a few of the Jam in Jubillee concerts in summer.
“Serious question, now. Are you afraid to be down here?”
“Not at all! Those guys aren’t scary. They wouldn’t hurt us. They mostly just want to talk. One of them came over once and shared his five cent candies with us.”
“And I live nearby, in not the best neighbourhood; and I’m not afraid.”
And what do they think of the “manuring incident” and of the proposed apartment for homeless men that Abbotsford Community Services wants to build next to its offices?
“That was horrible, that manure thing; and the apartment…why not give someone a chance? With rules in place, why wouldn’t it work in this location?” They doubt it will become a hang-out place.
And on and on they talk and voice their intelligent opinions, based on personal experience gained from living in this very neighbourhood, and encountering, more than once, on these tracks where they like to sit and talk girl-talk, a number of homeless men.
“Not afraid. There is nothing to fear.”
You tell them about some of the strangers you’ve met since starting this elsiewhere project, and Robin tells you she scrolled through the pages, “and it’s like you’re bringing together — and she draws a circle in the air with her hand — all the different people from this community.”
“There are a lot of colourful characters in Abbotsford,” says Jill.
You didn’t expect that observation, that affirmation. Nor did you expect to have a conversation with anyone this evening. You’d taken a walk near the tracks only to look for objects to photograph. And then, along came these two beautiful, smart, thoughtful and open-hearted young women. Who spoke their minds, while sipping a can of beer.
“Talk to strangers…because you never know who you’ll meet.”
And so you did, and what a delight!
Elsiewhere, In Abbotsford can be found everyday on her on Facebook page.
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