My Corner of Paradise



Neon Light by Susan Dubrofsky

The glare from the neon lights bores through my eyelids making them flutter. I fight  back and force them shut. They flutter again and one sleep-crusted edge disengages from its counterpart with a subliminal pop. Re-entering my dream is futile so I give up. The sharpness of daytime had somehow cut through  countless walls and malls and halls into this windowless hellhole severing my ties with that alternate reality where I am always the main dude. I shift my aching hipbone from the hard and wet surface that holds it in place and turn to face the wall. The surround stench takes hold of me like an octopus, forcing my eyes  open. The bikini-clad girl on the billboard is about to plunge into a translucent turquoise sea. The sea stinks of pee. My pee. I want to crap as well but it is too early for that. I no longer need a double latte to activate my entrails. I have jettisoned all that ballast from my old life. A cup of American-owned Canadian-branded Tim Horton’s  generally does the trick.  But I have no need of that today. Is it Saturday today? Or is it Sunday? Who cares! But I do. On weekdays the toilets  open earlier and close later, on weekends the place has the air of an abandoned jail. Or a Tarkovsky movie, complete with rusting pipes, water leaks and the odd humanoid walking about as a counterpoint to inorganic decay. My gut cramps. It must be the half-eaten Subway I rescued from the recycle bin. Slathered with mayo. I never liked the stuff anyway. Mother used to say that mustard is better on account of its sting – if it burns your nostrils it will also zap the critter in your gut. Especially if it is dee-jon, made in France. The girl on the billboard is shaking her body like the chicks in the bars on St. Laurent. That always hits a chord. The first train of the day has arrived in the station. I don’t know why they bother with early trains  considering that the usual passengers are the newspaper boy from Sri Lanka, the cleaning lady from the Azores and the pure-laine metro staff. They are generally grumpy and have nothing much to say and nobody to say it to. But somebody has to be first. I prefer the last lot of passengers. They are more convivial and sometimes obnoxious which provides entertainment if you’re in the mood. Besides obnoxious is good. It makes mall security forget about the likes of us. People with nowhere to go. No, I won’t say they’re heartless. They turn a blind eye to our presence, especially in winter, even though it’s against the rules. Unless the other guys, the ones who look like war-game clones, are around. These guys mean business. They walk around with their chests puffed out as much as their bullet-proof vests let them, looking for people to harass. And sometimes real cops come around and try to take us to shelters just to please politicians and habitual letters-to-the-newspaper writers but we know and they know what it’s like over there, no smoking, no drinking, no nothing except be a good boy and follow their senseless rules. The bikini-clad girl is now walking through a clump of rotting sea weed. Stinking sea weed I should say. The pee in my pants has cooled down making me shiver but somehow my groin starts feeling warm again. Holy shit! It’s not on account of Miss Bikini on the wall! I’m glad my pants are former Outfitters, just the right khaki colour. But the Salvation Army people forgot to give me the Boss perfume that goes with the outfit although I do have the unshaven look. Hope nobody notices. If I can’t persuade the bible-toting lady to give me some fresh pants from her church stash, I will just have to take matters into my own hands for the common good. Or maybe I won’t have to filch and split. For all I know,  they might have a street sale today. Quaint name, street sale, when this place is a massive underground penitentiary, but then they can’t call it penitentiary sale, can they? Ha! If worse comes to worse, I can always rinse my pants in the men’s room when nobody is looking. They’re already wet, anyway. I turn again and make myself  comfortable. My eyelids weigh a ton. The bikini-clad girl bends over me. I think she is going to kiss me. The last time she paid attention to me was when she actually went down on me sending me to paradise until that stupid Westmount cow interrupted my dream and started yelling at me. She had the nerve to tell me to remove my hands from my pockets and to zip up my fly properly. She also told me that I’m shameless and that decent people don’t go around behaving as if they were at home alone. But I am at home. This is my home, the only one I can remember. Very conveniently located. Near public transportation and a panoramic view of the sea. Ah, Miss Bikini is not going to kiss me after all, but she is holding my wrist daintily as if she were afraid of breaking it. She mumbles something to the guy with her. He hands her a syringe. She unrolls my sleeve, swabs me with something cool  and plunges the needle into my forearm. I start drifting off but I can still feel the guy’s  strong hands under my armpits. She grabs my legs. They plop me onto something soft and cart me away. The train rumbles by. Cay-shun, cay-shun, cay-shun, it says. Intoxi-cayshun. A loudspeaker fills up the space above. I can’t make out the words but I know what they mean. The public transit system wants the janitorial staff to come to my corner of paradise and clean up the mess I left behind.

Maya Khankhoje, who depends on public transit, has seen the metro system gradually evolve into an “underground” winter shelter.