During my undergraduate years, I commuted from St. Catharines to York University in Toronto. Travelling from the bus station on Academy Street to downtown Toronto and then on to the northern reaches of the pre-Greater Toronto Area at Steeles Avenue was an adventure. That was back in the days when the Queen Elisabeth Highway was mostly two lanes wide, there was no such thing as gridlock and the end of the line for the Keele Street TTC bus was at Finch Avenue, an actual farmer’s field. Tomatoes I think. And sheep. Hard by the rusting squats of the gasoline “tank farm” on the east side of the street.
In first year, I went home every weekend. I was homesick and I missed my mother and younger brothers. By second year, the visits had stretched to every other week, partly because I discovered that dancing and hanging out with my dorm-mates were much more fun that hitting the books like a good wanna-stay A student. On one of my return trips – bright and early on an April Monday morning so I wouldn’t miss a home-cooked meal (cafeteria food being what it was even then), I was on my way from the Bay Street bus station to catch the subway north to the end of the line at Eglinton Avenue. From there, I’d wait twenty minutes for the Keele Street bus. My faux-alligator green suitcase was bumping against my leg and, still a bit of a hick at heart, I stared into all of the store windows as I strolled along.
As I meandered east on Dundas Street, I noticed two men coming towards me. One sported a dirty blond crew cut, the other had long dark hair in two untidy braids secured with shoelaces. They were in their late twenties and unkempt, laughing and sharing what looked like a bent cigarette as they kibitzed along, pitching and yawing, sleeping bags slung across their shoulders. The sidewalk by the entrance to the subway was narrow and they were directly in my path, about 10 feet away. When they saw me they stopped, bobbing their heads and nudging each other.
Blondie said in a loud, gravelly voice, ‘Hey, sweet thing.” He took a long hit from the butt, loosening his hips into a swagger. Polite convent-girl that I was, I smiled a little. Five feet and closing. They turned to one another and their eyebrows were alive with conversation.
Braid-guy said to his buddy, “Isn’t she just sooo fresh?” He dropped the sleeping bag and thrust his arms out to the sides, wiggling his ass as he spoke. “A yummy chocolate treat.” They opened up a path for me on the sidewalk. I held my smile and walked between them, face forward.
“Dayum, Bill.” He leaned in closer as I passed and I caught a whiff of fresh sweat, stale hair and pickles. He took a noisy inhale through his mouth. “Sweet AND fresh. Um, um, um.” I slowed at at the top of the stairs, in the clear, ready to run if I had to.
“Hey Rufe?” They began moving away, but I knew they had turned around by the sound of their voices against my back.
‘Doesn’t she have a mouth just made for sucking?”
I turned around. They were bent at the waist, leaning against one another for support, smacking their knees with the flats of their palms and laughing so hard they were blowing spit-bubbles. I didn’t know what the words meant, but from the tone, I knew it wasn’t something Sister Mary Frances would have taught us. They started making exaggerated kissy-sucking sounds with their lips, pumping their closed fists in front of bared teeth and jerking their hips in my direction. They flapped a wave at me. I didn’t return the wave.
“Stuck up bitch,” Blondie said. Legs spread wide, he grabbed his crotch and gave himself a tug. The two of them adjusted their bedrolls. I turned into the subway, their hoots of laughter following me, bouncing hollow in the puke-green-tiled cavern of the stairwell.