A thin figure creeps out from the shadows under the bridge into the warm sunshine of an early July morning. Its hair, short and glistening; rays of light reflect from it. The street surface, lukewarm, cool and insulated beneath, offers its black-tar tiles to the early riser.
Western Meadowlarks are signalling a new day, apprehensively acknowledging the unscheduled arrival. A stray dog sniffing the remnants of someone’s late-night snack glances toward the passerby then proceeds with its task at hand, tidying the gutter with a gulp.
A dry mouth, along with instinct, provokes the sleepy-eyed stranger to quench its thirst. The cool water moistens and rouses its parched tongue, passing over its lips, profiting an energetic pink.
Unable to prevent a different biological impulse, the sex of the thirsty traveller is exposed. The revitalizing liquid has been used, absorbed. Its second-handedness excreted, revealing the obvious signs of a Y-chromosome between Jack’s thighs as he relieves himself in the shade between an old picket fence and a capitalist-sized garbage can. Like a young boy with a water pistol, his urine is directed straight but imprecise, inaccurate. It’s coloured like the rising sun and runs down the slope of cracked concrete. The epicentre separating into diminutive streams reach for Jack’s feet, which he avoids. Then, he inhales a deep lung-full of fresh air, indicating his liberation with a cheerful exhale.
The air was new, unsoiled. The cinder blanket of pollution had been pushed away by the prior evening’s wind. The soulless skyscrapers had yet to be dressed in vehicular excrement. The sky is blue except for a few wisps of stratus clouds that look like cotton balls being pulled apart. It’s a beautiful morning.
Jack continues moving through the park adjacent to his home under the bridge with his head held high. He moves with pride. His legs travelling at equal distances and equal speeds create a feline form.
Jack isn’t large, but his stature is healthy. He looks younger than he is. You can see muscles and tendons showing through his tight skin. His eyes are as blue as the gulf of Thailand. His hair is dirty blonde like pieces of hay that have been sitting in the sun—bleached and dusty. He has dirt under his nails and on the business side of his hands. It’s obvious to others that his home is everywhere: under the bridge, the bus depot, a park bench.
A cyclist hints its intentions with two short squeezes on a turkey-baster bicycle horn. Jack moves off to one side and watches the large tires pass by, which leave a wake of flower scented air.
There are many scents this morning, and he takes them all in. The dew covered grass is earthy and sweet. The river that passes through the city is wet and marine. The fecal matter coiled ten meters away--rancid. Most interesting for him, though, is the smell of eggs and bacon coming from the hotel’s kitchen around the corner.
The fatty meat and strong smelling chicken eggs are too alluring for the hungry foreigner to ignore. He follows his nose to the source. He’s been there before. The chef recognizes him and says, “Jack! Good to see you. How are you this fine, summer morning?”
Our lonely traveler is timid and doesn’t speak the same language, but understands the chef’s charity. Jack gives a nod toward the paunchy man dressed in the spotless white coat; he accepts the few pieces of bacon offered. It tastes delicious and he makes it disappear quickly, barely chewing the complimentary breakfast.
“Sorry I can’t stay and chat,” The chef says. “I’ve gotta get back to work. See ya later, Jack.” Turning to re-enter the hotel he says, “Don’t be a stranger now, ya hear.” The kind man retreats back to the kitchen.
Satisfied, Jack sits next to the kitchen door licking his lips and fingers, enjoying the savoury grease that lingers. He wipes his face with the back of his hand then stretches his legs and feet, taking in the majestic yellow sphere that’s rising higher in the sky.
He’s a simple guy. He’s been on the street for as long as he can remember. He knows how to appreciate the important things in life: the sun, clean water, and a few pieces of Canadian bacon from a generous hotel chef. He knows how to slow things down so life doesn’t pass him by.
When the sun is too hot he sleeps, which is most of the day. When it rains he takes shelter wherever possible; his only objective is to stay dry. Being wet is one of the few things Jack detests.
He moves through the streets of the city, mostly at night, avoiding the hustle and bustle of the metropolitan beehive. He has many acquaintances but only one he’d call a friend--an orange and white house-cat that he sees when he passes the large house near the university campus. They met awhile back and both took a liking to each other almost immediately, which is rare considering both of their principally independent personalities.
Jack has the type of spirit that attracts anything with a heart, anything with an ounce of compassion. His face is kind. He never speaks too loudly or arrogantly about anything. He minds his own business. He doesn’t get in the way. It doesn’t bother him that many people pass him by with exponentially more materialistic comforts. He isn’t envious; he’s happy. His soft hellos infect others, their symptoms: smiles.
The destitute, Jack, is a street-wise man. He doesn’t own a computer or a cell phone. The only thing he carries is the soft fur coat that’s been in his family for generations. In the winter it keeps him warm during the extensive cold nights when he can’t be inside: the bus-station or the shelter. He bears it in the summertime, when he sleeps, or when he wanders the streets. It keeps the heat out. It protects him from the elements.
It’s time for Jack to find his rest now.
He’s had a good day. The sun shone with perseverance, which allowed him to partake in his most favourite pleasure: sitting in the sun--laying, relaxing in the generous warmth. He was tranquil while kind people spoke to him for the few minutes they were between cars and buildings. A few shared their lunch with him, and they admired the flight patterns of birds in the park.
Oh how Jack wished he could fly.
The sun is gone now, resting peacefully underground. Jack progresses through the lamp-lit city, passing the large house by the university. He moves slowly, hoping to meet his friend who frequently lies on the wooden porch that surrounds the grand house.
Before he reached the edge of the property, before his hopes of seeing his friend were gone, he hears his friend call out. She’s meowing, “Hey, you!” and “wait up!” Her voice is soft yet pronounced, and she’s moving herself gracefully toward Jack like a sophisticated lady through a crowded ballroom.
He sits on the grass, leaning against the old elm tree on the corner of his friend’s lot. He relaxes his body and chews on a few pieces of grass while waiting for his beautiful friend.
Jack’s orange and white companion comes face to face with him and pushes her head lovingly into his. He returns the action with the same soft movement, which briefly brings their foreheads together. She pulls away and begins to lick the side of his face, cleaning his never-shaven beard with her rough tongue. He submits, enjoying the pampering strokes. His eyes close.
He only remembers one other time when he had his face cleaned by someone else. Jack was a young boy when his mother would wash his face for him; this feels similar. It feels divine, like someone scratching the spot on your back that you can’t reach. He wonders if he can return the favour to his friend who is now working on the grime from underneath his chin. She can taste something salty, something smoky.
Jack slips from the support of the elm tree and lies back, letting his friend’s coarse tongue glide gently over his chest, his stomach. He’s enjoying every second of it. He’s found a true friend. Not a social contact or partner, but one that understands him completely, like they’re one and the same. He signals his delight by purring musically into the night sky.
Jack is a kitty! Read more of Matt’s writing on his new novel/blog here.