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The most incongruous thing I have ever seen.

2003-12-11 - 12:52 p.m.

A few years ago, as was my wont, I was walking home from the bars on a weekend night. I had a couple of friends with me. It was late but we’d left before closing. There was a very fine, not unpleasant rain falling; almost a heavy mist even, that happened to be traveling downwards. We were heading over the Laurier St. bridge that crosses the Canal and it may even have been that we were going to stop for some post-dancing snack of some type on Elgin St. Now this bridge is one of the access points for our Department of National Defence but in the days of lax security before 9-11, a small colony of homeless people sheltered under the bridge, snugged up against the foundations of good old DND. It’s right downtown but there’s not a lot of foot traffic through this particular pocket late at night, it was a sheltered spot and it was probably pretty convenient for a lot of its denizens who you’d often spot panhandling in the Market nearby (at least, as far as convenience goes when you are already suffering the massive inconvenience of having no home).

It just so happened that I glanced over the railing of the bridge at the point where I would have been right above the homeless colony.

There, on the grass, was a big pile of bread.

It wasn’t a few loaves. It wasn’t stacked neatly into a pyramid. It wasn’t even a soggy or ragged-looking pile, despite the rain and the fact that it wasn’t packaged in anything. It was a naked pile of whole, golden loaves. It looked, so help me, like someone had wheeled up a barrow full of bread and dumped it into a pile on the ground.

While I acknowledge that it was probably some samaritan with good intentions but that didn’t want to get in too close, I couldn’t help but envision the DND people putting out that pile of bread and waiting on top of the bridge with large nets. Perhaps on long poles like butterfly nets. The homeless people would be crouching in a knot under the bridge, staring hungrily at the bread but sensing danger and holding themselves and each other back. Like cats that are waiting to pounce… and they can’t stand the suspense... and their butts wiggle in the air even as their noses and torsos motionlessly hug the ground... Must... pounce! One at a time, a homeless person would break free of the cautious knot and dart for the bread, only to be scooped up in the net with a wail. Come sunrise they would be waking up miles outside the city limits with radio collars on.

The next day I went over that same bridge and, peering over, I couldn’t spot a single trace to betray the fact that I’d seen bread there the night before. Not a crumb peeped soggily between the green blades of grass. I wish I could remember who I’d been walking with the night before so that they could reassure me that they’d seen it too; that it hadn’t been a dream.

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