Early morning fog swirls, smoke-like, thick, descending from the sky and seeping from the sewers. Buildings, parks, roads fade into another world. The sun shines somewhere high above the steeples and soaring glass buildings of downtown; for now only a hint of light, waiting at the edge of the fog.
A young man shuffles along the sidewalk by a busy rush-hour road, eyes staring into the unseen distance. He stops at an intersection and waits for the light to change. He is wrapped in a dingy, stained, no longer white duvet. An army surplus duffle bag is strapped to his body like a backpack, keeping the quilt tucked around his arms and front. Black and red plaid lumber jacket sleeves stick out beneath the makeshift coat, their elaborate pearl buttons at odds with the rest of the picture. A knitted grey cap sits low on his head.
The light changes and he crosses the road in front of me, briefly becoming part of my narrative. I assume he spent the damp November night outside. I wonder if he was dressed warmly enough, whether he ate anything, whether he was alone. I try to imagine his story. He may be one of many youth lost in one of many cities, trying to survive, struggling with poverty or addiction or mental health issues. Or perhaps he’s just passing through on his way to the bus station, on his way to another city, another life. Lost, like too many others.
He turns just before the light changes again and I notice a skateboard tucked under his arm.
As I shake myself from the moment and continue on my way, the sun breaks through the fog and I leave him behind to shuffle on through other lives, taking his story with him.
But that skateboard stays with me through my day. Something about it adds another dimension to his character, makes him more real, more fragile. It elevates him from being a stranger crossing my path, to something – someone – more. A kid who skateboards. A kid with a past and a future.