I was shopping with my mom, in Gastown, when I encountered her. We were in an upscale boutique, admiring the elegant, but not particularly eye-catching clothes. A woman came in. We'd seen her earlier, on a street corner, shouting lewd comments at some respectable-looking man. She edges up to us, looking around frantically, and convulsively moving. I'd always imagined crack addicts would twitch. But she didn't. Her sinewy movement might have been eerily beautiful in a ballet. She seemed to have a large joint at her hips, leading her perpetual motion. Her torso rolled and rocked, forwards and back, side to side, her arms flailing strangely, like waves. Her legs seems to be engaged in a disconnected, neverending two-step with nobody.
"Can I have a dollar fifty for pizza?" This question was directed at my mother, who fumbled in her wallet for a toonie. The woman pressed forward towards me. I felt my face freeze in an awkward half smile, every muscle tense. My unease caused me to involuntarily stumble backwards. A toonie appeared and was transferred. I hoped beyond anything she would leave. I felt awful for thinking it. But she didn't go.
"This would look good on you." She pressed a white, frilly blouse into me. I moved away. The would-be calm voice of the solitary shop girl cut her off.
"I think you should leave." The slight waver in her voice gave away her discomfort. "Why do we need to go?" Her voice sounds creaky and old, even though she is probably only 35. "we" is my mother, me and her. "Are you together?" My mother shakes her head almost imperceptibly at the girl. We continue to peruse the shelves, constantly moving away from the crack addict. I try to ignore the dialogue between the girl and the addict, but it trickled deep into my thoughts despite my best efforts.
The girl is threatening to call security, the addict is taking offense at her attitude. The shop girl does call security. My mother whispers to me that she is afraid something will be stolen. I know that already. The addict is speaking now. I open my ears to listen.
"I may be a crack addict, but I'm still a person. I used to drive to work through this place. It took me and hour. I never thought I'd end up here, I'll tell you that."
We finish our browsing, and leave the store. I have my qualms about leaving the girl alone, and I tell my mother. She points out a man from a lingerie store a couple stores down, standing outside his store watching. He is bald, and well-dressed, with a kind and gentle face that looks like he has never hurt a fly. But he is muscular, and looks up to the task of averting a crisis.
My mother and I cross the street to another store. We look around distractedly, but do not linger. When we come out, we see black and red security guards in front of the store. The protector man is opening his shop doors. The girl is crying. The addict is walking down the street with her strange, disjointed movement. She's there still, I imagine. She will be there next week, next year. She will be there until she dies, sad, and alone, lost in her mind that is so different from mind. Her mind is a roadmap of dead-ends and roads that lead to nowhere. The idealistic woman of yesterday is gone. She is here now.