10 minutes with the yellowed man

I didn’t catch his name. He was a yellowed man: sepia skin and rust-coloured teeth in fractured stages of decay. Stained fingers curling like an old photograph. He spoke with a weathered tongue, consonants leathery and tough. Words left out in the sun too long.

But his face could still crack a smile.

He was on an adventure, out on a two-hour leave from the Addiction Centre. On this bus, then onto the subway to another bus to Scarborough to his old house: the house he’s pretty sure he’ll lose someday. There’s nothing in my fridge, he laughed. His son had taken out all the food. And his daughter had been trying to get his status upgraded to a Form 3. Not sure what that was, but it sounded bad.

Then fragments of stories about being locked up, surgeries, broken things: twenty years in a few minutes, aged and ugly and pockmarked.

He stopped and looked at the cardboard cup in my hands, asked about my coffee, how it tasted. It was actually weak and watery, and I had spent the five-minute wait for the bus inwardly whinging about its deficiencies. But I said it was good. And he grinned with a wide stretch of brown teeth.

He said the coffee inside there was terrible. De-caf served all the time: a grey-brown swill with no spark. Awful stuff. And just six cigarettes a day. But, before going in it was two packs per day. So there’s progress. A jubilant ochre finger upwards.

We reached the subway station a few minutes later. He left with my cup and a rusty smile. I left with something else.

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