On the busiest street in town where all the expensive stores are, someone disturbed the flow. It’s where homeless people go to make a quick buck, asking for change from business people and shoppers; they don’t exactly fit in with the crowd, but there’s no place else they’d be. This guy definitely didn’t fit in. He had baggy pants, a short afro and a wide gait. Most of us try not to pay attention to people who stick out. But someone’s always there, at the corner asking for help or shouting in indignation or chatting with their ‘unsavoury’ friends.
This guy wasn’t homeless. He was black, with an accent that sounded like Africville descendants in the Square, walking down the street shouting as if he owned the place. The other people at the bus stop were disgusted. One said, “Oh God” in a tone identical to the “not another one” sigh. Most people were terribly offended. He was drawing attention to himself. He was strutting, yelling, walking back and forth, telling crowds to get out of his way. He wasn’t going anywhere, he was walking back and forth. He went to one end of the block and turned around to walk to the other end.
He sounded angry but he wasn’t really saying anything. He shouted “LOOK WHO IT IS” several times when he saw someone he knew. He boomed about the weather. He yelled benign statements about things he liked. His body language and volume didn’t match the words; the visual parts of him were saying, “I matter. I’m a boss, I can push people around and none of you would dare confront me” as if one of us had offended him. He was right that we wouldn’t dare.
We probably all assumed this is just the way he is. Had he been wearing a suit, or had a shopping bag in his hand we might have assumed he was having a breakdown. Most people – when they’re circling a busy street and shouting at strangers – are having a breakdown.
But he didn’t belong on that street, anyway. He wasn’t homeless and he wasn’t shopping. We struggled to ignore him and he was pushing back. I suppose that’s all he felt he could do. Nothing he did would move us beyond hating him, no matter how bizarre he acted. Even as he shouted in our faces we couldn’t look or speak to him. But we could hate him.