The patrol car rolled up silently, unnoticed by the scruffy man leaning against the parking meter. He was engrossed in a conversation he was holding with another man, this one neatly dressed in a suit and tie.
A young police officer in the passenger seat leaned out of the open window and said, "Hey fella, there's no panhandling allowed."
After straightening up from his resting position against the parking meter, the man turned to face the police car behind him. His relieved partner in the conversation quickly walked away.
"I wasn't panhandling officer, really. I was just asking him for the time." From the rear the man had looked like a young bum, with the requisite ball cap, hooded sweatshirt and ill fitting blue jeans, but when he turned an older man was revealed, perhaps 65, wearing a cheap pair of sunglasses, and sporting a week's scruffy growth of beard. It wasn't the neatly trimmed, stylishly scruffy bad-boy appearance popular with younger men, but the unkempt result of a simple failure in personal grooming.
The young officer called him over with a quick and authoritative, "Let's see some ID." He motioned the old man over to the car, and the man slowly complied, handing over a small plastic folder that he had removed from his pocket.
"This is all I've got, sir. It's a few years old, but I didn't think there was any sense in renewing my driver's license when I had no car." He offered the information with the smooth delivery of someone who had made the explanation many times before.
After glancing at the license, the officer held it up to the driver so that the details on the license could be entered into the onboard computer terminal. When that was done he asked, "What brings you to Thunder Bay ... Mark Fraser? I see your last address is Toronto; are you here because there are warrants out for you down there?"
"No, no, nothing like that, sir. I began my life here, and I decided to come full circle. There aren't any warrants outstanding for me anywhere, at least none that I know of."
The officer conferred with his partner for a few moments, and after they finished checking the computer screen he said, "I see you've had a couple of run-ins with the law. Assault charges in Vancouver, Calgary and Montréal, and public drunkenness convictions scattered across the country. We don't put up with that kind of shit here any better than they do anywhere else."
He was about to hand back the driver's license when he continued, "Let me see you without the sunglasses. The photo sort of looks like you, but I'd like to see you without them."
The old man removed his cap and the sunglasses he'd been wearing. The young officer gave him a close look, glancing back and forth from the photo to the face in front of him. "It's a good thing you removed the glasses. According to this you should be 55, and you seemed a lot older until I looked at you closely. I see you have something wrong with your right eye. Have you been in a fight here already?"
Mark took back his driver's license before replying with another explanation that was smooth from its repetition, "It's a genetic condition called Heterochromia. Three quarters of my iris is brown, and the rest is blue. All of the men in my family have it." He hesitated before continuing, "I don't get in fights anymore since I quit drinking. It's been two years, seven months, and... 12 days. It's not easy, but I don't plan on drinking again."
As Mark Fraser turned to walk back to the sidewalk, the police car quietly pulled away, its two occupants satisfied that they had eliminated another threat to the citizens of Thunder Bay. As it turned right at the next corner the roof lights came on and the siren began to wail as the car accelerated and sped away.
The next day Mark concluded the only serious business he needed to take care of after his arrival back in Thunder Bay. His two plus years of sobriety had enabled him to hold down a full-time job as a warehouseman in Toronto, and his savings from that job were just enough to make arrangements with a no-frills burial service. Along with the necessary prepayment he provided them with an 89 word obituary that summarized his life, credited his parents, and asked that any remembrances be directed to the Shelter House, a residence for the homeless.
He'd already decided he could live on the charity of the Shelter House and whatever donations he could get directly from the public. This wasn't the optimal way to live, but he knew that it would only be necessary for a short time.
Two days later Mark stepped from a Thunder Bay Transit bus at a stop on Mary Street, and after walking for two blocks he stood silently gazing across Francis Street at his boyhood home. It hadn't changed much, although besides being painted in new colors, someone had upgraded the doors and windows. A flood of memories washed over him as he remembered growing up in that house. His father had been dead for three years, and the house rented by someone else, by the time Mark left Thunder Bay as a young man.
One memory in particular came back to him. He was 13 years old, and his father had joined him in the living room a few months after the death of his mother. They were discussing the need for him to do well in school, and he could still hear his father saying, "It's important that you do your best, so that you can leave your mark on this world." He felt a surge of shame come over him, as he realized that the only mark he had made would be the random entries in court records across the country.
After perhaps five minutes of reflection and dealing with the strong emotions his memories had evoked, he moved on, walking another two blocks before he stood in front of another home important to his history.
This had been the residence of the McLean family, and he had spent many happy hours there with his girlfriend, Lenora McLean. This house had been modified greatly, although the basic structure still survived. As he watched, a black man in his 40s walked out to check for mail, and it was obvious that the McLean family no longer lived there.
There were tears in his eyes as Mark walked away and turned onto the first cross street he came to, anxious to get away from the strong memories the house evoked.
An hour and a half later, after a trip across town on a series of three different buses, Mark was standing on a sidewalk along Clarkson Avenue, this time staring at an apartment building. He wasn't even considering the appearance of it; instead he was thinking only of the apartment on the top floor that he had shared with Lenora until the final foolish argument that had driven them apart, permanently as it turned out.
Tears once again appeared as he thought of the quick succession of events that came after that final blowup. He had moved out, quit his job, and was setting up his residence in Vancouver within a week. He had long ago decided that it was the single biggest mistake of his life when he had done that.
It was good that he had saved this visit for last, as he knew that it would wipe him out emotionally. As he walked away he was anxious to get back to the homeless shelter, as all he felt like doing was resting: his tour of the past had left him exhausted emotionally and physically.
As he waited for the next bus to arrive, he thought back to the consequences of his hotheaded, stubborn decision to leave town after that argument with Lenora. Even before he left he was starting to regret his actions, but he wasn't able to bring himself to change his mind. Probably if Lenora had called him he would have quickly backed down. When she didn't, he got on the Greyhound bus in a fit of pique, and never looked back.
Three months later, when he was ready to eat crow and come back, anxious to fix their broken relationship, he phoned a mutual friend and found out she had a new boyfriend, and the word was that she was pregnant. That settled the matter, and he then had an excuse for the 33 lost years that followed.