As one usually does (and full well knowing that I had no change), I searched frantically through my pockets for the spare change that I knew I didn’t have, and responded, “uh, no sir, sorry about that.”
“Okay. God bless ya,” the bearded man replied. He still stood in his same spot and gazed out over the river.
I felt incredibly uncomfortable, turning my head back to the river to take in its might. I did for a second but heard footsteps.
I spun and saw the short bearded man propped up against a tree. He merely sat down. “Hoho, apologies, sir. I cannot sit as smoothly as I once could!”
I giggled to display my understanding of his joke, and at the same time understood that I best make way back to work. I stood from my concrete seat along my peaceful place and began up a lazy hill to my office chair that did not recline.
“Back to yar civic duties, or whatever it is you people refer to work as?” The man asked. He dug into his jacket pocket and pulled out a cigarette. “I enjoy these, I do. Beats my pipe–less laborious.”
I again giggled. “Yeah,” I began, “bills to pay.”
“Do ya got a light?”
I didn’t yet again dug into my pockets as if I did, “no, I’m afraid I don’t. Sorry.”
“No need to apologize.”
I continued walking.
“Sir, can I ask ya a question?”
I stopped. “Yeah, of course!” I said with sarcastic excitement.
“Why do ya put yerself through it? Ya know, work.” The stout man wiggled his nose and took a long draw from his smoke. He eagerly looked at me, awaiting my answer.
Now, this is one question that I always did and still do ponder. Why is it that people work unsavoury jobs? Sure, financial obligations must be met, but at the same time, life is finite.
I froze at the stout man’s question. Being asked that question at that particular time by that particular man on that specific day, was strange.
“Ya don’t know either, do ya?” The man wheezed a laugh.
“Huh, I guess not,” I replied. “Why is it that you do what you do?”
The man stared at me without emotion. He took another drag from his cigarette. “What do ya think it is that I do?”
Again, I had to think. “Nothing, I guess,” I said and was quite rude about it.
“Nuffin’?” The stout man sounded appalled. He obviously meant nothing but his accent and his voice made it sound much more exciting. “And what does yerself know of me?”
I didn’t say a thing.
“Exactly,” the man said and pointed his finger at me as he said it. “That’s the problem with the people in this place.” The man stood from under his tree and began towards me. “Ya folks just don’t get the point.” He took another pull of his smoke and blew a grey cloud into my face.
“What’s the point?” I inquired.
The man raised a brow. “Ya expect me to simply tell ya?” He guffawed. “Not today!”
I rolled my eyes and started walking back to the call centre.
“But I must commend ya for being the only person out of the hundreds I see daily on being the most resentful about your current position. All others tend to simply say fuck it and go to work, regardless of whatever needs regarding.”
I quickly spun while walking “yeah,” I agreed and continued away from the river and towards the downtown heritage buildings.
“One more question for ya,” the man said. At this point, I could still not pinpoint his accent.
I stopped and looked at him from our increased distance. He was standing in the centre of the gravel path down by the river. “Did ya believe me when I told ya that I wouldn’t tell ya what the point is?” He took a cocky but playful stance.
“Tell me, sir,” I began, “what’s the point?”
He motioned his hand towards me to come his way. I weighed the possibilities. I could either go to work late or a little bit later. Either way, I was bound to be late.
I chose the latter, given my feelings about the job.
The spot where I usually sat on my break and where this bearded fellow and I were having our moment, was an old dock. No boats could be seen. It was silent, so silent one could forget they were in the heart of a city.
The man sat on the concrete ledge and let his feet dangle over the edge as if he were a playful child–too close to the rushing current for my tastes.
“Sit,” the man said and patted the open space beside him.
“Don’t be a little fairy about it. I’ll save ya if ya tumble in.” He patted the spot again.
The bearded man’s confidence seemed sincere, but I couldn’t help but wonder if a man of his stature could swim let alone wade in a tiny pool without being knocked over by the waves. I hid a deep nervous breath and slowly sat. I shuffled my bum forward to the edge and let my feet go lower and lower very delicately, cautious of losing a shoe–that would have been a disaster.
I didn’t lose a shoe.
“What is the point?” I asked.
“Aren’t ya going to ask my name first before asking such a big question?” The man winked.
“I could ask you the same question,” I responded quickly.
“Malcolm, or…something along those lines.”
I was taken aback by the man’s knowledge of my name. “How did you know that?”
“I am a creature of many talents,” he replied. “Ebern, is my name, but my friends call me Ernie. So with that said, it will be Ebern, to you.” Ebern winked and extended a shakable hand.
I shook his hand, and it was so callous for a moment I thought it was a woodsman’s foot. His fingers were stubby likes toes, ultimately not helping the case of the hand for being considered a hand in the first place.
“Tell me what the point is, Ebern.” I was now talking quite firm. Today was not the type of day to make friends with a vagrant.
“Now, as per this question I will be frank,” Ebern started. “The point, I do not know, but would like to extend to ya an opportunity.”
“And that is?”
“Quit yer job today, and I will ensure that on this journey to discover the point, both yew and I will make a decent chunk of change.”
And that is how hoboes are made, I thought to myself.
“I’d obviously need more information than that…” I said, strongly implying that Ebern should have known to explain more to me before closing on such a harsh proposition.
“Myself and my people and other people are in need of one of yer people, and we’ve chosen that person, to be yerself.”
“What kind of people?” I asked.
It was at that point when Ebern reached into his hoodie to pluck another smoke. With the snap of his fingers, a flame appeared on the tip of his thumb.
“Special people,” Ebern said.
He then lit his cigarette.