Off the Shelf
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Main Street Man

Stumbling through bus doors,
he stomps mud-slated boots,
grins me a brown-toothed “hey.”
His ruffled voice drifts to me,
as though we’re been siblings, or decade-long friends,
and tonight’s moonless chat on the bus just another usual chat.
He offers me a swig of his pink juice and when I refuse,
he downs one until his face turns to a flamingo pink,
and blood engulfs his cheeks.

In the stuffy air softened by vodka, I tell him about
volunteering downtown in a tone
hushed by stares from
the surrounding sea of colourful raincoats.

His dark brows furrow. He reclines into his puffy jacket.
“Kind,” his eyes seem to say, as his glance glides to the snow outside.
A pearl flies off his flamingo cheek.
“We’re artists. Should win Oscars. We–
Helpless. That’s what those rats’ll be. They’re beyond redemption.
They’ll kick you in the face when you bend down to help.”
His chest heaves as a sinner does in confessions.

A McDonald’s sign in the moonless night heralded my way home.
“Now, an advice, you say?” he asks me.
Silence hangs across us as he downs the rest of the bottle.
“Kindness.” Those reddened orbits floundered, looked through me.
“It is never lost…”
He hugs close his clanging black plastic bag.
As the bus door closes between us, he closes his eyes and mouths to me,
“love them.”

Sian Hsiang-Te Tsuei (2 Posts)

Contributing Writer Emeritus

University of British Columbia Faculty of Medicine

I am currently studying at the University of British Columbia, with an interest in internal medicine, global health, and socioeconomic justice.