Twice a week, I leave the house around the same time to go to a tutoring job. And every time when I turn the corner on a certain street, there is a tall man waiting for the bus. As someone who is perpetually lost and perpetually late, I use markers to retrace steps and budget time. For instance, when I enter a department store, I memorize the clothing on the mannequin closest to my entrance door and then find that mannequin when I want to leave.
Seeing the tall man still waiting for his bus let me know that I had just enough time to make it to my tutoring job. This was especially helpful if I was running errands beforehand and wasn't leaving directly from my house. He was like a store mannequin in terms of helping me judge time. My human-nequin.
And then one day he wasn't there and I muttered "shit," assuming that I was late. Maybe it was a few minutes later than usual, but I couldn't really judge because I had been out running errands. Luckily, I made it to tutoring on-time. Two days later, when I was driving again, I noticed he wasn't standing on the corner. This time, I was certain that I was on-schedule. My human-nequin was gone.
For the last few weeks, I've looked for him every time I've turned that corner on my way to tutoring. And he's never there. Back when he was simply a man standing waiting for a bus, I wouldn't have given it a moment's thought. But now he had started the process of weaving himself into my life, standing amongst the other people who had started out as human-nequins and become actual, real people as their lives criss-crossed through our lives.
There's Steve. He returns carts at the local food store. He used to be a human-nequin in the sense that he was someone who simply went with that store. I didn't use him to tell myself that I was in the correct parking lot--I mean, I knew I was in the correct parking lot for the food store. But seeing Steve made me feel like I was part of a neighbourhood--one where you could recognize the man who brought the carts in from the parking lot to the front of the store.
He went from being labeled tall-skinny-man-who-brings-in-carts to Steve the day my kids were having a meltdown in the front of the store because they were out of car carts and he not only found one for them in the bowels of the food store, but he then signed "please don't be sad" to my son (who used to sign more than he spoke) who prompty stopped crying since this kind man was telling him not to in his own language. And that is how he became Steve and why my kids wave at him and sign with him when we go to the food store.
And then there is Ms. Michelle who is our favourite librarian. Prior to the day that she became Ms. Michelle she was simply known as older-librarian-who-leads-storytime-on-occassion at the library. But then one morning we walked into the library and she called out a greeting to my kids, calling them by their first names and mentioning their favourite musical instrument which she had remembered from the last time she had led a storytime. And once I realized that we had crossed into her life, she crossed into our life and now when we get in the car to go to the library, we say that we are going to visit Ms. Michelle.
There is Eric, who used to be man-from-Sierre-Leone-at-Starbucks, and Taj, who was once known by favourite-waiter-at-the-Vietnamese-restaurant. There was woman-who-checked-me-in-at-the-RE who is now Celia and the woman-who-checked-me-out who is now Renee. And there is Maria who is the best at drawing blood in the lab. And Margaret who is my favourite person to get for a sonogram. When I entered the office, the only name I knew was the doctor, who turned out to be the person I saw the least. Everyone else was a label--a human-nequin who marked the space--until they became this important character in the journey. Sometimes life seems a little like Alice in Wonderland where all you see at first is the white rabbit with a pocket watch and then one day, the white rabbit becomes the White Rabbit who has a story and kid gloves and lives in a house with a thatched roof. And once they become etched into your story, you miss them when they suddenly disappear.
After weeks of missing my human-nequin, he returned yesterday. It will start with a wave. But perhaps one day I'll need to take the bus as well and I'll admit to him that I always looked for him on the corner when I was driving to my job. And then I'll learn his name. And he will cease to be simply a marker and become a very real person.
An ode to the cast of thousands who create the backdrop of life in honour of the man at the bus stop.
This is the part where you tell me about your human-nequins that one day sprung to life.