Once upon a time, not too long ago, I used to take my daughter to weekend matinees. Always the weekend, and on the busiest days of the shopping week, when downtown was mental busy with human traffic and cars beeping and manoeuvring like mad cows to slaughter, neon lights, and paper signs fluttering away like defective butterflies, and people running ’round like the walking dead, only carrying shopping bags newly filled with purchases.
So, the kid was only about maybe 4 or 5 at the time, and used to love our weekend outings to see the latest Disney flick and walking adventure through the bustle of people. We’d go in and out of shops, up and down stairs and escalators, weaving through human traffic, it made for a pretty cool adventure for us both.
On this one day, in particular, though, the kiddo stops abruptly in the middle of a pedestrian nightmare, so I reach and crouch down to check out what she’s so fascinated by. Now she’s just stood there, facing the brick wall of a major downtown store, and I have to peer really close, to make out a shape between the flow of legs and shopping bags, to focus on what she’s making googly eyes at.
So I kinda have to do a double take, ‘cos even living in a big city, there are things you come across that are so outta place, so unique to their surroundings, you need a minute to compute what you’re seeing. What I finally made out and what the baba is now making a bee line for, is a beautiful, pampered, and fluffed up cat, that seriously looked like a stuffed animal for how serene and content and unperturbed it was by all the human bustle and mayhem going on ’round it, let alone the cars and general downtown madness on a busy shopping day.
It was a cat who was perched on a fluffed up pillow, stuffed into an open guitar case. The homeless guy who was sitting crossed legged and leaning against the brick wall had a protective arm over the open top of the guitar case, but looked as serene and unperturbed as his buddy, the cat.
Now where kids are concerned, I think it’s second nature to go to anything calm, furry, and cuddly looking. So the kiddo is already stroking the serene cat, while I’m still trying to absorb the whole scene. So it’s slightly awkward, but politeness dictates I shoot the shit with this guy and talk about his cat and see what the score is. Well, that was my thinking at the time, and just to keep the guy distracted for as long as the kiddo wanted to pet guitar cat.
He followed right along and kept pace with the conversation, never asked me for a thing, not a penny or a handout and he didn’t start raving like a loon or getting creepy about the cat and the kid. And when I stopped trying to make the effort, it went pretty quiet between us, and I looked ’round at what this guy was looking at for hours on end while he sat there letting his cat get some fresh air on their outings together. I was crouched down to his level with him squatting on the pavement, and the kid stooped over to pet the cat, so roughly about knee level to all the human traffic rushing by.
And that’s all there was. Just legs and knees and shopping bags filled to the brim, carried by people rushing somewhere very important to beat a watch and/or clock and make an appointment and/or store closing hour and/or get to their car before the meter ran out.
Just let me clarify this for you. The homeless guy was not a bum. He wasn’t scruffy and filthy, he was tidy and very easy to talk to, just a regular Joe. But he was homeless, and told me so, and didn’t want a thing from me. His cat, on the other hand, was this obviously pampered and primmed character that was dearly loved and probably the most cherished thing this guy had in his life, and he treated it as such. Who knows? Maybe this cat was his only friend, his favorite companion, his most trusted confidant. Whatever this cat stood for in this man’s life, he showed it. He nurtured it, cared for it, and did everything in his power and control to care for it, before and above his own needs.
I imagine that to all the thousands of people passing him, looking from their standing and walking positions, and rushing by, that he was just another guy, looking for a handout, and using the cat as a sympathy prop, but when you stopped and took the time to chat with him, he was neither of what we would assume a homeless man is. He wasn’t delusional, or a misplaced and lost soul. He wasn’t a drug addict, or a guy who’d lost everything because of alcoholism and/or a lost job. I don’t know how he ended up there, but somehow this guy seemed more on the game and more together than a lot of people who rushed by him that day, including me. He didn’t resent his life or what life had dealt him. He didn’t want or need anything else in life, but this cat, and somehow he seemed to know what he was doing here with his life. He’d found something to love and care for, and did just that. That seemed to be enough for him, to have found a purpose, and to work on just that.
Now I don’t know a whole lot, but this guy seemed luckier and happier to me than most of the people rushing by that day and of all the things I remember about that day, I remember how happy he made my kid just to let her sit and stroke the cat and chat merrily away to it.
It’s twenty years later, and my girl still remembers that man and his cat, and we both smile when we talk about it. Neither one of us could tell you what movie we saw that day, where we walked and what we purchased, who we saw or what we did the rest of that particular week, but we could tell you everything about that guitar case, the cat sat inside and all about the man who took care of and loved that cat, except for his name and how he got there.
Sometimes it’s those small fleeting and brief moments that make the biggest impact and sweetest memory and it’s one that my daughter and I share because of the cat and his man with the guitar case.