Friday, 17 October 2014



"Nobody can give you freedom.  Nobody can give you equality or justice or anything...You take it."


Hey!” a gruff voice called from behind him.

Marty turned around and saw him, a big man with a scruffy red beard and messy hair. He wore a coat that probably started out gray but turned coffee brown over the years.

Get out of my spot!” the burly, viking-looking man barked.

This is your spot?” Marty asked, standing up from the cold street, his bottom feeling numb. He recognized the man now. When he worked at the condo he had given money to him a few times on his way in or out of the Tim’s. Marty knew the man would not recognize him in turn since he was now in disguise.  The costume shop had only solid colours, something Marty regretted as it was not as realistic, especially if he wanted to convince people that he had spent his life on the streets, the stress of which he believed would turn even a late twenty-something’s hair grey.

My spot!” the man yelled again.

Marty raised his hands at once. “Okay, no reason to get mad sir,” he said, and then reached a hand into his own raggedy jacket. “Here,” he said as he pulled out a fifty. “Can you go find another spot for a few days?”

The man’s eyes grew wide, looking first at the bill and then at Marty. He reached for it, paused and asked: “Are you a cop?"

Marty shook his head.

The homeless man took the bill quickly, stuffing it into his pant pocket and leaving, heading down the nearest street towards the University of Toronto grounds. Marty had anticipated something like this. He had other fifties and twenties in his jacket just in case. 

He sighed as he thought it over, sitting down on the sidewalk again, focusing his attention back on his old workplace building across Bay Street. He checked his wristwatch for a second before concealing it under his sleeve again. It was nine and there was still no sign of Harvey Franco or Erin.

As he took a sip of his coffee he sighted a sleek red sportscar turning out from the alley that led to and from the underground garage. He remembered Mr. Franco usually drove a convertible, but it would not make any sense to drive one in the snowy weather.

Nine,” Marty noted in his head. The car turned south on Bay Street, no doubt headed for the big skyscrapers near Queen and King Streets. Marty shielded his eyes from the sun, managing to make out a curly toupee of hair within the car. It was him.

The sound of metal clinked beside him, startling him out of his spy zone. “Huh?” he said as he spun his head to his right. A toonie sat on the sidewalk by his knee. He gazed up to see a woman in a parka looming over him. She smiled for a second before moving on her way down. “Oh yeah,” Marty thought. “I’m homeless.” He called a ‘thank you’ after the woman and picked up the toonie, thinking how helpful it could have been when he was authentically broke.

The rest of the day passed by on Bay Street as it did on any weekday.  A few people, most decently dressed, walked by on the sidewalk, but more people appeared to be driving. It was usually that way in the winter. Marty spotted a few people coming and going from the condo lobby whom he recognized. He saw one man, an opera singer named Andre whom he had always enjoyed chatting with when he was employed there, but he resisted the urge to call to him.

By the late afternoon, after Marty had downed at least four coffees, there was still no sign of Erin. Marty wondered if she and Franco had broken up. A part of him hoped that, but then he remembered that he had lost his job because of her.

The sun was already starting to set and Toronto was descending into darkness, early as always in the winter. Marty always hated it. It brought his spirit down every year. As he looked up at the glass tower and saw the twilight colours in its surface he started having second thoughts about the operation. He thought of the risks, about how much he would lose if caught. Ivan’s death, he wondered, could be found out too as a result and he would be in prison until he was in his fifties or sixties if he was lucky.  He shuddered at the thought of being locked up.

He wondered too if he could trust Jimmy in the whole thing. Overall he would have preferred to go in on something like this with Richard, just because he trusted him a bit more, not to mention that he and Richard were both in on another crime as it was.

He shook his head and sighed, thinking of the way Richard had been completely missing from action the past few weeks. It worried him.  And it kind of made him angry, the way he had disappeared on him like that.

As he finished his last coffee he sighted the red car down the street, just passing by College Street.

Might as well see,” he thought, resolving to go check it out either way. He could decide later on the status of the operation. There was no rush.  Either way, his recon work would be going ahead.

Marty stood up, stretched, and then ran across the street without any second thoughts. He was fortunate all the cars were moving so slowly due to the slushy street. Once he was on the other side and within steps of the condo’s property he reminded himself to hunch over slightly and walk with a bit of a limp. He had crossed the street with too much youthful vigour for an older homeless man.

Spare change,” he called as a couple passed by. He recognized them.

Watch out for black ice!” he remembered calling those words and having them misunderstood. It was them, the man and woman who had thought he had said: “Watch out for black guys!”

Marty shuddered as he looked away from them, eager not to make eye contact. The man reached into his pocket and pulled out a five dollar bill. Marty smiled sheepishly and took the bill and bowed slightly, stepping away from them, careful to keep his face to the sidewalk.

The red car then turned into the driveway to his left. Marty backed himself up against the nearest concrete planter that contained a small fern tree still draped in Christmas lights. He made eye contact with the driver. It was Harvey Franco. He returned his look with a glare and a scowl. The window lowered.

Get a job!”  Franco yelled.

Marty held out his hand, remembering his role. “Got change, sir? I had a job but they let me go,” he said in a weak voice, purposely making his voice gravely so as not to be recognized.

Get another one!” Franco replied, rolling up the car window.

Yeah, that’s why homeless people are homeless,” Marty muttered.

A few seconds later a security guard came out from the glass doors and approached Marty. It was Trevor.

Sir, we’ve received a complaint. You have to leave our property.”

Marty looked over to him, a bit taken aback at how quickly it had all happened. Trevor stood his ground, one hand in his pocket, the other by his side. Marty nodded, looking right at him and turned to leave.

Thanks,” said Trevor.

He doesn’t recognize me,” Marty thought. He then decided he was definitely going to rob Harvey Franco. Any doubt he had had was gone. Not only was it a way to make money, but the man deserved it. 

It was justice.

When night fell fully at eight Marty cut through the University grounds, making his way to Queen's Park. As he made his way north of Ontario's mini-Parliament, the one that was once an insane asylum, Marty spotted a large crowd of people up ahead in the parkland. When he got closer he could smell something that smelled like marijuana in the air. It was not though. It was smudge.

Idle No More?” he asked himself quietly while he crossed the street and headed under the nearest pair of the tall oaks that the park was known for. The bulk of the crowd was congregated around a statue on the eastern side of the grounds. Marty knew not the name of the statue but could tell from the outer edge that it was a man mounted on a horse, no doubt British, probably a Lieutenant Governor or a general, or both.

The first few people Marty passed by were clustered in pairs or groups. The further he moved toward the centre the more bunched up everyone became.  From above he figured the crowd looked like a galaxy; a big cluster bulge in the middle with fading arms flinging out at the sides.  Once Marty started having to tuck his arms at his sides he realized that he was as far as he would get. In front of him was a field of heads mere inches away from one another. He heard someone singing in the middle where the smoke rose up from an unseen spot.

Marty had not been to any gatherings or demonstrations relating to the wider indigenous rights movement. Things had just been too busy the past year and a half since Idle No More was launched in Winnipeg. Marty knew native Indians, most of whom he had met in University, but also had met some in activist circles, especially during the G-20 weekend. He knew even more people, mostly white people, who were involved in directly supporting indigenous land rights. He knew a bit about the Caledonia land dispute, but not enough. All he knew was that he sympathized with the natives in the case, as he felt he always would when it came to land disputes.  He wondered too about his novel, the one he had been writing for a while now, the story was about the Americas had they not been "discovered" by Europe.  He had not had time to write anything, not in weeks, and it had not been a priority since the incident with Ivan. 

He started looking for people he recognized. There were some familiar faces, most whose names escaped him at the time. He saw one guy that he had met before a few times, a tall dirty-blonde haired guy with glasses around his age who was always talking about the Palestinian issue. He noticed Marty and nodded over at him. Marty raised a hand to him, then backed up out of the crowd, starting to feel claustrophobic.

The singing had stopped and a moment of silence followed. The smudge kept burning. Marty looked around while mostly everyone else still stared ahead of them. He noticed a big red banner behind him. It was the New Democratic Revolutionary Caucus. The familiar sight of Gerry Bernstein, his round Trotsky-style glasses and salt and pepper goatee confirmed it. He looked to be glaring over at Marty.

Marty looked away, but his old comrade starting calling him. “I should have gone home,” Marty thought as he turned around and forced a smile. “Hey Gary,” he said.

Hey there, comradely greetings Marty,” said Gary, reaching into the bundle of newspapers he held in his arms. “Here is our latest issue of Crisis in Capitalism.”

Marty reached for it.

Gary, ever the socialist who never cared about money, held out his hand. “Cost one dollar.”

As a broke student he would never spend a dollar on Bernstein's paper, but now the fee was nothing to him. He gave him the toonie the woman had given him on Bay Street and said the extra dollar was for the free issues he had received before.

Will you be coming to our meeting this Saturday? We will be meeting at O.I.S.E. and will be screening a film on imperialism in the age of crisis.”

I don't know, maybe,” Marty replied diplomatically. He had no interest in sitting in on a movie he had probably already seen with the same five fifty-something men that made up the caucus.

At our last convention we got over one hundred new members,” Gary went on as if he could read Marty's mind.

Oh wow,” Marty said flatly, looking about for someone else to greet. He noticed another large red banner, this one with block white lettering: Strike-Back. This group was made up of people closer to Marty's age. He noticed some of the members manning the table under the banner, most of them looking a little less plucky and youthful as the last time Marty saw them. This group was a little more in touch than Gary Bernstein's, and it had more members, but Marty found them just as sectarian as any of the other small leftist vanguard groups.

Yeah man,” Marty said to Gary, holding up his paper. “Thanks and good luck with your new members. Anyways, I got to duck out now, got some stuff-”

Gary's eyebrows went up at once. “Really? Why are you going to leave now, Marty? You just got here. Here,” he grabbed a small pile of flyers off the table and shoved them lightly at Marty's chest. “Help us give these advertisements out.”

Okay,” said Marty, taking the flyers. They were notices on the group's film screening that weekend. He had learned years ago not to argue with Gary. “I'll do that, fine.”

And come back for more when you're done.”

Marty nodded and walked off, dropping the flyers in the nearest recycling bin. He looked back for a second to see if Gary, who was now a good thirty feet away, was watching him. Gary was pushing his papers on another person. Another man, this one nearer, was looking at Marty instead, a short man in a red plaid shirt and a black toque. He had a bundle of his own newspapers under his arm and was approaching Marty at a fast pace.

Yeah?” Marty called back, turning about and walking backwards, a little taken aback by the man's aggressive posture.

You just accepted a newspaper from the Revolutionary Caucus?” he asked in a nasally pitch.

Yeah, I know them.”

"You should not read their papers,” the man declared, waving his free hand. “They are reactionary and have published numerous attacks against us, the true revolutionary vanguard.”

Okay, I can get one of your newspapers,” Marty said. “I'll read both and decide.”

First you must denounce the pseudo-working class politics of the Stalinist Gary Bernstein and the deformed worker's state Revolutionary Caucus and then you can join us and read our manifesto.”

Bye,” said Marty, waving Gary's newspaper at him dismissively. 

Some groups were definitely worse than others. Being sectarian was bad enough, but being cult-like was plain scary to Marty. As he came to the periphery of the park he pulled out the newspaper and took a quick look at it's cover. Although there was much talk on various issues Marty found no mention of anything relating to indigenous rights or Idle No More in it.

He sighed as he made his way back to the street at the north end, taking one last look at the crowd, now seeing only silhouettes and candles. There were so many people trying to struggle against the system. Marty struggled no longer in a systemic sense like the activists, but now only in a personal sense.

In a few days he would make his next move against oppression. By the next week he would either be in jail or be richer than ever.

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