tilly with the others: part 28

Tilly wandered out of the vegetarian diner, full of gluten-free blueberry pancakes and free trade coffee. For the first time since she woke up that morning, she noticed that the weather was sunny and pleasant. She smiled up at a passing cloud, and when a man passing by noticed her, he just looked up in the same direction and smiled too.

She started to think that perhaps taking the streetcar to the Art Gallery of Ontario might not be such a bad idea. She hadn't been there in years, and she'd promised herself a visit once she got settled in. And besides... anything to avoid going home right now.

Tilly swiped her transit pass through a turnstile at Spadina station and made her way down to the streetcar stop. Most of the morning commuters had already left.

"Hey!" At first Tilly just ignored the voice, taking it to be yet another nut on the subway, but the homeless man she had met when she first moved back to the Annex lunged at her. She startled and took a step back.

"Oh, sorry," the man said. "I'm used to having to get people's attention the hard way, you know? Panhandling takes more energy than people think." He grinned and spread his arms wide. Tilly was afraid he was going to give her a hug.

Instead, he pointed at the ceiling with both hands. "I found it! I found my door in the ground. I'm punching out now. Those weird lights at the bottom of all the shower drains — I'm leaving them behind, permanently." His arms dropped to his sides abruptly. "Oh sorry lady. I heard about your door in the sky. That sucks."

"Could happen to anyone," said Tilly, and some of the people in queue for the next streetcar smiled.

"The Others will try again," said the man. "They always do. Took seven tries with me. But now I know. Watch this."

He made a surprisingly formal bow in Tilly's direction, ran around to railing opposite the stairway entrance to the eastbound subway trains, and swan dived off the railing before anyone could stop him.

Behind Tilly someone started screaming. Someone else was shouting for the ticket collector to call for an ambulance. Tilly watched a young couple rush down the stairs and check the man's neck for a pulse. The young man positioned himself as if to start administering CPR, but stopped when his girlfriend pointed to the homeless man's neck.

Tilly wondered why it had taken them so long to notice the angle of the man's neck was impossible, that the massive dent in his forehead from when he'd hit the corner of a stair tread simple wasn't something CPR could fix.

Other people were rushing past her, pushing her out of the way. There was an announcement on the station's PA system. As usual, only the "attention please" notice at the beginning was intelligible, but it was obvious the eastbound platform would be unusable until the authorities could investigate and clean everything up.

Tilly couldn't stop looking at the man. Even with his face covered in blood, even with the disfiguring impacts of the cement and tile stairs, she could see that his eyes were open, and notice for the very first time that they were blue. She could see that he still wore that ecstatic smile he'd had as he'd spoken to her.

"Ma'am? Ma'am?" A hand was placed on her left shoulder, and Tilly wheeled around to find herself facing a transit police officer.

"Ma'am, some of the ladies over there said the man, um, in the stairwell there, they said he was talking to you just before he jumped. Is that right?"

"Yes, but he didn't really say anything — "

"I understand, ma'am, but I'd like you to answer a few questions anyhow. Could you follow me, please? It's just so we have a better idea of what happened."

"Of course," said Tilly, adjusting the way her purse hung from her shoulder.

The officer led her through the crowd, checking every few steps she was still following him. Tilly saw an open door up ahead that looked like one of the little hidden offices subway drivers used when they were taking meal breaks or filling out paperwork.

Tilly ran through all of the times she had met the man since she'd moved back to Toronto, trying to come up with a plausible narrative that left The Others out of it. He was.... a person in her neighbourhood. Owen used to sing that Sesame Street song all the time when he was little.

A homeless man is a person in your neighbourhood. She almost started laughing.