The descriptions are never too long. Just enough to give a rough outline of the folks she sees, to make them feel real — and then the best part — to give them some kind of good — some happiness or hope or contentment.
I get out of bed, there is a whole day ahead. I have to make breakfast and lunch for Jeanie. I get all the school stuff ready — make it easy for mom too. She has to get through the day — she won’t be up till later, but that don’t matter anyway. I’ll make her some lunch too and put it in the fridge. Maybe it’s just leftovers from yesterday, but it’s nice that it’s in portions, ready. It’s just nicer that way.
I do little things while I get ready. Make sure everything is going to go smooth. I’m in makeup by 6:30 and everything’s packed and ready by the time Jeanie is actually ready to go. I leave at 6:40 and the school bus is here by 7:15. She’s is big enough to get herself out the door now — and she has me on text — or mom. Mom can always help. We all help — we always have. It’s just that kind of family.
Anyway. It’s all the way across the city — two busses and a train. That’s why I write them down. All these people. Sometimes I read. I do that too. And you know — when someone makes me notice — I just get out the diary and put them in. I think sometimes they’re asking for me. I can be completely absorbed in my reading, or even knitting and I’ll feel someone who needs a little lift. I’ll write them in right away. I’m always glad to help.
Here is Mel — Melvin. He is forty five years old. He has a wife, but no children. His life is good, he loves his wife and they enjoy quiet nights together. They holiday in the fall sometimes when he can get time away from work. They love the colors of fall on the east coast — and they go to eastern Canada and the United States — taking trains wherever they can to enjoy the scenery. He always remembers to bring along little gifts from a local shop she loves for her birthday, which falls during the time period that they are away from home. They want to retire soon. In their future is a huge garden — most of the product it produces will be donated to the local food bank, and one restaurant — Melvin knows the chef and under his supervision has been selectively growing tomatoes so that they are perfect for the dishes made there.
This is Olivia — she is a student in her first year at UBC. Olivia is studying anthropology. She wants to be involved in digs in Belize. It’s hard for her, she has left her family for the first time and she’s very home-sick. Everyone is kind — the whole family is supportive, but she misses her dog and her family terribly. At night sometimes she will text her sister and they will have conversations that are hours long, and in the morning they will both have such trouble at school. In the future this will be a lovely story they both tell at family reunions and it will warm the hearts of everybody who listens. They used to fight like cats and dogs when they lived in the same house.
Johnathan is sitting over there. He is a database administrator for a law firm. His job has a great deal of responsibility surrounding it that he wasn’t aware of when he first applied. This has to do mainly with client protection, and governance by federal entities which guarantee privacy. He is in constant liaison with IT security people and they are particularly vigilant. It gives him nervous reactions at times, he is so worried about doing things properly. He doesn’t know that all the people he works with really like him because of his sense of humor, and they watch out for him and make sure he is doing things right. They go the extra little bit to help and always make it seem partly like his idea — in order to lower his stress. He just thinks they are making sure, but they wouldn’t do this for a person they didn’t like. He takes painting lessons. He wants to spend his summer holidays in the future paining canvases and he will one day sell his work.
When I see people — on the train, on the bus, walking on the street — I will write them in. Describe them and if I have time I can make up a life for them. I always make them content. It’s very important to be content. You see? It’s just a little bit of writing. It doesn’t take long. And it always helps them.
You know your mother told us about your writing? About your collection. When did you start this?
I don’t know. One morning on the way to school or work. I can’t remember. I want to describe the goal. I give them aspirations. Is this crazy? Is it some kind of problem?
I don’t think so. Why do you think it’s crazy? Iona, why are you here? Are you worried?
Mom says because I have boxes and boxes of these. I have a wall — a library shelf of boxes and they’re full of people and I’m starting to forget who’s who. I’m afraid if I forget them something will go wrong. She thinks it’s too much.
Even her grace tells me sometimes to slow down.
Her grace — my dream lady. She’s the grace that comes through me to make this. It’s her I’m giving.
Does she talk to you?
I dream her.
Iona — how many people this week?
About thirty your grace.
Why are you so busy on the trains? You have your own family.
I like it. I like giving people some hope and some chance. It doesn’t take much time and I’m sitting there anyway… isn’t it why we’re here?
You need time to yourself. Don’t forget that.
Yes, your grace.
You’re being good — not playing — right?
Yes, your grace.
Alright Iona, you can wake up now — blessings.
You’ve come to see me because you’re trying to help people — and you write them out…
I write them in.
Yes. Into the notebook. It’s putting them in that works.
I am Iona. I am from Greece, my parents are Algerian and I live in Vancouver now. I am studying to be a pediatric nurse, for the Government of this province and I take care of my sister and my Mother. My Father is deceased. My goal is to make my family happy because when I have accomplished that I feel content. I believe the most important word in this language for a person to know and understand is the word ‘content’.
That’s good. That’s a good start. You have identity and a goal. Is that all you want to say for now? Are there any friends you want to identify? Any helpers?
No — that’s it. I don’t keep many friends. Most of them are in Greece — and I don’t have very much time here.
So — when you’re jotting these notes — when you’re looking at people — how do you feel?
I don’t know. Helpful. Aware. Um… sometimes joking.
William came in at the Hotel King Francis stop. He likes to be called Will. He’s an overnight clerk at the roundhouse gas station across the street. The fare makes him mad every time he pays, so, he steals bus tickets from his work. The inventory is always out. He eats on the company tab, a couple of hot dogs each shift and some bottles of pop — Mountain Dew mostly — sometimes Fresca. He is a killer at Grand Theft Auto, he always gets the latest build as soon as it’s available in beta — his J/O buddy from basic training is on the test programmer list. He’s still in the forces, and won’t let Will down. Will’s threated to send pics to his wife of the two of them having sex together.
Iona watches him move through the car toward the tall seats — his normal spot. Halfway there he turns, leans over the back of a lady in a hi-jab and lets a mouthful of spit leak off of his lower lip onto the back of her shoulder. No one sees.
She writes — William will visit the doctor this coming Wednesday after three days in a row of shitting his pants before he can get to a toilet. Tuesday at 6pm, Monday at four thirty and today — now.
He will discover he is free of crones disease, but he will spend almost a week worrying over it.
She looks up from the notebook out the window across from her, watches the buildings flash by. She likes to ride the train at this time of day — when the light is changing and illuminating the buildings downtown.
She glances toward the back of the train and watches as he tenses — stiffens his back, moves closer to the chair and she watches his face go pale. A gasp escapes his lips. He falters and kneels down in the middle of the aisle.
Bastard. She smiles.
If you spend the time watching people, and you do — the next step is to document this. And after that — when it goes further the word you’re looking for is catalog. You’re cataloging the people you see. Is this judging? I don’t know — I suppose it depends on the words you use.
Do you have the right to judge people?
No — no one has that right.
I’ve made note of her behavior, but I don’t think it merits any further visits. She’s got an active imagination Mrs Santos. She loves to jot notes about people she sees. This explanatory cataloging of the people around her gives the world a sense of calm and completion.
But in her room the shelves go from floor to ceiling. Ikea magazine cardboard holders — filled with file folders. Sorted by name, occupation, date.
She’s not hurting anyone. It sounds like she’s keeping the family afloat — she’s working, supporting her sister, you — let her have this. It’s harmless.
Iona — it’s OK.
But Mother — she’s worried your grace.
If you saw you on the train, what would you write?
She is helpful, she is Iona, she is from Greece, but she lives here now — she helps people, she loves to make people happy. She wishes for some things, but she knows she has to wait. She should support her mother and sister. She must be content. She loves spring time and birds and she loves the ocean. She misses the blue ocean and the hills of her home. There was a dream she had, but she can’t remember it. She is smiling.
Look out the train window Iona. What do you see?
It’s evening — there are birds everywhere, spring I think. I can smell blossoms — I can smell ocean. It smells like home to me.
You can wake up now Iona. Blessings.