Aesop walked out of Richard’s coffee & book shop into the bright July sun. He squinted. He took a sip of his Americano and felt his insides approach the same temperature as his outsides. The heat came down from the sun, up from the asphalt, and now from within. Vancouver was no good in the summer. At least not in the Downtown Eastside. As miserable as the rainy season was, it offered relief from the pervading stench of urine. Though the rain never washed it all away, it at least kept it moving. The summer, though, roasted the neighbourhood in a marinade of piss that never went long without a fresh basting. The alley sides of the old hotels showed a century’s erosion from uric acid like antfarms. Rumour had it that at least one building, not far from the biggest drug corner, had suffered irreparable damage to its foundation thanks to the constant eliminations.
The smell bothered Aesop the most on Friday mornings. By Sunday afternoon, he barely noticed it. In a way, he was glad it bothered him. He was glad that even after five years (had it been that long already?) working down here certain things still managed to appall him. After everything he’d seen–daily overdoses, weekly stabbings, the unrelenting tide of human misery–he held fast to his outrage. Sure, it was easier to ward off apathy and burnout since he got off the nightshift and switched to weekends two years ago. The sweltering musk of micturate was slightly more bearable knowing that for four days starting Monday morning the strongest smell he’d have to deal with would be the whiff of his overgrown East Vancouver lawn.
Aesop crossed Cordova, turned west and then cut through the alley. A purple hoodie on a mountain bike pulled up alongside him.
“You smokin’ rock today?” the hoodie asked.
“Nah,” Aesop said, without breaking his relaxed pace. “Thanks, though.”
“You don’t smoke rock?” the hoodie weaved back and forth on his bike. “What do you do?”
“Just coffee, I guess,” Aesop held up his cup.
“I know you,” the cyclist pulled his hood back and grinned so wide Aesop could count all of his teeth: 7. “You’re one of them outreach workers.”
“Hey, Troy, how you been?”
“You wanna buy a bike? What colour you like?”
“I’m good for bikes, thanks, Troy.”
Troy shrugged, pulled his hoodie back over his big ears and turned back to Cordova. A woman leaning against a hydro pole put her pipe down and smiled at Aesop.
“Hi dear,” she said. “You bringing me some candy?”
“What? I don’t have any candy.”
“Oh, I’m sorry, dear. You’re wearing a red shirt. I thought you were one of the Christians. They give us candy if we let them pray for us. You oughtta be more careful how you dress around here.”
Emmet Matheson is a freelance writer who blogs at A Bulldozer With a Wrecking Ball Attached. You can e-mail him at: bulldozerDOTwreckingballATgmailDOTcom