Sam fumbled through the garbage in hopes of finding something to eat.
The winter in Toronto had been colder than usual this year, and that left him even more beaten and bruised than had the winters of years past.
For all of the climate change he’d been reading about in the free Metro papers he’d found strewn about here or there, it sure didn’t seem like things were getting any warmer, he thought to himself ignorantly.
Unsuccessful in finding sustenance in the first of the city’s branded black garbage bins he’d come across, he continued west down D’arcy Street towards Huron, darting from house to house.
The roadway beside him, lit by the grey sky above, was full of riveted snow forming tracks for the tires that crumbled along now and then. Straddling the tracks were the sidewalks he trafficked, painted with a whisked white chalk-like veneer of ice and snow which felt as cold and unwelcoming underfoot as did the uncomfortable glances of passers-by who, warm and safe within their cars, passed by just slow enough for him to catch them gawking.
He was used to it. No one wanted him in the city; he was a scourge, crawling around the city in search of survival having been pushed out of his home and into a life not of his own doing. And so he lived, garbage bin to garbage bin, staying out of sight in the day and alternating between sleeping and scavenging in the night. Homeless. Helpless.
It wasn’t a glamorous existence, and, in spite of the hardship he’d endured, he was vilified for just trying to survive. How difficult a thought, that. And yet, he was incapable of finding anywhere else to go; he hadn’t the means and could do little else but attempt to survive until he could no longer.
A few more garbage bins went searched unsuccessfully before he finally managed to find one, unsecured, with a few morsels that would hold him for the night. The sight of the scraps sent him into a frenzy, and his tattered coat grew ever-dirtier as he viciously excavated his hard-won prize from what you’d thrown away.
Without a second thought, he slammed the garbage into his face, sucking it down in between exasperated breaths, each a visible cloud of hot air and stink.
Content for the moment with his work, he turned away from the garbage and continued north on Huron to an alley a few legs up. The alleys were generally a good place to hide, as they, lesser travelled, left him without much in the way of disturbance.
The cold day ultimately gave way to a colder night. Chinatown’s morning grey had turned to a sickly orange of artificially-lit night. A single loading bay lamp set the the row of garages and garbage cans alight, leaving plenty of crevices where one could stay out of sight.
Sam did his best to huddle up in a corner between a brick garage and a chain link fence. Not much of a bed, he’d be the first to admit, but it kept him away from the main thoroughfare and somewhat sheltered from the wind.
But the wind grew ever fiercer. With each howl it seemed to echo the shouts of those who’d cast him out were he to be found. He was used to it, and his hide had developed an increasingly-disgusting set of wrinkled, rippled, calloused blisters.
Unfortunately, his solace was short-lived. Just as he was dozing off did he find his ears perked alert with the increasingly-audible sounds of someone’s approach.
A black, shapeless blob appeared in the distance, blotting out more and more of the laneway’s end street lamp as it drew closer and larger. It wasn’t long before the blob took shape as man holding a garbage bag.
Sam scrunched his back up against the brick garage, pushing himself closer to the fence in the hopes that he might stay undiscovered. He felt himself grating against the fence, cold and sharp. As he did, he heard the crunch of snow compacting as the man drew closer.
With each step, the crunch grew louder. With each crunch, Sam’s back drew stiffer. Closer, and closer still, did the man blob draw, until he was mere steps away.
Sam held his breath. He prayed. He heard the man open the lid of a garbage can just steps away, and then drop his bag into it with a thud of heavy waste and a clink of bottles. The lid closed moments later before a chorus of crunches; and then, silence.
Sam froze in fear in the deafening silence. Seconds passed as hours. Sam’s heart raced. Beads of sweat formed on his brow. He held himself tight to the corner. Eyes closed. Fingers crossed. Please, don’t find me. Don’t find me, he pleaded. Is he still there? Where is he? His mind raced.
And then, it happened.
“FUCK!”, the man yelled as he turned, startled, to find Sam.
Sam had only a moment to open his frozen, fearful eyes to behold the man who, mouth agape, let loose a fury of screams.
“GET OUT OF HERE, YOU FUCKING BUM! GET OUT OF HERE! GET OFF MY PROPERTY!”
The man leaned forward into his yells, projecting his voice along with his spit directly into Sam, who remained frozen. It wasn’t until the man acted that Sam fled.
With great fury and anger, the man swung his boot and connected with Sam right in the gut. Sam screamed a high-pitch wail in anguish as he felt his stomach draw immediately warm and then instantly ablaze as his beaten body took another blow.
Sam coughed a single splurt of bright, crimson blood onto the bleach white snow beneath before he managed to stumble away, hearing behind him the cacophony of curses still flowing from the man.
It was in a haze of confusion and pain that Sam stumbled out of Chinatown and towards the intersection of College and University. He could barely see, eyes glassy from the pain. He continued to stumble on, though, in hopes of solace.
His blindness did not subside as he stumbled towards the intersection. At least the pain had left him warm and distracted enough to no longer feel the cold. In fact, were it not for the pain in his gut, he would’ve felt somewhat relieved — so much so that he didn’t even react when he felt a slam knock him to the ground.
He now lay, dizzy and growing warmer as he felt the blurry city lights slowly subside into the darkness, the roar of cars over and around him.
No one even stopped as he lay, dying, just another racoon on the side of the road.