A Keele Street street sign, in Junction neighb...
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During my undergraduate years, I commuted from St. Catharines to York University in Toronto.  Travelling from the bus station on Academy Street to downtown Toronto and then on to the northern reaches of the pre-Greater Toronto Area at Steeles Avenue was an adventure.  That was back in the days when the Queen Elizabeth Highway was mostly two lanes wide, there was no such thing as gridlock and the end of the line for the Keele Street TTC bus was at Finch Avenue, an actual farmer’s field.  Tomatoes I think. And sheep. Hard by the rusting squats of the gasoline “tank farm” on the east side of the street. A 45 minute walk from residence if the weather was good.

During first year, I went home every weekend. I was homesick and I missed my mother and younger brothers.  By second year, the visits had stretched to every other week, partly because I discovered that dancing and hanging out with my dorm-mates were much more fun that hitting the books like a good wanna-stay A student.  On one of my return trips – bright and early on a crisp, sparkly-bright April Monday morning so I wouldn’t miss a home-cooked meal (cafeteria food being what it was even then), I was meandering from the Bay Street bus station on my way to catch the subway north to the end of the line at Eglinton Avenue. From there, I’d wait twenty minutes for the Keele Street bus. My faux-alligator green suitcase was bumping against my leg and, still a bit of a hick at heart, I stared into all of the store windows as I strolled along.

As I meandered east on Dundas Street to descend into the subway north to Eglinton, I noticed two men in the distance. They wore tattered plaid work shirts over grey t-shirts, scuffed blue jeans and grimy high-top shoes with the laces undone. One sported a dirty blond crew cut, the other had long dark hair in two untidy braids secured with shoelaces.  They were in their late twenties and they looked like they hadn’t washed for a while. They staggered against the storefronts, laughing and sharing what looked like a bent cigarette as they kibitzed along, pitching and yawing, bending over when they spied something on the ground. Each toted a tightly rolled sleeping bags slung across his shoulders in a fireman’s carry hold.  The sidewalk by the entrance to the subway was narrow. They were directly in my path, about 10 feet away. I was the only other pedestrian on this side of the street. Traffic was sporadic. When they saw me they stopped, bobbing their heads and nudging each other.

Blondie said in a loud, gravelly voice, ‘Hey, sweet thang.” He took a long hit from the butt, loosening his hips into a swagger. Polite convent-girl that I was, I averted my eyes and ducked my chin down a little.  I kept walking, but my shoes grew heavier with each step. Five feet and closing.  They turned to one another. I clutched my suitcase tighter. Their eyebrows and gesturing hands were alive with conversation. They flapped a fluttery wave at me.

Braid-guy said to his buddy, “Isn’t she just sooo fresh?” He dropped the sleeping bag and thrust his arms out to the sides, wiggling his ass as he spoke.  “A yummy chocolate treat.” They opened up a path for me on the sidewalk.  I tried on a small smile and stepped exactly between them, face forward.

“Dayum, Bill.” His voice grated in my ears. He leaned in closer as I passed. I caught a whiff of fresh sweat, stale hair, piss and pickles.  He took a noisy inhale through his mouth. He smacked his lips together as if he’d taken a huge bite of something.  “Sweet AND fresh. Um, um, um.” I slowed at the top of the stairs, in the clear, ready to bolt if I had to and yell for help.

“Hey Rufe?” My foot was on the third gum-spotted concrete step. From the sound of their voices at my back, I could tell they’d began moving away.

“Yeah, man.” They were almost shouting, putting on a show for my benefit.

“Isn’t that some lovely brown pussy?”

“Right on, man. I’d like me some of that.” My heart pounded. I jumped down two steps, the bag banging against my right calf. I cold swing it hard if I had to.

“Doesn’t she have a mouth just made for sucking cock?”

His voice reverberated against the dirty green tile walls. I whirled around. They were three paces away and bent over at the waist, leaning against one another for support, smacking their knees with the flats of their palms and laughing so hard with their mouths open so wide, that they were blowing spit-bubbles.  I didn’t actually know what the words meant, but from the tone, I knew it wasn’t something Sister Mary Frances would have taught us. They started making exaggerated kissy-sucking sounds with their lips, pumping their closed fists in front of bared teeth and jerking their hips in my direction. Braid-guy grabbed the front of his pants, jerking the bunched fabric away from his groin.

“C’mon, honey. You’d like this.” Then I understood. Face flaming, heart pounding, I turned away.

“Stuck up bitch,” Blondie said. I looked back over my shoulder. Legs spread wide, he grabbed his crotch and gave himself a tug as he panted with his tongue lolling from his mouth.

A gust of air pushed out of the station by an approaching train ironed my clothes tight against my body. I pressed my billowing skirt against my thighs and ran the rest of the way. Their hoots of laughter followed me, bouncing hollow down the cavern of the dirty stairwell.