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Wednesday, June 30, 2004 

Street justice

The kid was thirteen. Maybe. But he wanted to be older.

"Where's that fuckin' nigger!" he shouted.

He was white, wearing baggy jeans, sneakers, a white tank top and a white headband. His left arm from the elbow down was covered with a bright white cast with no signatures on it. Just over five feet tall and thin as a rail. Lips pursed and trembling, eyes shiny, face red and scrunched up.

He was shouting at passersby on the street outside the bus terminal in Brampton. It's a square building on Church Street. There are lanes that go around the entire building for buses to pickup and dropoff passengers.

He was waving a hand around like you see inner city kids do in movies. Awkward, but smooth. Seemingly erratic, but predictable. On the verge of tears, but covering it with anger.

Acting how he thought a tough guy should act.

Nobody answered.

"You seen that nigger?" he asked me.

Shook my head and shrugged. I hadn't. I'd just come around the corner. Christa and her mom were picking me up. I'd taken the bus from Guelph and didn't know where to expect them, so I was doing circuits of the building. Pausing to wait at the most likely spots and then going around again in case they were in an unlikely spot.

I was wearing brown leather shoes, jeans, a shirt that buttoned, a cream coloured cotton jacket and a backpack. He looked me up and down and sneered. I got the sense he didn't believe me.

After shrugging again I continued around the side of the terminal to the main dropoff area.

Someone finally answered the kid as I walked away. They said the guy was around the corner, around back.

Sitting at a bench talking to a young woman was a young black man in baggy black pants, a red t-shirt under an unzipped black jacket. His head was covered with a red triangular cloth that had been tied in the back. He wasn't the only black man there, but he was the only one around that seemed agitated. He was twitchy. Slouched on the bench, but stiffly. His eyes were jumping around and he'd check over his shoulder a lot.

I noticed him, but didn't. I was focussed on trying to spot Christa.

I wasn't having much luck at that, so I did another lap of the building.

On my way around again the kid was talking on a payphone around the corner from the agitated guy I'd noticed earlier. He had a hand up to his eyes.

Christa still wasn't there.

On my next circuit, the kid was still on the phone. Three guys were walking across the lanes running parallel to the wall the phone was on.

The first was a white guy in black shorts, combat boots, and a white tank top. His head was shaven, his eyes were blue and his ear held a single silver hoop. He looked to be about thirty and looked to be very pissed off.

"Is that the kid?" he asked one of the other guys. The guy nodded.

As I went around back, they walked up to the kid and started talking to him.

A few moments later the bald guy came around the corner, glanced around, walked over and sat down beside the agitated guy. They started talking. Not calmly.

The other two men who'd come with the bald guy came too, standing several feet back from each corner of the building. Their eyes kept flicking from the bald guy's conversation to multiple points around their respective building corners and back again. The one closest to me was wearing a camouflage jacket that was unzipped. His right hand kept floating up toward his shoulder like it wanted inside the jacket, then drifting away.

I walked several feet away from him and removed my hands from my jacket pockets. Christa was still nowhere to be seen.

The bald guy was getting loud.

"You feel tough threatening a kid with a knife? Why don't you show me the knife?" he said.

The agitated one mumbled something.

"You want to talk? We'll talk. After you've shown me the knife," said the bald guy.

More mumbles.

"Show me the fucking knife or I'll dent that wall with your face!" shouted the bald guy.

A young woman a couple feet from me caught my gaze and opened her eyes wide as if to say, "Aw shit." I shrugged slightly and went back to looking for Christa as the bald guy and the agitated guy walked around the far corner of the building. A few moments later Christa still hadn't shown up, so I walked around the building again.

She wasn't all that late. My bus was scheduled to arrive fifteen minutes before she and her mom could possibly get there. I just couldn't wait to see her and it was a small building to walk around. Makes for a lot of trips.

This time around the building, I saw the two guys talking on a bench on the south side. The kid was still by the phones on the west side. Not talking, just standing. A few minutes after I got around back to the north side again, the two guys came around from the south side. The bald guy talked to the kid for a moment and then the agitated guy did. They were angry.

A bus pulled in right beside them, the bald guy's friends walked up and people started getting off the bus. Blocking my view of them.

Which is when Christa showed up on foot.

I spotted her about twenty feet away. She'd just come from work and was wearing a long black skirt, a white blouse, her glasses and that beautiful smile that makes me melt. I smiled, walked forward and we embraced. The moment was only slightly spoiled by the awareness of my back being to the many angry people - one of which may have had a knife and another of which may have had a gun - standing too close together in an enclosed area.

"Mom's around the corner at the liquorstore. She's picking up wine for dinner," said Christa. She took a few steps toward the bus and I knew she was planning to walk between it and the brick wall to get to Church Street. If you hadn't been there for the last twenty minutes, it made perfect sense to go that way. It was the shortest distance to walk.

I paused and looked from the crowd of people between the bus and wall to the two empty lanes on the other side of the bus.

"Let's go this way," I said, leading her in a wide arc around the bus and through the lane toward Church Street.

As we walked along the lane, the bus pulled out. I looked at the kid and the man he'd called a nigger. They were both laughing and talking to each other and the bald guy.

Stunned, I let Christa lead the way to the liquor store. I was actually so shocked that I didn't tell Christa about it. Hadn't processed it and couldn't figure out how to bring it up.

I'm not sure how I expected that situation to play out, but I certainly didn't expect them all to be laughing and chatting when I walked away.

I guess if you pay attention, people will just keep surprising you.