Night Owls

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the sons of God.”

– Matthew 5:9

Disclaimer: If I misquote you or make shit up to cover for a gap in my memory, do not stab me. I am, in fact, an international secret agent.

I have insomnia, that is difficulty sleeping, brought about by countless late video gaming and one too many after parties. It is a condition that can easily be lifted by a simple technique known as ‘Get your ass to bed”. Unfortunately I’m a stubborn bastard by default and late night television, followed by the appeal of late night meanderings prolongs this self-inflicted condition. Besides things can get interesting when people least expect it.

For the past week or so at the hotel, the concierge members have most likely become used to the sight of my constant wandering at late hours in the night, chainsmoking and listening to my iPod whenever it is I stray from my room. In the wake of my sleeplessness, I am introduced to a small cast of night owls, the sleepless and the nocturnal, tireless kindred spirits. The man in the concierge, John, is an openly gay employee with the most becoming smile one can imagine.

But OF COURSE I had to stop here. Duh.

But OF COURSE I had to stop here. Duh.

John and I exchange conversation ranging from small talk and lengthy discussions throughout my stay. Truth be told, I regret not having written a small recommendation to management for his professionalism and attitude, which even by Vancouver standards is refreshing. Periodically I venture into the night to Tim Horton’s and provide him with snack and conversation.

There is a gentleness to his voice, the kind that quickly wins you over with a characteristic smile, and much of the conversations – while trivial in context – are pleasant to have. I inquire about the LGBT community here on the island, about any difficulty finding employment or the general view on it.

“It hasn’t been a problem,” He says with his trademark smile. “Most of the people downtown are widely accepting. In other areas, that may not be the case, but overall I’d say it’s quite liberal in atmosphere. There are a number of venues running LGBT nights, such as the Papparazzi club.”

“I went on a trip once,” He adds when I mention the purpose of my journey. “Out to the countryside with some friends, camping in the woods, riding around my bicycle. It was easier back in the day.” Is it safe to walk around Victoria at night? “Absolutely. Just use your common sense.” That goes without saying. John smirks, nodding his head. “The same could be said anywhere you go.”

The many hidden pathways in Victoria.

The many hidden pathways in Victoria.

Needless to say, John’s advice speaks for itself, considering the length and destination of my adventure. For a moment, I’m admittedly on edge even at the prospect of future destinations, the constant terror of losing everything in an instant being there always. He reassures me in the most comforting way, “You have a vibe to you, I’m sure wherever you wind up you’ll be safe. Use your common sense. You’ll make it to your destination.” I find some small comfort from his words of reassurance and shake his hand firmly.

On the last few nights of my stay in Victoria, I befriend another nocturnal creature, namely a vagrant Englishman named Nicholas. His immediate accent catches my attention when he emerges in the dark, unlaced shoes shuffling over the asphalt driveway and tiny beady eyes peering from a battered wind jacket. Careful assessment hints at the imagery of an addict yet Nicholas’ strange appearance does not come close to his shining personality. He speaks softly, occasionally sparing a faint smile.

“I came here from England,” Nicholas explains to me. “My church and family disowned me because I didn’t believe the same things they did. After that Jesus Christ has kept me company ever since. That would have been years ago, the system here cheated me of my money and I’ve been out here ever since.” He does not say thank you, rather he says bless you, when I offer him a smoke. “Tis a menthol. Good stuff. Cheers.” We talk for a spell.

“Victoria’s nice.” He comments, glancing over at the occasional traffic. “I struggle to get by. Haven’t had a woman, couldn’t afford one, but Jesus Christ has kept me company always.” I don’t believe in Jesus more than I believe in democracy, Nicholas. “Jesus always forgives you, we are his children. I don’t force my faith to others. I encourage people like you to have faith.”

Captain Louie's Tree.

Captain Louie’s Tree.

That’s more difficult considering the age we’re living in. “That’s so true.” He says, blowing smoke and shivering against the evening chill. “Still its the system, they cheat and rob from the poor, never giving any sod a chance.” Its always about the money, my friend. Money talks. “Money talks. People are consumed by wealth, by all sorts of things, when Jesus Christ himself wants none of that.” He smiles at me momentarily, adding, “I take comfort in allowing myself to be crucified beside him, knowing he’s done the same for me. You should too.”

I may be strange, Nicholas, but I don’t really feel like a painful death beside the messiah though He does have my gratitude though. Nicholas chuckles, “You see, uh, you see all these people they forget about faith. The system makes them forget. It’s tough out here when you’re homeless but people mean well for one another. Faith brings people together, make them believe, give them strength. Jesus Christ has never abandoned me and I never abandoned him.”

I’ll let you know if I see a man with holes in his palms. “You do that,” He says laughing, extending his hand which I shake it. “Good luck out there.” Be safe, Nicholas, and stay warm. Good luck to you as well.

Far off in the distance, the familiar sound of sirens wails down the empty streets, another piece of reality in this sanctum far from home. I watch Nicholas disappear into the night, another drifting soul here in a place that can be described as home to many of them. It would be a shame if I never saw him, Paul or Captain Louie, should I ever find my way back here. Much like my own kindred spirits, I thought about what might or could happen during the time I’m away.

Only then do I begin to feel an absence of home which for the time being, I continue to ignore. I return to my room and fall asleep, leaving the night owls to themselves.

Next Update: The Last Day in Victoria

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