To Willing Conflators Of Oliver Twist And Jeremy Todd (fifty second letter)

Dear Folks,


I’d diminished the distance between myself and Vancouver by a full eight kilometers more or so, before recalling how much farther I’d have go to have any hope of reaching the city.  As this consideration forced itself upon me, I slackened my pace a little, and meditated upon my means of getting there.  I had a small bag of dill pickle chips, a favorite thrift store t-shirt, and two pairs of hiking socks in my backpack.  I had a ten dollar silver coin too – a gift I’d saved from some half-forgotten contract teaching job – still in my pocket.  “A clean shirt,” I thought, “is a very comfortable thing; and so are two pairs of hiking socks; and so is a ten dollar coin; but they’re small help in a one hundred and fifty kilometer walk in winter time.”  But my thoughts, like those of most other people, although they were extremely ready and active to point out difficulties, were wholly at a loss to suggest any feasible mode of surmounting them; so, after a good deal of thinking to no particular purpose, I changed my little backpack over to the other shoulder, and trudged on.

I walked fifty-five kilometers that day; and all that time tasted nothing but the strange synthetic simulation of dill in a handful of potato chips, and a few chugs of water, which I’d begged at the cottage-doors by the roadside.  When the night came, I turned into a meadow; and, creeping close under a haystack, determined to lie there, till morning.  I felt frightened at first, for the wind moaned dismally over the empty fields: and I was cold and hungry, and more alone than I’d ever felt before.  Being very tired with my walk, however, I soon fell asleep and forgot my troubles.
I felt cold and stiff, when I got up next morning, and so hungry that I was obliged to exchange the coin for a coffee and hot meal, in the very first village through which I passed.  I’d walked no more than twenty-seven or eight kilometers, when night closed in again.  My feet were sore, and my legs so weak that they trembled beneath me.  Another night passed in the bleak damp air, making me worse; when I set forward on my journey the next morning, I could hardly crawl along.
I waited at the bottom of a steep hill till a bus came down towards me slowly, and yelled out to the passengers and driver for assistance; but there were very few who took any notice of me: and even they told me to wait until they got to the next stop, so they could see how far I could run for five bucks.  I tried to keep up with the bus for a little ways, but was unable to do it, if only because of my fatigue and sore feet.  When the passengers saw this, they put their money back into their pockets again, declaring that I was an idle old dog, and didn’t deserve anything; and the bus rattled away and left only a cloud of dust behind it.
In some villages, large painted boards were fixed up: warning all persons who begged within the district, that they would be sent to jail.  This frightened me very much, and made me glad to get out of those villages quickly.  In others, I’d stand about the motel parking lots, and look mournfully at every one who passed; a proceeding which generally terminated in the property manager ordering one of their part-time cleaning staff who were lounging about, to drive me out of the place, for they were sure I’d come to steal something.  If I begged at a farmer’s house, ten to one they’d threatened to set the dog on me; and when I showed my nose in a shop, they talked about the beadle – which brought my heart into my mouth – very often the only thing I had there, for many hours together.
In fact, if it had not been for a good-hearted maintenance worker, and a benevolent old lady, my troubles would have been shortened by the very same process which had put an end to my mother’s; in other words, I’d most assuredly have fallen dead upon the highway. But the maintenance man gave me his tuna melt (he hated tuna melts); and the old lady, who had a train wreck of a grandson wandering barefoot in some distant part of the earth during his “discovery” year, took pity upon me, and gave me what little she could afford – and more – with such kind and gentle words, and such tears of sympathy and compassion, that they sank deeper into my soul, than all the sufferings I’d ever undergone.
Early on the seventh morning of my journey I limped slowly into a little town east of Mission.  The window-shutters were closed; the street was empty; not a soul had awakened to the business of the day.  The sun was rising in all its splendid beauty; but the light only served to show me my own lonesomeness and desolation, as I sat, with bleeding feet and covered with dust, upon a doorstep.
By degrees, the shutters were opened; the window-blinds were drawn up; and people began passing to and fro.  Some few stopped to gaze at me for a moment or two, or turned round to stare at me as they hurried by; but none relieved me, or troubled themselves to inquire how I came there.  I had no heart to beg.  And there I sat.