by Linh Nguyen
The cold is always paralysing on the first steps out of the house. I seem to underestimate the five-minute walk every day. My thighs and lower back protest the take-off with a familiar dull ache. I trample the wet snow – sometimes mushy brown, sometimes fluffy white – under my black, torn Sorrel boots. Slosh. Hood down, hands nesting in the pockets of my long, grey coat with the missing magnetic clasps. A rushed trudge, a huddled penguin walk, fighting against ice, slush and definite daily lateness.
‘I have to leave earlier tomorrow,’ I think every day. ‘I have to stop cutting it so close.’
It’s hardest in the early mornings. The bakeries on Bloor Street smell divine – a reminder of the warm home left behind. Streams of early risers stare at their feet, lost in the crowd, waiting for the cross light to change from the glowing red hand to the little white man. As always, I am panting as I rush through the automatic doors of Runnymede subway station, down the dirty, winter-stained stairs, fumbling for my Metropass.
I keep my head up for the first few stops. As the subway rises aboveground between Runnymede and High Park, and again at Keele and Dundas West, I feel my mood lift as if on cue, soaking in the sunlight without the burst of cold air. We race past rich houses on ravines and giant colourful graffiti murals of churning clouds and magnified, godlike faces. It lasts only for a few seconds, but the difference is noticeable. I feel a familiar pang of longing for summer, and the bright warmth that doesn’t freeze me to the bone. The light sinks and we slip back into darkness, into tunnels underground like hibernating animals.
The subway pulls into Queen’s Park station with a screeching thunder, wheels grinding against the tracks and sending mice scurrying for safety. The roar is deafening; the wind scatters soiled napkins and loose candy wrappers, the messy hair of women, and flyaway articles of clothing. We stand, tired feet and dull eyes behind clear doors, aligned.
Ding. The subway door chimes once as it opens. The passengers aboard are flanked by waiting sentinels as they march past in line, flowing to the stairways to surface. The pregnant belly of the train empties, and refills instantaneously. We move in herds like salmon upstream. Polite shoving. Apologetic. Claustrophobic.
Ding- Dang- Dong. Please stand clear of the doors.
Eyes downcast and up the stairs, feet on autopilot. One- two, One- two. Thump, thump, thump, thump. Rhythmic synchronisation of pounding steps as hundreds of colourful coats, black and white earphones, and salt-stained boots crowd the tunnels out, jostling for a spot on the escalator. A young woman is dressed entirely in red. A middle-aged man is playing Candy Crush on his iPhone, briefcase in the other hand.
The sharp gust of wind blows back furry hoods, cutting the lungs and stealing the breath. The smell of food trucks and deep fry oil briefly lifts a few noses in a mixture of hunger and repulsion. Shivers. Shaking legs in skin-tight leggings. The slush of wet snow. The white is blinding, the untouched snow almost enchanting if not for the distraction of rigorous cold. Hoods down, and march. Onward.