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My dog and I had just passed the bank when I spotted a $50 bill with the sheen of new money and a fold through the cheek of William Lyon Mackenzie King. Someone must have been slipping a sheaf of bills into a wallet when a single 50 fluttered loose to skim the sidewalk in a June breeze. The silver hologram caught a ray of sunlight, glinting like an invitation.
Ever since I started walking Casey, I’d been dodging foulness at my feet. Poop that would stick to my shoes, rotting pigeons to tantalize the canine nose. Half-chewed sandwiches, trampled masks and the odd needle. I’d never found a thing on the street worth having – until the $50. In Toronto, 50 bucks wouldn’t cover a pizza dinner with a decent tip, yet it made me feel lucky. Finders keepers.
It seemed I had finally received some compensation for possessions of mine that others had found – and kept for themselves. A designer sun hat, a white sweatshirt with the perfect cut, a black swimsuit that retained its glamour after a dozen years of wear. All three went missing in one locker room or another. I still carried grudges against those who could afford their own clothes yet decided to walk off with mine. Outside the bank with Casey, I decided not to do as they had done. Whoever lost that bill might have needed it for the rent.
I lined up at the bank and posed the question on my mind. Had any customer inquired about a lost $50? A man beside me murmured, “You’re a good soul.” The teller shrugged while his eyes said, “Crazy old lady.” I would never reunite the bill with the person who had lost it. Yet keeping that person’s money had become unthinkable. A temptation only minutes ago, the bill had become a moral burden.
Friends offered their ideas for disposing of the money. Give it to a charitable fund (too impersonal). Or a hard-working soul – a cashier, perhaps – in an underappreciated job (too demeaning). I detected squeamishness toward those in desperate need, who slept on park benches or lined up outside the shelters. Vandalism in my downtown Toronto neighbourhood had spiked since the pandemic, and many locals blamed the conversion of a hotel into a shelter for street people. Although most residents were peaceful, the community’s patience had worn thin. And no wonder: business after business had its windows smashed, some more than once. I’d never seen so many struggle to house and feed themselves within a short walk of my door, or so much hostility toward them.
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My friend Jennifer suggested I tuck the $50 inside a pretty card and leave it for a random stranger, in an envelope marked “Open me.” No, the card would never do. I wanted to place the money in someone’s hands and imagine it brightening their day.
On Casey’s walk, I made a point of never carrying money. When panhandlers stopped me, I would say, “Sorry, all I’ve got is poop bags.” Even the aggressive ones took me at my word. As for the gentle ones, I couldn’t help them all and didn’t want to make hard choices. It seemed easier to let them give Casey some love as he slapped his tail against their legs. All I had to do was share my dog for a minute.
Casey is my first dog. Before we walked together, I would stride past homeless people. But any friend of Casey’s is a friend of mine, and some of these encounters found their way into my book, Starter Dog: My Path to Joy, Belonging and Loving This World. With the $50 tucked into my dog-walking bag, I wasn’t waiting to be hailed by a lonely soul. I was taking the initiative.
I noticed the face and body language of every luckless person we passed, looking for someone who inspired me to be kind. I was picturing a woman young enough to be my granddaughter, with lank hair and scabs on her hands. I’d seen a few on my rounds and I feared for them. For two days running no such woman appeared.
On day three I walked Casey past a corner where forgotten men wait. They wait for a buddy to pass by and shoot the breeze. They wait for a bed at the shelter down the street. The white-haired man with the knuckle-size rings and biker T-shirt had been waiting for a dog to pet, or so it seemed when he called Casey over. Perched on the edge of his walker, he introduced himself: Frank, eighty-something. I saw his pride. And I saw him young on a motorcycle, a woman’s arms tight around his leather-jacketed chest. I never would have dated a badass like the one I figured Frank used to be, but I’d have entertained the fantasy. When I told him he looked good, he pointed to Casey: “He does, too.”
A Canadian 50 is a thing of beauty – especially in the hands of someone getting by on fives and coins. “God bless you,” Frank said.
When I first went in search of someone to receive the $50, I tried to imagine the difference it would make. As if I could exercise control. The gift was never mine to give; all I could do was pass it on with hope. I gave Frank the happiness that comes with being seen, not as a faceless street person but as a dog lover who doesn’t need money or mobility to carry himself with grace. And it only cost $50.
Rona Maynard lives in Toronto.
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