It’s winter and it is snowing pastel. Réal is selling the magazine again, in front of the pharmacy. He is a camelot in French. It means he stands on the corner and holds out a periodical to passers-by. In this digital age, one would expect a mobile app to do the job – but Réal is ubiquitous to me every day, in every weather.
His permanent frown had led me to assume he was a grumpy guy. My dad would have said Réal just didn’t flex his smile-muscle. I had just moved to the area where he was assigned, and he had quickly become a landmark to avoid. Crossing over to the southern sidewalk, dodging his broody stare, I would wonder if he was trying to repel us.
Us, one-time customers, potential long-term subscribers, do we get a smile?
I might have irreversibly fallen for the comfortable trimmings of preprogrammed greetings: into barista prickly welcome, fake customer service friendliness, miscalculated voicemail inflections. All I had to do was talk to him, and his forested eyes lit his nested face, teeth standing strong like elder mountains, uncovered by a dissipating set of clouds.
I had to question Réal about his salesmanship. We had broken down our assumptions, flooded the gutter with cigarette breaks and all apprehensions of human contact had melted away with the season. Had he ever tried to vary his approach? Tried talking to people directly? I wanted to ask him, in a medical way, would he try smiling?
I said, Réal, how can you get more people to buy your magazine?
He gets fifty percent commission – the rest goes to support persons without homes. Increasing the clientele helps people in need. I wanted to feel that I could help Réal help customers help the magazine help the homeless.
He said he had tried many approaches, but the way he was doing it right now was the way that worked best for him. It just wasn’t him otherwise.
His frown was his unique selling point and I was someone who had fallen for it.
It is nice that flowers come right after snow. You would expect the castaway autumn leaves to leap back onto their branches, like a rewound tape, so as not to startle the scenery. Like an old hand-drawn cartoon, autumn colors swirling in reverse, smudging circles into the background. But spring here comes like an overdue vagabond, and Réal is a perce-neige in French. It’s Flower for “snowdrop”. But instead of insinuating gravity, perce-neige pushes its stem through the ice asking for the sun.
word by Hoda Adra
colour by Sam Rowe
From the author: “This foot goes naked every other second. It made me think of how someone could find themselves bare from one day to the next, how the cycle of homelessness can be brought upon by a single striking event. Conversely, the shoe appearing reminded me of the resilience I’ve witnessed, from support networks and individuals that work within and through issues of homelessness and displacement.”