On the way back I intended to
look around Hamilton, a city of smoke, mainly to buy new clothes for my
onward journey to Sudbury’s mines. My old attire, besides being tinted green
as grass from tobacco leaves, began to peel off my body.
In Tillsonburg a youngster
stepped onto the bus whom I recognised as a compatriot. One glance at each
other sufficed, everything else took its course from thereon.
His name was Fritz König, a roguish fellow, who hailed from far above the
Danube. He too was en route to nowhere in particular, except of course to
places one had never seen before. Regrettably he understood no more English
than myself. Time spent on the farm contributed very little to my proficiency
in the language, because the crew I worked with, albeit consisting of three
Dutch brothers, plus one Mexican, surprisingly spoke German fluently.
That, however, could not dampen
our spirits. It did not affect two youngsters with the fire of adventure
under their soles, and the lure of success before their eyes. Fritz König
possessed a waggish bent; moreover, he at times kicked over the traces which
nonplussed my shy nature.
While searching for a clothing
store we were exposed to many a sideways glances. A sight for sore eyes we
surely were not; alone our
splattered pants, coloured would be a more appropriate description, warranted
more than disapproval. Added to it the foreign language, moreover our
un-Canadian deportment, indeed, how could one fault the worthy citizens’
This overt attention appealed to
Fritz, until he became aware how censorious it was. Some people turned
around, making remarks which we could not understand, but their deprecating
tone affected our sensibility.
I urged Fritz to distance
ourselves from this embarrassing situation with all available tact. More so
when I noticed two policemen observing us intently from across the street.
They were putting their heads together while pointing repeatedly in our direction.
Before I looked around they had crossed the street and now followed on our
heels. Nudging my companion I made him aware of this, hoping to persuade him
to make ourselves scarce.
The contrary happened. For a
moment I thought my comrade was going to thumb his nose at the constables.
But I was mistaken, he did something far more dreadful. I should mention that
Fritz possessed the skill to walk on his hands almost nimbler than many people
do it on their feet. Before I could say: “Oh no!” he already stood upside
down and started to hand-walk in circles around the policemen. They were
baffled, undecided what to do at first. Some pedestrians stopped, voices and
laughter arose from all sides.
The lawmen’s consternation
changed to anger, which was fanned by the onlookers’ behaviour who had
meanwhile started to hoot noisily. If I am not mistaken they cheered my
companion on, while making fun of the two policemen. That of course the
gentlemen in uniform could not accept, although they remained undecided how
to act. Accosting a hand-walker, much less apprehending him, lay outside
their bailiwick. In the meantime I harboured but one wish, namely, that the
earth should open and swallow me.
Suddenly I heard utterances
sounding like an order, after which the policemen moved into action. They
approached Fritz with set miens.
Then it happened: Fritz, the wag
on hands, discharged a string of yelps, then making an about-turn, started to
cross the busy street on his hands.
Now the police felt forced to
act, their cups had run over. A number of brisk steps brought them within
reach of the wandering Fritz. One grabbed him under his arms, the other by
the legs, and so he was whisked off like a drunken man. In the meantime two
additional constables had joined their colleagues, who, after exchanging a
few words with them, grabbed me ungently and, upsy-daisy, I landed in the
Black Maria, where Fritz already occupied another seat.
Odour of Rectitude