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’ slanted glances.

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.

Priming Tobacco

Excerpt from Odour of Rectitude