"There will be a minor delay for all northbound trains. We apologize for any inconvenience which this may cause."
A few groans and obscenities came up from the large crowd assembled on the Heritage C-Train station platform in response to the pre-recorded delay message. A few people pulled out their cell-phones to call in late while others filed off the platform in hope of finding other means of transportation which would get to work or school on time. Among the discouraged commuters was Michael Richardson, a Grade 10 student currently enrolled at Western Canada High School. Michael was a little short for his age, but still had a muscular build which could intimidate others, even those who towered over him. His blond hair was neatly parted to the right and a few freckles surrounded his clear blue eyes. His winter coat which would normally be out of place for a September morning was not, as shown by a thin layer of snow which covered it. Anyone standing near him could see that his ears which stuck out from under his Calgary Flames hat were turning red from the cold and his breath could clearly be seen. Michael had moved to Calgary from Winnipeg over the summer so while he was used to cold weather, he was not used to it this early in September. Michael reached into his MEC backpack to feel his worn-out Winnipeg Jets hat which he still kept there for whenever he got homesick. His mother had convinced him to wear the flaming C on his head to try and fit in and he knew that she thought it was silly of him to wear the logo of a now defunct hockey team on his cap. Michael had reluctantly agreed since, for some reason that he couldn't quite put his finger on, he was a little embarrassed to be from Manitoba.
After the ominous delay message was announced again, Michael decided to walk inside the station's main building to warm up. Once inside, he found one of the few unoccupied spaces, sat down on the stairs and pulled out his math homework which he had neglected to do the previous evening. After the delay message had sounded another two times and the snowflakes began hitting the ground at a faster pace, Michael began to get the strange feeling that he was being watched. He tried to concentrate on his math sheets, but he soon felt another person's warm breath on the back of on his neck. He glanced up from his math binder to look at the reflection of a sea of people in the window of the door in front of him. He could vaguely make out the reflection of the man crouched behind him but all he could gather was that this man seemed to be fairly tall and his hair could only be described as wild. As he tried to ignore the man, Michael began to feel intimidated, a rare feeling for him. After staring blankly at his sheet for what seemed like an eternity, he decided to try and get a look at the man. As he slowly turned around and began to stand up, the man broke the silence:
"So you like math, eh?" Came a throaty voice.
Despite all the people around him, Michael began to feel as if he was all alone with this man. He quickly stopped turning around and he sat down before he could get a clear view of the man's face.
"Well, do ya?"
Not knowing what to say, Michael mumbled a small "yes" even though he thoroughly despised the subject. At that moment, he caught a glimpse of a train pulling into the station. He packed his bag and began moving towards it.
"Forget it," Said the man. "No one's getting on this train." Surely enough, the doors opened revealing a packed train and no more than 10 or 20 people from the whole platform managed to shove their way on. Wanting to escape this stranger, Michael opened the door and managed to force his way into the herd of people to get closer to the tracks.
After another crowded train had passed and Michael had managed to move up to the front row of the platform, he looked around and saw the man, still inside the station, looking back at him. He appeared to be in his fifties judging from the streaks of gray in his uncombed hair. His face was in desperate need of a shave and his brown eyes darted around from side to side. But it was his clothes which made him stand out the most from this crowd of businessmen and students. He was wearing a plaid shirt and his jeans were torn at the knees which contrasted with the suits and ties surrounding him. Michael looked away at the track where he saw another train approaching. To Michael's surprise, there appeared to be some room left on it; just maybe enough room for him to squeeze on. The doors opened near him and he felt himself getting pushed by the mob to his right and through one of the train doors. Once the pack of people stopped pushing him, he was standing in the middle of an aisle. A quick glimpse informed him that the train doors were closing. As the train pulled off of the platform, Michael took a glance inside the station and even though the crowd had thinned out, he could not see the strange man.
Seven minutes later, the train approached the 39th Avenue station and a seat opened up in front of Michael. He grabbed it, glad to rest his tired back. The woman sitting across from him was chatting with two others who occupied the remaining seats. She said goodbye to her friends and stood up to leave. Michael slowly looked down at his watch to check the time and when he looked up again, his heart began beating faster. There in front of him was the odd man from Heritage Station, smiling.
"Look how hard it's a snowing." Said the man.
"Yeah. I can't believe there's snow on the ground in September." Michael's replied out of courtesy. However, the moment the words left his mouth, his focus shifted to the ground to avoid the man's eyes which continued to dart around.
"I take it you're not from around here." Listening to these words, Michael picked up what appeared to be a strongly forced western accent, the type you'd hear from Clint Eastwood in a wild west movie. A little bit after telling the man that he was from Winnipeg, he began to feel better since he didn't get an immediate response. A look outside told Michael that he was at Earlton Station, meaning that he would be able to escape the man when they reached the next stop. Just as Michael's uneasiness began to pass, he noticed that the train had not left the station. Twenty seconds passed, then thirty and still the train did not move. Finally, a message over the intercom told him that the train would be delayed here a few minutes. Michael contemplated getting off and walking to Victoria Park, but since the man had stopped talking to him and the snow showed no signs of letting up, he decided to sit put and wait.
He soon regretted his decision.
"Ya know, you're extremely lucky to be living here now." Started the man. "This is the best city in all of Canada, far and away. I mean, we've got the Stampede, the Calgary Tower, the Rockies and we had the Olympics. Everyone is so nice and friendly here which is why I try to be friendly with everyone I meet." The man made an awkward pause here, obviously expecting some sort of reaction by Michael. Not knowing what to say, Michael finally made a shy reply:
"I dunno. I sort of liked Winnipeg."
"You've got to be kidding me! You see the floods there all the time and then it gets so cold in the winter and so hot in the summer. Plus it's in the middle of nowhere and while I haven't been there, from all I've heard it isn't nearly as nice a place to live as Calgary." Seeing a look of sadness on Michael's face, the stranger realized that he may have hurt the boy's feelings and he tried to backpedal a little bit.
"It's not that Winnipeg's that bad, it's just that Calgary's so much better." The man seemed to act surprised that his comment had not livened Michael up but the youth's silence was now due to genuine sadness rather than fear of this man.
"I mean, I know lots of places that are worse than Winnipeg. Take Saskatchewan for example. It's just a bunch of farmers who live there and it's really far away from civilization. Then there's Edmonton. It is such an ugly town and there's no green space in it anywhere. It gets so cold in the winter there and they always get favoured over us by the government because they're a bunch of tree-hugging liberals. Then they started up this big rivalry with us and just because their hockey team beats ours a few times, they all start to think they're so much better than us. It's really just that they're jealous of how Calgary is such a nice city and they wish that they had enough money to live here."
Michael was tempted to interrupt and tell this man just how arrogant he sounded when the intercom saved him the trouble by reminding the patrons of the C-Train that they would be delayed at Earlton for a little bit longer. Funny how these minor delays and little bits of time seemed to add up, thought Michael.
"And don't get me started about B.C." Boomed out the man, who's monologue was now being listened to by quite a few passengers on the train. "All the yuppies end up moving there and they live in their fancy houses, so proud of their fancy mountains and their fancy ocean. But I wouldn't want to live there, no sir. I don't know how anyone would want to live in a place where it rains 365 days a year. But I guess that's still better than living in the Maritimes. The only people who live there are the unemployed bums who live off of welfare and suck all of our hard earned Alberta money out of our pockets and into theirs. Well here's a news flash for you: If you run out of fish to catch, go work somewhere else or come here and get a job, don't go asking for handouts from the rest of us!"
By this point, nearly the whole train was listening to this man and Michael could judge by their facial expressions that they were split down the middle on their thoughts of him. Many people shared his feelings and where disgusted at this man's ignorance while many others were clearly in agreement with his views or at least they enjoyed having their town's back patted by his words. Regardless, the man continued:
"And then there's Quebec." He said slowly, causing a few mumbles from the crowd who all knew what was coming up. "They just think they're so special because they can't speak right. So then they force their queer little language on the rest of us and now it's on cereal boxes everywhere. So were supposed to learn French but it's too hard for them to learn how to speak English like everyone else. Well, I say let them separate. Good riddance to bad rubbish!"
The train started moving at this point but this hardly stopped the man from talking and few people on the train seemed to notice since they were all glued to the man's every word by this point.
"But the worst, and I mean the worst, are those people from Toronto. They just think that they're so much better than everyone else and that the world revolves around them. They don't care about other people's point of view, only theirs. And have you ever read a newspaper from there? It's just a bunch of chest-beating jargon about how great they are and how bad everyone else is. The CBC kept showing those pathetic Leaf games week after week while the Leafs were sucking rocks and the Flames were tearing up the league. And when was the last time the government ever did something which would help us out more than Toronto? But the part that gets me the most is how they think we're all just a bunch of shotgun shooting cowboys. The hypocrites categorize us all as hicks when they've never even been to Calgary!!!"
On this note the train pulled into Victoria Park and Michael quickly hustled off and began his walk to school. The snow had almost stopped and he could feel that it was already warming up outside. As he walked, he couldn't help but thinking about what the man had said and the sincerity which he had said it with. As he approached Western, he took off his hat to shake off the snow from it. He then stopped and stared at it for a bit before throwing it into the snow beside him. He then reached into his bag and pulled out his Winnipeg Jets hat which he firmly put on his head. He smiled and continued his walk to school.
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