The girl leaves the shop with a huge smile on her face, clutching a stiff new backpack, price tags flipping back and forth as she walks. The mother follows behind looking weary, but relieved.
They stop at a bench a few yards away from the shop and sit down. The girl shrugs off her old backpack and begins examining the new backpack in minute detail.
The mother begins removing items from the old backpack and hands them to the girl who sorts and organizes the accumulated debris of her recent life. Some she piles up on the bench next to her; some she stows away into the various pockets and compartments of the new backpack.
The mother gathers up the unwanted items and takes them to a nearby garbage bin. The girl tries to tear apart the plastic that holds the price tags on the new backpack. She settles for just ripping the tags off, leaving the plastic dangling to be dealt with later.
The mother picks up the old backpack and heads back to the garbage bin. The girl is up in a flash and snatches the backpack from her mother’s hand with a pained look. The girl argues. The mother looks exasperated and points to the four large safety pins holding the right strap together. She demonstrates how easily her fingers slide through the ragged hole in a bottom corner of the backpack. She waves her hands impatiently over a zipper that no longer contains any zip.
The girl acknowledges defeat, but continues to plead for another solution. The mother takes a deep breath and thinks. The girl watches the mother’s face anxiously.
The girl makes a tentative suggestion, pointing at the bench.
The mother shrugs acquiescence.
The mother and the girl walk back to the bench. The girl zips up everything that is zippable on the old backpack, fluffs it up and arranges it as attractively as possible on the bench. The mother roots around in her purse and produces as Toonie which she tucks into a side pocket.
The mother and the girl walk away. The girl, now wearing her new backpack, turns around once and gives the old backpack a sad little wave.
On the other side of the road an old man, dressed in layers of tattered clothing, heaves himself off the grass under a tree where he’s been resting. He adjusts the plastic grocery bags he has swinging from his left shoulder, attached by a fraying yellow rope.
The old man scuttles across the street, the sole of one shoe flapping with each step. Traffic dodges around him. The old man never takes his eyes off the abandoned backpack. He comes close to grinning, but his face doesn’t remember how.