The Man at the Mall
by Nic Olson
Working at a mall, with ample amounts of window space to survey the outside world, in a store that is never busy enough to require more than 1.5 people working/ playing mini golf, offers hours of observation time. There is a yellow Chevy Cobalt parked in the same parking spot everyday, a young lady that works in the bank. There is a 1986 Ford Taurus that parks illegally every day, an older Indian man that shows up, slides his sandy coloured Taurus just in front of the parking lot lights, and just beside the car that parked in the last non-handicap parking stall. He is there everyday, he sits on the bench in front of Wal-Mart, legs crossed in his winter coat that matches the tones of his Taurus. There is the lady from the eighties. Skinny, frizzy, big plastic glasses, and horse riding boots, every other day walks with a Wal-Mart bag in hand across to the other side of the parking lot, in front of my store, always walking with more calf strength than most.
Then there is my man. A man of old age, but mobile, walks past my windows at 10am daily, even on Thanksgiving and other holidays. He usually leaves at 5pm. His head always sports the Grey Cup Champions 2007 hat, as he braves the wind in his black polyester coat, lately with a poppy pinned to the lapel and otherwise well dressed. You can see him going from parking lot garbage can to garbage can, checking out the contents and ensuring that they haven’t begun to overflow. On one of my garbage runs, I met him in the mall trash compactor room, with a black polyethylene bag about half full. He smiled and said, ‘Beautiful day, isn’t it!’ I cordially replied and asked him where he got the bag of garbage from. He tried his best to come up with a coherent answer, but I had to help him out, and discovered his garbage came from the food court. He proceeded to grab the garbage bag from my hand and take it up the four steps to the trash compactor opening. We shared pleasantries as I headed back to my very pressing workplace. I saw him again the other day at mall close, helping two young ladies of a shoe store place a tarp over their mall sidewalk sale stand. He exclaimed, ‘Amazing, isn’t it?’ as we watched the girls parachute the tarp over the pyramid of shoes. We shared more pleasantries as I worked the big blue trolley of cardboard past him and into the garbage room.
I see him more times in an average day than I can count. He makes me contemplate more about life, age, work, war, family, money; more than any book I would ever read, any preacher I would ever hear, or any song I would ever listen to. While listening to the classical hits of CBC Radio 2, my store empty and stained, I have had many fictitious conversations with him, talking about his son that lives in Saskatoon and doesn’t want to talk to him. About his wife who passed away three years ago. About his time in the war. About his daily routine. About growing old. His current life is the mall, and he is an extraordinary man without even knowing it, and only by living an ordinary life.
The mall is deep. I want to be this man.