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The Little Squeegee Kid

 Street Sheet (Canada) 20 May 2019

(Originally published: 12/2009) Increasingly across Canada and the USA legislation is being passed that oppresses the less fortunate. Often these laws seem to be implemented with little or no protest from the public. Many activists are continually outraged at the way the powers that be can so easily repress the least powerful among us. I began my writing life mainly because of the outrage I felt when the city I lived in, Winnipeg Manitoba, passed a law making a group of youth criminals. They are called 'squeegee kids'. They wash car windows at intersections for change. As I was to learn after becoming a full time activist it is quite common for the chambers of commerce across Canada to demand laws be enacted to, as they call it, 'clean up', the streets. Apparently 'aesthetics' and the almightily dollar are more important that the lives of these unfortunate citizens. I was a homeless youth 30 years ago. Most of Canada's bigger cities now have laws against 'squeegee kids'. Danish Poet and author Hans Christian Anderson's short story about a 'match girl ' on the street in 1845 is about a tragedy that likely could have happened. This adaptation is similar in many ways and is based on what I have seen with my own eyes in the twentieth century and is based on fact. Have things changed? Are the less fortunate cared for with more respect now? This story tells the tale.  - By Rodney Graham

The cold wind tore at the exposed skin of the little squeegee kid. She sat huddled on the sidewalk in front of Hudson's Bay Department store on Portage Avenue in Winnipeg.

Sitting on top of her few belongings, a small backpack and a blanket, she held a little plastic bag containing new lighters she had bought from a marketing company nearby. A metro bus came hurtling past and she turned her head to avoid the blast of icy wind that swished across her small frame.

'…Would you like to buy a lighter…help me out please?'

No one had bought even one lighter. She had been sitting there for hours. It was now 5 P.M. on Christmas Eve. Everyone was too busy to bother with a street person, or even to notice her, they were far too busy; shopping, dining, and getting ready to the happy family day tomorrow. Magic was in the air.

The little squeegee kid had slept under a bridge the night before. She hadn't been able to find any other young people the stay with because she was new in town. Social Services wouldn't help her because she refused to be 'processed' (Give information about herself) she feared being sent home to Vancouver, where abuse awaited her - and didn't want to go to one of those traumatizing shelters - the street was even better - in her mind.

The City of Winnipeg had recently made it illegal to squeegee (wash car windows for money) something that greatly benefits desperate youth all across Canada if they are just allowed to do it. Her boyfriend had recently departed - something that often happens in relationships where money and the future looks bleak…love dwindles…friction builds.

The aroma of freshly baked turkey from a nearby upscale restaurant wafted in the air along with the smell off freshly brewed coffee. Numb with cold her eyelids were heavy and she was feeling almost as if she was detached from her body - almost, as if she was somewhere else.

The light from the fading sunset shimmering up and down rising skyscrapers. They surrounded her like heartless sentinels of Hades.

'Got to keep warm,' she thought. She flicked a lighter and held it in her palms. Her eyes fell closed.

She awoke sitting in front of a large fireplace. Stockings full of presents were hung from its sides. The warmth embraced her. Stretching her feet towards the fireplace to warm them she suddenly found herself back on the ice-cold sidewalk on Portage Avenue.

She flicked a lighter again. This time she was standing in front of a tall Christmas tree. It had hundreds of lights. It was so warm and cozy - she thought it was in a large mansion. Christmas music rose sweetly up to the high rafters of the room.

She awoke again. It was dark on the street. There was not a soul to be seen. Snow was falling gently. But it was so cold she began to shiver violently. Wrapping the blanket tightly around herself she flicked the lighter again - she was instantly transported to the living room in the great mansion, before her was a kindly looking angel holding a tray of freshly baked cookies.

'Have a cookie and warm yourself as long as you'd like dear, said the angel with such a kindly friendly face. The little squeegee kid was so overwhelmed with joy - tears flowed down her face.

'People usually chase me away from their stores, and people usually don't even smile at me when I'm panhandling on the street,' the little squeegee kid told him. 'They usually avoid looking at me at all - they don't want to look me in the eye…I feel so sad. People don't want to admit I exist.'

The little squeegee kid went on to tell the angel all her sorrows and the angel listened, and the other angels came into the room and listened to her too.

She told them how frustrated she felt that people actually thought she was bad and that she must have done something wrong to be on the street. But she wasn't bad and it made her unhappy that people thought that of her.

'People don't' want to admit I exist, I'm so glad you do,' she said. 'People don't realize how hard it is find work without a home or address, without enough resources for young people who are homeless…I mean real resources where kids are helped, not staffed by poverty pimps who do little really except profit off the misery of us desperate people. Do you know that most runaways are on the street because of their parents? Most kids on the street have been abused in some way. Only a few are rebellious and bad for no reason whatsoever.'

'Did you know that when businesses bully us around and use politicians to pass by-laws against us we are then made even more desperate, and forced to do things we otherwise wouldn't do just to survive?'

The little squeegee kid let it all flow out - for the very first time. For the very first time she was actually listened to. The little squeegee kid went on to tell them about herself and others like her. The more she talked and the more she saw they were listening to her the happier she became. No adults had listened to her before and no adults had understood her, although they pretended they did sometimes.

But her newfound happiness was short-lived, because suddenly she was staring at the empty street again. The little squeegee kid shivered uncontrollably.

Hurriedly lighting the lighter again, she was transported back to the beautiful living room in the big mansion, filled with the aroma of hot chocolate and cookies. A gigantic Christmas tree was in the middle of the room and a big warm fireplace roared away.

Kittens frolicked under the tree, children played in a corner, the sound of laughter could be heard coming from a nearby room - loving relatives drank toasts. The angels stood all around her.

'Don't disappear again!' The little squeegee kid yelled. 'I want to stay here! - I don't want to go back again!'

In the harsh morning glare she sat on the sidewalk, her back against the store. A lighter was clutched in her small hand, and her eyes were open. A smile was on her face.

'She must have been trying to warm herself,' a policeman said to his partner. 'Call the coroner's office…'

'I wonder what she was looking at,' the other policeman said shaking his head.

No one knew of the beautiful vision she had seen. Neither did they know in what manner she had taken flight into the wonder of the New Year.

An adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen's' Little Match Girl'.

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