Of course, when the war was over and he went to vote he was turned away. He wasn’t “one of us”. Chinese people couldn’t vote in Canada.
When, finally, he was allowed to vote he refused to. The hurt seethed within him. Three marriages later he lived alone, visited only by his sister who brought nourishing food and paid bail money after his fights. By the time he hit 70,h is angry ranting had worn out his few friends. He lived in a small basement apartment in a small town just outside Vancouver and his energy was all that remained. Turned away from the gym because he spent no time on personal hygiene, he began to walk. He tramped miles around town, ranting away to himself, waving his arms, shouting to the wind and the trees but never speaking to anyone directly.
He was loud and he could seem threatening. Someone must have complained to the police because he was picked up and taken to a psychiatric ward. The medications settled him down quickly enough, but once he got back to his own place he stopped taking them.
He went back to his walking, picking a favorite route where the houses reminded him of his childhood. He had learned his lesson about ranting, though. He kept his head down to rant and it was a muttering not a yelling. The cops kept an eye on him but he was no longer scaring anyone.
Then one young cop who saw him regularly began to pull over, driving slowly alongside and asking how Bill was doing. Did he have enough to eat? How about them BC Lions?
Mostly Bill tucked his chin down into his collar and didn’t answer. Then one cold day the cop handed him a coffee. Drinking it upset the whole rhythm of his ranting. Besides, there wasn’t enough sugar in it. He told the cop so and the cop put more sugar in it next time.
It took the cop almost two years to get Bill into the diner and then only because he told Bill the guy who owned it was called Bill too. The first visit was not a success. Bill’s muttering was loud in the small shop. His hygiene hadn’t improved. But by now the cop knew him well enough.
“You want to keep coming here? You gotta get clean and neat.”
Clean he managed. Neat was never going to happen. His hair hung long and dark under a ragged ball cap. His sister, her eyes too bad to allow her to drive, now only got to his place with clean clothes once a month – maybe less if her husband wasn’t around to drive her. Bill’s glasses hung together with electrical tape and he was too stiff to bend down to tie his shoelaces.
It was the woman who volunteered at the thrift shop who brought a pair of Velcro fastened shoes for him. And followed up with a regular supply of clean socks. She passed the word to a friend whose husband was Bill’s size and who produced a warmly lined jacket for the winter.
And along the way Bill’s muttering became more muted and sometimes stopped altogether. The shoe lady always stopped her car – actually stopped it – and said “Good morning” to him. After a while his muttering could be discerned as “Good morning” when he met her.
He was selective about his ‘Good Mornings’. Only those who greeted him regularly got his “Good morning” in return and it became almost a badge of honor in the neighborhood.
“Oh! Old Bill says good morning to you.”
The bank manager would joke that if old Bill said good morning to you, you got your loan.
But all the time the neighborhood was building up and the small town was becoming a suburb. Some of the incomers in their condos learned to speak to Bill, some didn’t. Some moved closer to their kids when they saw him coming, some even picked up their little dogs and carried them past him.