I stopped at the Nurse's Station to ask for his room. "Ah yes, J.," the nurse behind the counter said. "Just follow the corridor to the right as it wends its way around. On your right you'll see a door marked, "Over Capacity. That's his room."
What an odd name for a room, I thought as I followed her directions and came to the room with the promised signage. He was inside. Sitting on his bed. The blue hospital gown over his t-shirt and jeans. Long blond hair streaming out from beneath the ever present baseball cap he always wore.
He greeted me with a smile. Shy. "Thanks for coming," he said. "It's nice to see a familiar face."
The room was cramped. No window. No cupboard. No washroom. No visitor's chair. There just wasn't room in the storage area turned into a hospital room for anything other than the bed and a sink. I wondered if along with the label "Patient", his other label, "Homeless" had followed him into this dark space. I didn't want to ask if there was a connection between his lack of economic status and the position of the bed he'd been provided. I didn't want to embarrass him or to cause him to question his position on the ward. But still I wondered. He must have seen the question in my eyes. "The nurses are nice. They treat me real good."
He had been there since the first day of the month. Fourteen days of tests and trying to stabilize him enough to keep food down. Since May, he's lost sixty pounds. Ten alone over the fourteen days he's been there.
"Look at this," he said, showing me the menu from his dinner. "Everything's pureed. Ugh. Pureed pork." He smiled. "The popsicles aren't bad. And I like Jello. But I just can't get enough to eat." Shrug. "At least I'm keeping this food down."
We chatted for a bit about people and happenings at the shelter. He told me about his family. Two sisters. Two brothers.
I asked if he wanted me to contact them. "Not yet," he replied. "I'd rather get the details on what they're going to do before I worry them needlessly. My one sister won't care anyway. She never responds to my emails. But the others. They'll just worry about me. They don't need that."
I'd brought with me some of the photographs he'd taken and had mounted for an art show coming up at the shelter. When he'd called earlier he'd told me about his conversations with the doctors. "It'd be nice to show them some of my work," he said. "I might even be able to sell some. I'm not doing any bottle picking these days," he added with a laugh.
"I can bring some with me," I said.
"Would you? That'd be great." He set the photos up on the floor, leaning against the wall. The light wasn't great, but even in that dim space, the beauty of his photography leaped at you. The city scape through the porthole of a bridge. A flower, its delicate pink petals glistening with dew. A duck floating on the river, its ripple trailing behind it.
He has an eye for composition and light. An uncanny ability to see beyond what the human eye discerns to the negative spaces between shapes and shadows. He'd only started taking 'pictures', as he calls them, a year and a half ago. He'd been given a disposable camera. He filled the film. Had it processed and fell in love with the medium.
"I'm getting kind of old to keep doing manual labour," he'd told me. "Maybe picture taking could become my retirement plan." He'd laughed when he said the words, "retirement". Laughed and kept on taking pictures.
He doesn't know now how long of a retirement period he's going to get. "They say it's probably cancer," he said. "I figured they might find something in my lungs. Never thought it would be my stomach." He's waiting for surgery. Waiting to find out if he's got a couple of months, a year, maybe more.
"Let's focus on many more," I said.
"More would be good," he agreed. "But I'm pretty happy with what I've had." He paused. "But a bit more would be nice."
I hope he gets the bit more. Hope he gets a chance to take more pictures. To capture on film the world as he sees it. A world of beauty frozen in the angles of glass and concrete girders with sun glinting off the corner where they meet and touch the sky. A world of wonder where dew drops glisten on a purple flower in the early dawn. Where river ice floats upon a sea of mist and dusty pink dawn bruises the azure sky.
I hope he gets a bit more time to experience more of the wonder he's found behind the camera. Time to share his gifts. Time to be alive.