Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Shaking hands with a killer

They were warm and rough, nothing extraordinary or unusual about them. They were your average hands, except they had killed a man.

I met a murderer on a Greyhound to Owen Sound. I learned his name; Aaron, where his people were from; Cape Croker and his preferred brand of beer; Kokanee, but I never learned what made him snap and take the life of a friend. He said it happened in a fight and things “got out of hand”. A life was done in by his hands during a situation that he deemed out of hand.

Haven’t you ever imagined killing someone? I bet you have.

I caught the Greyhound in Toronto with my boyfriend; we were headed to the North Country to spend the long weekend with family, friends and beer in hand by the lake. As we watched out the window, city streets made way for rural fields, and the city bound passengers were replaced with more rural folk heading north. It was in the countrified city of Guelph where the most interesting characters came aboard. Two of them ambled down to the very back of the bus and sat right behind me and Scott. As the bus turned out of the station they started up a conversation. Pleasantries about the weather and the long weekend soon turned into more serious talks about where they were from and past shared experiences. It turns out they had more in common then they thought; both had done time in prison.

Stories were swapped as they drank the booze they’d hidden in their carry-ons. Chris, a middle aged white guy who was heading to Sauble Beach to meet a girl he found on the internet, had done five months in the slammer for drunk driving. Now he has to blow into his car to make it start; I guess that’s why he was taking the bus.

Aaron, the fellow convict, said “that’s nothing.”

Chris countered with “oh yeah, what were you in for?” His jailbird pride had been wounded.

“I just got done serving 10 years down below,” said Aaron in a beer soaked whisper.

The surprise was evident in Chris’ voice when he repeated his question. “But what were you in for?”

“I killed a guy,” replied Aaron. “I took his life.”

Chris didn’t need to respond. Aaron told him that he had gotten into a fight with his friend at the bar. The fight got out of hand and he ended up killing the man. He had been sent to prison, or “down below” as he called it. He had missed watching his son grow up over the murder of a friend. They started to talk about how prison changes you and about their families; both of them are fathers. They continued to drink as they talked and eventually Aaron leaned over our seat and offered Scott a beer. Scott accepted it which drew us into their conversation. As the bus continued driving into the night we talked about the weekend ahead. Scott told them we were headed to my cottage and Aaron was interested to know where it was. I told him Wiarton, which made him very pleased. He knew the town well and wanted to know who we knew in common, his people had always lived on the reserves near Wiarton. This place gave him a kinship to me and he continued to ask me about my people and how long we’d been in the area. Scott and he got into philosophical discussions about life and the choices we make. He freely admitted that killing someone had been a choice and that prison had changed him. I think that in his round about way he was trying to tell us that he’d learned his lesson.

As we pulled into our final stop Aaron was asking us if we wanted to go out for drinks with him and even offered us a ride home after. We politely declined. Getting a ride with a drunken murderer was not a high priority. Chris was the first to get picked up and we wished him good luck with his internet lady. Aaron continued to try and convince us to head to the bar, he’d had such a good time on the bus with us he said and kept shaking our hands. Even when his ride appeared and was calling his name he continued telling us how he always meets the most interesting people on the bus and that he hoped to see us soon. He turned to get his ride and then came back to shake our hands… twice.

I shook hands with a murderer. Whose hands have you touched?

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