It took place in only a couple of seconds. However, it will take considerably more words to explain. I noticed her too. She came out of a store using what looked like two ski poles. She planted one firmly on the ground, took a step and then planted the other and followed that with another step. It looked like she was cross country skiing on dry pavement. These poles were not crutches, they were for some other purpose, perhaps balance, perhaps something else. She moved slowly but purposely. Her walk, besides being slow, besides being between two ski poles, seemed normal, not laboured.
When the first pole came out of the store, attached to an arm, a group of young teens noticed, like I did, and stopped all activity. They wanted, like I did, to see what a ski pole was doing on the streets of Toronto. They watched with incredulity as she slowly emerged from the store. They nudged each other and began to laugh. She was for them in the moment, a subject of mirth. She heard them. I saw her hear them. I saw her face set as she swung each pole, one at a time, slowly stepping between them. She'd heard the laughter before.
She looked up and at them. The boys laughing. She had that look that mother's have. The one that, even though her hair was not of writhing snakes, turned men into boys and boys into stone. Laughter froze on their face. They knew that they had been heard. And though they were free to judge her, and find her unworthy, suddenly they found themselves judged, unworthy. She didn't say a word. She just looked at them, frankly. Without fear.
They stood there and watched as she slowly approached them. One of the boys, the oldest looking, as she approached reached up and took the touque from his head and held it meekly in his hands. He now looked like a shy four year old quaking in front of an angry teacher. He nodded to her. She nodded back.
She continued to ski past them, like an Olympian on a winter day.
They, appropriately, remained frozen.