Grace, Too

The extraordinary moments of an ordinary weekend

The weekend started like any other.

Friday evening, my husband Bill left work to meet me for dinner. He grabbed a cab, and en route, the cab driver noticed someone else trying to flag him down so he asked Bill if it was okay if they picked this guy up. Bill thought it was a bit odd but said ok, and so they gave this other fella a lift.

When Bill arrived at the restaurant, the man got out without paying and without as much as a thank you. Never mind, Bill paid up. As he was exiting the cab, the driver said “I like you!” and Bill replied “I like you too!” and carried on to meet me for dinner.

When I arrived, Bill was waiting for me on the sidewalk.

“I think I left my phone at the office” he said. I suggested we go back and get it but we were both hungry so we decided it could wait. (Bill is clearly not as attached to his phone as most people are, including me).

Well tomorrow (Saturday) came, and no phone at the office. We figured it fell out of his pocket in the cab. Being the optimists that we are, we tried dialling it a few times, hoping whoever had the phone would reply. No such luck. We decided to give it one last try later in afternoon, and this time, a woman answered.

I explained we lost a phone and she said, in accented English, “Yes, my husband left it here with me, he has gone to work.” She gave me her home address and phone number and we dashed over there.

We arrived at a condo building in Regent Park, a neighbourhood in Toronto consistently of mainly low-income or community housing. There was a makeshift food bank in the lobby, and everyone we encountered was a new arrival to Canada.

I knocked at the apartment door, and the woman, named Fatima, answered shyly. She was draped in a mustard coloured patterned fabric covering most of her body, as well as the top of her head. She smiled cautiously and invited me in while Bill waited on the other side of the door in the hallway.

Fatima asked if I’d wait a minute, and went into another room. I could hear her speaking in a language I didn’t recognize, but no one seemed to be replying. She came back and said with an apologetic expression, “Don’t misunderstand me, but my husband is coming home to make sure he is giving the phone back to the right person.”

I said no problem, and awkwardly waited in the entryway as she left the room again. I could hear her negotiating with a young child. I glanced around for no real reason other than to pass the time.

As I turned my head to the left, I saw a little boy sitting on the toilet about 3 feet away from me, door ajar. I quickly looked away, not wanting to embarrass him any more than I may already have.

A few minutes later, Fatima emerged in a niqab. It startled me at first, I’m not sure why. I realized I had always seen women in niqabs from a distance. Now, standing inches away from her, I was struck by how much I could read from the expression in her eyes, with nothing else to look at.

We left her apartment, her 2 little boys trailing behind her. We walked back down to the lobby and outside to the sidewalk, just as a cab pulled up. The driver wore a skullcap and had a long wiry salt and pepper beard. He looked at me, then saw Bill, and broke out into a smile and said Yes!

He got out of his taxi, shook Bill’s hand and Fatima gave Bill his phone. We had a stack of bills ready to give them but they wouldn’t take any money.

After an unsuccessful negotiation on our part to pay them something, we said our goodbyes. Bill and I started walking to the intersection to wait for a streetcar. A couple of minutes later, the man drove up to us and said “You don’t have a vehicle?” No, we said. He asked where we were going, and despite us saying we lived on the other side of the city, he insisted on giving us a ride.

Only if we can pay you, I said. We got in and of course he didn’t turn on the meter.

He drove 30 minutes across the city to drop us home. While driving he said that Bill was a good man, for paying for that other guy’s free trip Friday night without any complaints, and without ripping off the cab driver.

He then started to tell us about his family, his children and his home country of Sri Lanka. How he was trying to be a good man.

As we drove past streets upon streets, all I could think about was how this man and his family looked like the kind of people who many would have assumed are terrorists or people who were “not like us”.

I wondered if they knew how they were being judged. I wondered how I might have judged them too, before this silly phone mishap brought our families together.

And yet this man was extending this kindness to two strangers for no reason other than he thought it was the right thing to do.

He wouldn’t take money from us, but we managed to force a few bills in his hand. Bill shook the driver’s hand one more time, offered our profuse thanks, and watched as the cab drove off.

So we came home, had supper, then went out to our neighbourhood park where they were livestreaming the last concert of our beloved Tragically Hip.

About 3,000 people had gathered, the most I had ever seen at one time on this grassy slope. Couples, kids, dogs. Drinking beers, eating pizza, passing joints, hugging, kissing.

As the first notes of the band floated into the air, the crowd stood up and cheered to the makeshift screen, as though someone could hear us.

Gord Downie’s voice, his tears, his shrieks calling up songs that marked the last 20 years of our lives, our coming of age thrown against the stark reality of mortality, of loss. Together we sang, danced and shed a few tears under the darkening sky.

I stood with Bill’s arm around me, feeling the cool breeze pass through my hair, thinking, there is much goodness in this world. It’s in the most unexpected corners, but it’s there alright.

Come in, come in, come in, come in
From under these darling skies come in
It’s warm and it’s safe here and almost heartening
Off to a time and place now lost on our imagination
— The Tragically Hip