Wednesday, June 20, 2007
He was from Calcutta and his cab was like all of the others.
For a moment I imagine the tables are turned as I usually do and for a second of daylight I am in Calcutta, away and too far from home. “You’ve come from far away.” I said. He returned my innocent offering with a friendly grin.
He is a calm-spirited man and I instantly feel welcome to inquire. On other occasions my conversation begins quite differently, sometimes abruptly, “ Is it my imagination or is there less trust all over the world?” However in this instance, I was not in a political mood and strangely this man's demeanor exuded an apolitical life. Customarily, weather is a big complaint in Toronto, second only to our obsession with work and its toll on life. “It's nothing for a man who was born here to accept the winter” I remarked telling a half-lie. “It takes a brave man to accept the Canadian winter for 16 years if you're new to this country.” He laughs reservedly knowing his rite of passage has indeed been at a cost. He knew and I did not know at what cost.
“Have you been back?” I inquire. “Once”, he replied in a soft voice. He raised one finger to punctuate the once, intimating this was not the way he wished it to be. “Do you miss it?” I asked. To which he replied, “I forget”, a different response I thought. “Is your family here? I meet so many others whose families are here. I suppose it makes things less difficult.” I revised my thoughts, “No, it makes it different not less difficult.” He nodded with a smile and in this brief moment we exchanged compassion.
I felt he needed to tell me something. His reticence melting he yielded to the moment, “I have not been able to go back because of things here. My 9-year-old daughter has leukemia. She is better now.” “She is in remission?”, I interjected. “Yes, she is in school." Hesitating he added, "My wife has cancer. The doctors told us when they operated 2 years ago that there was no cancer left. Now it has come back.” “Did she have chemo?” I asked. “My daughter had radiation and my wife had chemo 7 times and now it is back. Those doctors said it was gone and now it is back.” It is different to hear a gentle man speak with anger and resentment. His two fingers in the air he declared, “Two together - at the same time. It is too much.” It is and I could only imagine.
“Your daughter, does she know what is happening?” I asked. “She knows she has cancer." The full impact of the nightmare slammed my gut. “She must be very brave, your daughter.” I imagined the face of a child I have never met, her stubborn resistance. “Yes, she is”, he said as he stared forward. “My daughter was at Sick Kids Hospital. My wife was at St. Margaret’s” “My wife’s doctor said it was gone” - the doctors for the third time. “The doctors can never know 100%. It’s not their fault. My father had cancer.”
We reached my stop. “What a beautiful place” he said as he looked down toward the expanse of green at Riverdale Park. I said “You should see it during the winter - toboggans.” I assumed his smile was accompanied by sounds and images. I paused as I motioned my way out of the cab and he turned to grip my ten-dollar bill. “All of my best to you and your family.” I said. I revisited the look of defeat in the eyes of his rear view mirror as I walked toward the front steps of my home.