One of the things I love most about Toronto is the absolute spectrum of people, all colours, shapes, sizes, ideologies, languages and all the implicit stories that come with each and every person. Of course this could be said in varying ways about almost any place.
Thankfully, my daily schedule allows me to circumvent the actual crowded rush hour which often results in longer waiting times, rerouting buses, or, no seating on transits. This is especially appreciated in the morning commute, one of my most favourite times of my day, when I can get on the quiet, cozy and clean outer-suburbia bus and sleep the whole way until the end of the route before switching to the less cozy, less clean trademark bus of the 6ix, then finally getting onto the subway.
The subway station was nice and calm, no one rushing about, and the subway car was relatively empty. I settled down for another great nap.
I opened my eyes at the next stop though, and witnessed an elderly Chinese couple enter and take their seats: the woman sat across the aisle, directly opposite from me. The husband, after a pause, sat himself, rather stubbornly, away from her; deciding to direct his attention to some lottery tickets of which he continually kept examining the numbers, and then crumpling them into a ball and tossing down to the floor, and then after 60 seconds, bending down to retrieve them, open them out, and reexamine the numbers again--a process he repeated quite a few times, to the wife's exasperation, if her sidelong looks and quiet shakes of her head were any clue.
But while he was thus preoccupied, she had her own concerns.
She had apparently dressed herself quickly: didn't get time to zip up her little black ankle boots, which were gaping open. She kept trying to fix this by attempting to bend down to reach the zip. Heartrendingly, she was quite elderly and was not really capable of bending at all. She maneuvered a few times, scooting forward in her seat so that her leg was out at a certain angle so she could lean sideways rather than directly over her hip, and a few times she came pretty close, but remained unsuccessful.
I was listening to my music in the meantime, and my first instinct was to go help her. But the thing with people--especially older people--is that they cling to their independence with ever-increasing ferocity; to relinquish control of an ability that once was so commonplace was almost akin to giving up life entirely.
So for some time I decided to respect her independence, to let her contain her belief in her own ability.
But after half the subway line had passed, and the realization that this elderly woman would soon get off the train with her lottery-obsessed husband, she would be walking haphazardly with her shoes that could result in a horrible fall or injury.
So I raised my hand to her, to catch her attention. I put my hand to my chest and then pointed to her boot, to communicate my willingness to help her. At first she blushed, embarrassed, and put up her hands, shaking her head: no no no no. She looked away with a smile. I said, more with my eyes, but nevertheless also verbally so that she could connect with my voice and my tone, "No, please it's okay, won't take a second."
She was very embarrassed and yet, there was almost noone else on the subway car, except her husband of course.
So I got up and bent down in the aisle, while the subway continued on its perpetual journey to our respective, separate destinations whereafter we would likely never ever meet again, and quickly zipped up her boots.
I got up and smiled at her, only to discover this lovely, fragile grandmother with tears streaming down her face.
She smiled at me, and put out her hand. I took it and told her, cheerfully, not to worry. Despite whatever languages we could not share, there was a greater, more important, language that was understood.
She actually got off with her husband at the very next stop. And that is when I was able to take out a tissue from my pocket to wipe my own eyes.