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Her warm encouragement brought a grateful smile to my face. We wished each other a good night and went to our own apartments. Nancy’s habit of constantly trying out new things and meeting new people seemed to show a happy retired life. She was even happier when one of her relatives came to pick her up for Christmas.
On Christmas Day of that year, I saw Nancy sitting on a bench in the hallway early in the morning. She had some gift packages, and she wore a light green gown with a golden pin on her collar. It was the first day that she seemed to dress differently. I asked, “Are you doing something special for today?”
“Yes. My nephew from Hamilton is picking me up for a Christmas dinner,” she said contentedly.
“That’s great. Christmas should be celebrated with family and friends. I’m glad your nephew is taking care of you over the holidays.”
“Yes, he’s a loving person. My husband died a few years ago. We had no kids. Then my husband’s younger sister was taking care of me. But she left Toronto. Then my nephew stepped forward. He’s driving from Hamilton to pick me up for dinner today.”
“I’m sorry to hear that about your husband. I hope you will enjoy your Christmas dinner.” I quickly went back to my apartment and wrote a Christmas card for her.
I came back and said, “Here is a card for you. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.”
“Oh, thank you very much. Thank you. It’s so nice of you.”
Her phone rang. “My nephew just arrived,” she said, and she left with her presents and my card.
For my first three years at Prince Arthur Avenue, Nancy was occasionally with her nephew but mostly she was alone. But everything seemed to be going well. I was never concerned about her well-being until my last year.
While I was wrapping up my undergraduate study, I noticed that I had been less and less likely to see Nancy on a weekly basis. One day, when I was wondering if she had been well, I saw her in the hallway. She still wore her blue jacket, but now she walked at much slower pace, had become more humpbacked, and had more wrinkles than in the past. What stunned me was what she said.
“Hello, are you new here?” she said slowly and stared blankly at me.
To avoid embarrassment, I refrained from reminding her that I had been her neighbor for three years. “I’m Ling. I’m studying at U of T,” I said.
“Oh, U of T. I used to work there as a librarian. I’m retired now. They were a good employer. They provide good pension plans and benefits,” she said with a soft voice mixed with some pride. “My name is Nancy,” she added.
“Nice meeting you, Nancy. Let me know if there’s anything I can do to help you. I live here, in apartment 401.” I pointed to my door.
“Nice meeting you, too. I live there, down the hallway, Apartment 404.”
She seemed to be unaware of her health problems or her need for external help. “Can she still live alone?” I wondered. I still believed that her nephew was sometimes taking care of her. However, Christmas Day that year proved I was too optimistic.
Nancy was sitting on the bench in the hallway early in the morning waiting for her nephew. I waved to her when I left to do some last-minute Christmas shopping in Koreatown. She waved back and looked happy. When I returned home in the late afternoon with bags of groceries and gifts for my family and friends, Nancy was still there, still waiting. I was surprised that her nephew had not come. To make her feel better, I gave her a cake that I had just bought.