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“Here is a cake for you. Happy holidays,” I said.
“Oh, that’s so nice of you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Where do you live?” She smiled and gazed at me as if I was a new resident.
“I live in Apartment 401. My name is Ling. Let me know if you need any help.” I had grown used to her forgetfulness. “By the way,” I added calmly, “are you still waiting for your nephew?”
“Yes. My nephew is picking me up for Christmas dinner. I don’t know why he hasn’t come. After my husband died, my husband’s younger sister was taking care of me. After she left, my nephew stepped forward. He’s coming from Hamilton. I think he’s on his way,” she said slowly as if she was telling a new story.
“Oh, that’s great. I hope he arrives soon,” I said.
“No worries. He will be here. You are so kind. My name is Nancy. I live in Apartment 404,” she said lightheartedly, with excitement from making a new friend.
I left with some concern. But I still trusted that her nephew would come.
Three weeks later, when I saw her again in the hallway, I ran to her and asked if she had been doing well. I was shocked by her messy grey hair, swollen lips, and dirty blue jacket. “How have you been?” I asked anxiously.
“Oh...I think I’ve got much better. I was sick a few weeks ago. Then my nephew’s wife informed me that he committed suicide before Christmas. His company went bankrupt. He lost his job. His company was doing badly. There was no pension, no insurance, no nothing. He drove his car off a cliff in Hamilton.”
“His wife and daughter are still in Hamilton?”
“I don’t know. Maybe I shouldn’t be telling you this.” She tried her best to smile. “Where do you live?” she asked, again as if all memory of me had been wiped out.
“I live here, Apartment 401.” I tried to remain calm in front of her and pointed to my place.
“I live there, down the hallway, Apartment 404. My name is Nancy.”
Her deteriorating condition made me extremely concerned. I decided to ask the superintendent to intervene. I ran back to my apartment, snatched a piece of paper, and wrote a note asking the super to look into Nancy’s situation and contact her relatives or friends or social workers to check on her on a regular basis. I sent my note to the superintendent in the same way that I submitted my cheques, freezer repair requests, and furniture moving notices. To my surprise, this was the first time that I never received any response. Then I put my contact information on a card and was planning to give it to Nancy for her to contact me for help directly. I felt there was a better chance that the contact info would have more meaning to her if I handed it to her in person. Our building had security rules against knocking on other people's doors, so I always carried the card with me in case I met her somewhere in the building.
In 2016 I started working as a statistician in the public sector. Even though I still lived at the same location, I had not seen Nancy for two years after she told me about her nephew’s suicide. Whenever I recalled her warm encouragement, serene voice, genuine smile, and stubborn independence, I took a stroll to the Gwendolyn MacEwen Park near my apartment building. In the park, five lines from Gwendolyn MacEwen’s Afterworlds are inscribed on her statue, which is surrounded by freesias, daffodils, and lilacs:
Maybe Nancy was somewhere. Maybe she was at a place that I could not see. Still, I carried that card wherever I went.