A subway story

by Emmanuel

"Old TTC Subway", courtesy Dennis Marciniak

"Old TTC Subway", courtesy Dennis Marciniak

It was 20 to six by the time I got to Kennedy. Of course, I still had to wait almost 15 minutes for my mom to show up. She really puts a face to the expression “Filipino Time”. It seems like every time it’s me that she has to meet up with, she takes her sweet time in getting there. By the time she walked down from the RT Train on the 3rd level, I already had a pissed off look on my face. I’m not a very patient person. I can’t stand ignorance or waiting. She didn’t apologize for being late. She never apologizes for anything with me. A co-worker once told me that her mom’s the same way; must be something that happens to proud, slightly crazy, overbearing, single mothers from an island culture.

“I’m hungry. I’m gonna go get a beef patty, first,” I said to her as I started moving toward the convenience store located in the middle of the busy bus level of the station.

When we got down to the trains, we had just missed one as the doors closed. So, we walked along the platform until my mom found a spot that seemed comfortable to her. She sat down on a bench, clutching her many bags about her. Women always have bags with them. I can understand purses, but somewhere in between girlhood and older-womanhood, they end up collecting so much stuff that they almost always require an extra bag or two. Usually, my mom prefers a nice gift bag with a season-neutral pattern on it, or a shopping bag from a good store like Club Monaco or the Gap. A couple years ago, a friend of mine made me this gift bag for a birthday gift. It was a Gap bag that had the “GAP” logo on it crossed out like in a no-smoking sign. We had both been boycotting the store since the end of high-school. My mom carried that bag around; everyone probably thought she was being subversive. Little did they know she had just been co-opted by the Left!

“I had a caller, today. He started off so angry about a payment he made on his bill not showing up, but by the time we were done he asked me to call him later! He has a son who went to U of T last year. I told him you’re in second year.” After work, my mom always talked about work.

“Uh huh,” I replied.

“You know the men are almost always much better than the women. Some of these women who call, especially the young girls, they are so rude and swear at me. They use the word “bitch” so easily.” I knew exactly the kind of young girls to which she was referring. They’re the kind of girls that mix vintage with expensive clothing from Holt Renfrew – those inaccessibly cool and aloof girls featured in NOW photos. The kind of girls that know how to hurt with their laughter. They wear layers in the wintertime and remove a couple of them when it gets too warm in tutorial class. They’ll pile their vintage knits on the floor beside their seat, then sit cross-legged in their chair.

“I hung up on one girl, today. She told me, ‘Can you transfer me to someone who speaks English?’ I told her to hold on and then just hung up,” my mom said as we boarded the subway train, which had just arrived.

“Good for you, mom! These people who think just because the agent has an accent that they’re not being understood,” I replied as my mom looked for a seat facing forward. She sat near the window, and I sat down beside her. She never, never sat in any of the backward facing seats because she said that they made her feel like she was on a rollercoaster. I always felt bad for my mom when she told me one of these stories about her work day. I pictured her, a proud woman who had a teaching career back home, whose degree and years of experience were worthless in this country, sitting at her cubicle in Bell’s billing department, answering the phone. I pictured her being yelled at by callers angry with Ma-Bell, of whom there are legions upon legions. Then I felt guilty about the whole situation; it was because of me that she had to bend her neck and submit to the heavy yolk of earning a living in Canada as an unskilled labourer. It was because of me that she called this frigid country home. Because of me that the warm beaches and crowded streets of the towns and cities back home were only memories. Memories we could not afford to confirm with a Pacific crossing. There was silence as we both looked out onto the blurring green mass of the ravine as the train travelled between Warden and Victoria Park. Later in the ride, there was intermittent conversation – a few broken words exchanged between a mother and son who inhabited two different, yet adjacent worlds. Guilt and regret are chasms that even familial love fears to cross.

{Editor’s Note: This is an excerpt from Immanuel’s novel in development.]

~ by paradoxifl on August 6, 2008.

2 Responses to “A subway story”

  1. this was poignant and very real
    thank you for sharing

  2. breaks my heart to see how hard our parents really had it.

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