She was short, Asian and almost my age. We were in our sixties. And we were side by side at Save-On both looking intently at the Bok Choy. I like Bok Choy but my appreciation of it was limited to ordering Chinese food to go. We didn’t cook it at home. I was thinking of going produce rogue on Sal and adding Bok Choy to the grocery cart. “Excuse me, but I am guessing you know more about Bok Choi than I do.” That intro was delivered with a smile and a non-threatening posture.
She smiled and said in perfectly unaccented English, “Yes. I probably do. How can I help you?”
And so we got to talking vegetables (domestic and foreign) and shopping, the weather and such, you know, in the manner of a ‘pick up line’?
Ang was from Edmonton. She and her husband were on vacation. Seems he had never seen the ocean and this was a dream vacation for him. But, as she told me of their trip (they were only a day or so into it) she seemed a smidge down, melancholy. Her voice seemed a bit weak.
They were staying on Quadra, the island just down the coast from us. Their idea of ‘seeing the ocean’ was to go to the beach at Heriot Bay. He wanted to wade in the shallows of Drew Harbour. And it is a lovely place…..
But, for some reason I said, “Here’s my number. If you and your husband want to experience a bit more ‘closeness’ to the ocean, I’ll pick you up in my boat.” She was speechless. I thought I may have come across like a weirdo. Sal says that happens a lot. But I persisted, “You have to travel up to the end of the road and that is where I get you.” I kinda regretted the last few words in that invitation but I let ’em sit. She didn’t answer. I said, “Gotta go. Call me if you want. You’ll need to set aside a few hours. Takes forty minutes just to get to the dock. If you call, I’ll give better instructions.” And, again, she just kind of looked at me. No answer.
I left her and the remaining Bok Choy and joined Sal at the fruit section. I confessed my impulsiveness. “What!? She’s gonna call the manager. They’re gonna call the police. Let’s get out of here!” I was gonna argue but, some day, that scenario may, in fact, play out. So we hustled out.
Two days later Ang called. She and her husband would like to accept my offer. They drove out and I picked them up. Peter seemed like a nice guy. I drove them around a bit in the boat and, after twenty minutes, we were in front of our house and I pointed it out. Peter seemed to come alive. He was noticeably intrigued. And so, that is how they came to be invited to our house and Sal served a fabulous impromptu lunch. We talked and then it came out…..
“Peter has Cancer. Terminal. They give him days, maybe weeks. As soon as we get back to Edmonton, he goes into hospice. It has always been his dream to see the Pacific and maybe retire near it like you have. He’s dreamed of a cabin like yours.”
We spent a few hours with them. Peter was remarkably sanguine about his fate but, at the same time, he was clearly tasting a bit of his dream. He was happy. He seemed to love every aspect of what he was seeing and what he was hearing. ‘Course, Sal’s lunch was pretty damn good, too. Despite his genuine excitement and pleasure, he did begin to noticeably tire and I took them back to their car when Ang and I shared the right glance. All in all, they had been away from their B&B about four or five hours.
Ang wrote to us a month or so later to inform us of Peter’s passing. She also sent Xmas cards for a few years afterwards as well. We exchanged a few polite e-mails. She said Peter talked about his visit with us and with everyone who would listen. She said we made his dream come true.
A chance meeting of a stranger over Bok Choy. A small gesture offered and accepted. A heartbreaking story. Is that an example of what I just wrote about these past few days? Yes and no. Mostly yes. ‘No’ because Ang and Peter hadn’t asked for any help. Help didn’t seem needed. Still, something human prompted a spontaneous gesture and acceptance. And that led to a ‘moment’ and a very close relationship – at least for that time and for a few years – and, in such small ways, community is built. We and Ang don’t even live within a thousand miles of one another but I am pretty sure we would consider each other as members of our community.