I ran across a room cleaning lady today. Someone I have seen every day for a while. She’s older. Pulled back grey hair. Some teeth in the back missing. Sometimes not in a coat as she pushes her cart along the walkway in January, from room to room. She’ll stop for a smoke once in a while. And I’ll say hello. Having a chat, I asked her about her job. Ten years, she’s been at it. And she told me about once being accused of thievery. She didn’t do it, she said, and I believed her. If there’s a quarter on the floor, she’ll pick it up and put it on the bureau. Hasn’t stolen a thing in her life. A few bucks isn’t worth the value of ten years of her service and ten years of her integrity.
I told her of the only time I stole anything. Maybe thirty years ago, I was in a Mac’s Milk after the bar closed. I don’t know if it was a pack of smokes or a chocolate bar or a pack of gum that I wanted to buy. The clerk was in the back with a girl at two in the morning and he wasn’t coming out anytime soon. And so I left with my un-purchased purchase. For the thrill of it, I guess.
I have been accused of something I didn’t do and it is the worst feeling. It was regarding a university paper. The first half of it was well-researched and well-written and the second half was a shoddy quick job because I was in a hurry. And the professor thought it was written by two different people and in a sense, I guess it was. But those two different people were both me. I convinced him and my F became a C+. And I felt better for it. Not because of the grade improvement but because of the re-establishment of credibility and honour.
Another lady changed the bedding in my room. I asked her about her experiences. She is from Haiti and I asked her how long she had been weathering Canadian winters. Her accent was thick and I thought I heard forty when it was really fourteen. She frowned at me because she is probably only thirty-eight. But I later made her laugh. She speaks Spanish, English, French, and knows Latin. I asked her if she knew the song Guantanamera and she did. So I said, Jos soy un hombre sincero, which is the first line, just for a goof. And she smiled and said she was surprised I could speak Spanish. Which I cannot speak. But when she left, I said Mucho Gracious. Cheezy but it made her smile.
I’ve discovered we can learn so much about our cities by speaking with those who are new to them. Their views on our kindnesses or our weather or our stores and our collective values. New Canadians are a good mirror for old Canadians. Cab drivers and chamber maids have taught me more about Canada than any history teacher ever did.