He could never imagine doing anything else. It was all he ever wanted. To be a nurse. To be of service. To help people.
And then, the war kept falling all around.
And then, his brother was killed.
And then, his family sent him away. To safety, they said. It was best. For him and his new wife and their yet to be born children.
His daughters were born in India. In Delhi, as it was called then.
You could live like a king for $200 a week, he told me as we drove in the yet to be born morning light to the airport.
His brother-in-law sent it to him. The money. He couldn’t work, his nursing certificate wasn’t accepted. And anyway, India was just a stopping off point between Persia, as he called it, and Canada. He was there 6 years until finally, he and his wife and their 2-year-old daughter and newborn, had the paperwork they needed to come to Canada where her family waited for them.
Once I was here, I couldn’t take my brother-in-law’s money, he said. It wasn’t right.
He found a job. The graveyard shift at a Mac’s. He found another and worked both, struggling to make ends meet at $7 an hour.
He learned English. Kept working. And working to make ends meet.
Three years ago, he finally sat for the exams to get his nursing qualifications here. It wasn’t quite what he wanted, but he couldn’t afford to go back to school full-time so he settled for a certificate program.
I haven’t been able to find work, he told me. Only casual labour.
He pauses, the hissing of the wet road beneath the car tires the only sound as we drive in the early morning towards the airport.
I can’t raise a family on casual labour.
He has three children now. All teenagers, the son is 15.
They like their labels, he says. You can’t blame them. They only want to fit it, to be like the other kids. I blame the advertising.
He shakes his head from where he sits in the front seat. A dim, morning light is beginning to seep through the clouds that cover the Vancouver sky. We cross over the bridge towards the airport. Traffic is still light.
It won’t pick up until 7:30 he tells me.
I will be boarding my flight then, getting ready to fly east, across the Rockies back to Calgary where the snow has almost melted but the trees remain nude of buds and leaves.
It is beautiful here, he says. Very green. But the rain gets to me.
Was it worth it? I ask. Coming to Canada? Was it all that you imagined?
His answer is immediate. Yes. It is best for my children. Here they are safe from war. Here I know they will have a better life. It is my dream.
He doubts he’ll keep his nursing certificate current. It costs $279 a year to keep it active.
That’s a lot of money, he says. I can’t quit driving a cab in the hopes of picking up hours. I have a family to support.
It happens he says. We leave our dreams behind to support our families. It is best. It is right because there is no greater dream than ensuring your children have a better future.
I had many friends at the hospital in Persia, he says. He pauses, presses a button on the console of his cab as we pull over to the curb at the departure gate at the airport.
Many of them are dead, he tells me just before he gets out of the car to retrieve my suitcase from the back.
Safe journey, he says, placing my suitcase on the sidewalk.
You too, I tell him.
And he smiles, looks into my eyes and whispers, “God willing.”
I smile, nod my head and thank him.
I turn to enter the terminal. He climbs back into the car. He has done his job. His passenger has safely arrived at their destination. Now, he will get in line with the other drivers waiting for fares to take downtown from the airport.
Like so many in that lineup, he has made this foreign land his home. Like so many, he left behind a life he loved to escape the reality of war falling all around. Safe now, he is content for his greatest dream has come true, his children are safe and the future is theirs.