After a controversy over vaccines, a scandal over impurities in the drug manufacturing process, gripped the pharmaceutical company, Gabriel was fired from his position. When Sujan first tipped him about the impurities in the manufacturing process and a lack of rigor and precision in testing, Gabriel tried to warn his supervisors and middle management in Microcellular Pharmaceuticals. Gabriel agreed with the quality control analyst: Who would want their own children — or in Gabriel’s case, his nieces, nephews, and cousins abroad in Portugal — to become inoculated with such a defective vaccination? Senior executives accused them of overstepping their bounds, exceeding their authority, so the two became casualties, scapegoats for corporate malfeasance. Thinking he was performing a praiseworthy action and taking the initiative in the workplace, Gabriel even provided Sujan’s name to the law firm appointed to investigate whistleblower allegations. Afterwards, he realized he shouldn’t have breached the confidence, however well-intentioned. He provided the lawyer their names because he wanted to cooperate with the investigation and uncover the truth of the contamination and impurities in the manufacturing process. He believed they were acting with integrity, maybe even nobly and honourably, as employees. He did not expect any rewards, but at the same time, he did not expect to receive punishment for seizing the initiative, trying to conduct himself as a responsible employee with integrity. He also found the lawyer hired to investigate the allegations, so he was more willing to divulge information to her when normally he was taciturn and reticent with such officials. Her inquiry, investigations, and report resulted in the duo having their employment contracts terminated. After she promised Gabriel confidentiality and reassured him, she divulged their names to high-ranking executives, upper management, and board members, even though, she said, with conviction, she believed their intentions were honorable, their actions noble. They tried to protect the health of vaccination recipients and may have even saved some, particularly those immunosuppressed or with allergies to undocumented impurities. His revelations, though, somehow led to joint job terminations for him and Sujan, who had originally helped him find work with the pharmaceutical company and had helped him with his immigration problems. Sujan had even offered Gabriel a room in his basement, Gabriel’s first accommodation in Canada, in the suburban borough of Scarborough in East Toronto, which neighbours assured him was farmland at one time, after Gabriel backed out of what was practically an arranged marriage and his family ostracised him. He liked the young woman from the Azores: she had a pretty face, and a curvaceous body, with large breasts, at which he could not help staring. He realized these were hardly reasons to marry her, no matter how devout her Catholicism, especially since she seemed intent on conceiving as many babies as physically possible, and at times she struck him as backward.
Therefore, Gabriel felt he owed him a debt of honor, but Sujan expressed anger towards him. In times of frustration, he even told his wife he could kill Gabriel, which caused his wife dismay, but she understood his perspective; her spouse, with whom she had grown up, was an overachiever, exceedingly ambitious, and he had suffered the humiliation of firing. She thought no man was smarter or more loyal and harder working than Sujan and believed her husband was not a particularly violent man. Daily, though, she saw he was under tremendous stress, having lost his job at a Microcellular Pharmaceuticals soon after they had assumed a large mortgage for their starter home in Scarborough. Sujan had also said he planned to spend his entire career at the firm, hopefully moving from quality control and quantitative analysis to research and development, and now any position was gone. He also lost his job when his wife was expecting another child. So Sujan possessed no job, no career, but he needed to support his wife and growing family, whilst paying down the ballooning debt from credit cards and a huge mortgage on a Scarborough home. Now neither of them knew what the future held; government cutbacks to healthcare spending and hospital funding meant no pharma firms were hiring.
Gabriel felt relieved he was single and had not married the Azorean virgin, encouraged by his mother, if only because, having found himself unemployed, the burdens of his sacrifice were his alone. He spent his days in his favorite coffee shops drinking prodigious amounts of coffee, jittery from caffeine, reading newspapers and pharma trade publications, honing his English language skills, practicing for job interviews, sharpening his resume writing, as he applied for available positions. At a job fair in the convention centre near the CN Tower, a corporate recruiter and headhunter took him aside. She told him he should find a way to shave his beard and cut his wild, curly, unruly hair, and remove the leather jacket and Chicago Blackhawks baseball cap. No offense intended, she said, trying to reassure him, but his casual and sloppy dress might be misconstrued, and potential hirers might pass on his candidacy. She felt confident eventually she would get him hired at another pharma company, although probably not in the research and development, as he hoped. “Your outfit, though, your biker style,” she said, looking deeply into his eyes, with conviction, “might give a potential employer the impression you’re flighty. The Chicago Blackhawks emblem isn’t politically correct, either.”
The only reason Gabriel wore the Blackhawks cap, though, was because he liked the sports logo. Gabriel tried to take no offense, as he pondered her advice. Meanwhile, he found his days filled with time he needed to fill. So he took his bicycle one evening to Toronto Islands, which he never visited before since the island seemed so remote and inaccessible, an exclusive destination. He got the impression the Toronto Islands were intended only for old-stock Torontonians and the upper classes. Gabriel rode the ferry across the harbour to the islands in the late afternoon.
In the early evening, he found the island and the trails and pathways that intersected the beaches, launches, lagoon, and waterways charming and idyllic. He was amazed at the clothing-optional beaches, a feature of urban Toronto life he had never expected or anticipated. Gabriel enjoyed his time on the island and beaches so much he stayed longer than he expected. Still, forever punctual, he worried about catching the last ferry back to the ferry terminal at the edge of downtown Toronto, until he found an information board, beside the changeroom, and discovered the last ferry departed Ward Island docks shortly after midnight. With time to spare on islands that he found quaint and charming, he walked the length of long narrow beach on Hanlan’s Point. At the southern end of the beach, he observed the skyline and watched commuter planes land and take off from the island airport. He strolled along the shoreline and hiked along the intersecting pathways. He found himself lost, but then reoriented when he arrived back at the quaint historic Gibraltar Point Lighthouse, a heritage site, one of the oldest surviving structures of historic Toronto. He read part of the lighthouse’s legendary history, including the murder of the lighthouse keeper, embossed on the heritage plaque, and took a photograph, poorly exposed. Then he started to cycle away on the dark trail. Despite the fact the island was technically part of the bustling cosmopolitan metropolis, the island seemed abandoned at this late hour. He cycled along the boulevard that fronted the beach near the playground and the changerooms and the huge bells, near the entrance to the long, imposing pier. His bicycle wobbled as a mature man, a cyclist, crossed his path and cursed in front of him.
“Fuck off, spic,” he said. “Go home.”
The man, well dressed, smelling inebriated, wearing a captain’s cap, cycled past him in the opposite direction. Affronted, Gabriel circled back on his bicycle and pursued the man, who drove a touring bicycle. He tried to explain his career, life goals, ethnic background, thwarted ambition. He started to explain he was a whistleblower, a term he hated, divulging corporate malfeasance to protect the health and safety of patients and vaccination recipients. He wanted to enlighten and edify the man, who looked distinguished in his fine Panama hat, his luxury polo shirt, and creaseless cargo shorts, and designer sandals, comfortably fastened to his pedicured feet — he wanted to emphasize he wasn’t a conspiracy theorist or an anti-vaxxer. As a researcher in the pharmaceutical industry, he naturally possessed faith and confidence in empirical science in general and vaccinations in particular. He believed in peace and harmony among all people — the reason he had immigrated to this great cosmopolitan city. He realized he had spoken to nobody for weeks since he was fired — even Sujan refused to respond to his telephone calls or visits. After his job loss, he felt lonely and grovelled for friendship, and understanding, even from a nasty man.
The man turned and said, “Get the fuck away from me.”
As they cycled along the trail, he aggressively tried to pass Gabriel on the trail. He pushed Gabriel as he cycled alongside him. Gabriel pushed the cyclist in return, to avoid a bicycle collision and crash. The nasty interlocutor had some skill riding his bicycle without his hands on the handlebars, but this time he veered off the trail. His front tire struck a dead log, and the bicycle frame flipped over. The mature, silver-haired man went flying over the handlebars and crashed headfirst into the trunk of a tree. There was silence and then the haunting cry of a loon flying close to the shore of Lake Ontario. He examined the man and checked his vital signs, pulses, respirations, but he appeared not only unconscious but dead. He wanted him to groan and nurse his swollen head and bleeding nose, but instead his open eyes stared vacantly, the pupils dilated, lifelessly. Gabriel attempted to revive him, throwing himself into cardiopulmonary resuscitation with a frustrated urgency. Cursing, he furiously paced in a circle around the man, between repeated efforts to revive him. His mind raced in fear and anxiety, and his thoughts rushed through his options and dilemma: he could come clean about the truth again, or he could cover up. Coming clean, making full disclosure, certainly hadn’t worked for him the last time. Yes, he could tell authorities precisely what happened, but he’d never find a good job in Canada again. In fact, if he told the truth, he feared, he would face deportation, unless he succeeded in covering up his involvement in this unfortunate accident, so he could live another day to perform useful work for society. His experience and memories of his last workplace, the pharma company, informed his actions — candor, full disclosure failed miserably. Gabriel dragged the man into the bushes near the heritage brick lighthouse, where shifting sands and ground now made about a hundred metres inland, which appeared entirely unoccupied. He pushed the body into the thick bushes. He marked the spot with empty Molson’s Canadian beer cans he found near the doorway to the lighthouse that he regarded with a bit of reverie and awe. He took the man’s wallet, and the contents amazed him — hundreds of dollars in fifties and twenties. The sleeves and compartments in the thick wad were stuffed with membership cards, including for Royal Canadian yacht club, and credit cards, including a platinum American Express. He tossed the wallet into the bushes and checked the time on his watch: shortly after midnight. He stashed the damaged bicycle, with its bent front tire, into the bushes, and covered the exposed frame with leafy branches he broke off evergreens. He realized he had barely enough time to cycle back to the ferry docks on Wards Island for the last ferry. The cover-up complete, he cycled back along the pathway to Ward’s Island, the ferry terminal. After boarding the last ferry, he chatted amicably with a ferry terminal attendant who expressed admiration for his thick beard. Unbeknown to him, Sujan waited for him at the ferry terminal at the foot of Bay Street and followed him beneath the underpasses to Union Station.
In the evening, Gabriel slept, stirring restlessly. He did not read before he fell asleep, nor did he habitually keep CBC radio on his clock radio on low volume so he could listen while he slept. The following morning, he realized he was a different man. After coffee and a pumpkin spice muffin at his favorite coffee shop, he bought a pair of electric shavers from a pharmacy in the shopping mall. He returned to his apartment, and briefly he stood in front of the bathroom mirror, as he removed and neatly folded his sacred turban. This wasn’t the first time he contemplated this sort of makeover. With his electric shaver in his hand, buzzing, vibrating, he stared at his thick long hair and beard. Even though he was not confident in his own ability to give himself a haircut, he pressed ahead and shaved his hair with the electric clippers. Then he used the disposable plastic razors and shaving cream to remove the stubble and shave his head and face clean.
He wore distressed jeans, a tight black t-shirt, and running shoes, clothes he had not worn since a brief rebellious phase during his teenage angst years. Then he shouldered his backpack, and, for the first time in several years, he ventured forth outdoors and in a public space without his beard. He took the subway to Yonge and Bloor. He went to the Mountain Equipment Co-op store and found a folding shovel and flashlights, and, eschewing his credit card, paid for the tools with cash. Then he ordered a takeout coffee and walked along the Toronto waterfront until he finally found the dock where he could board a water taxi to the island, which, he realized, when he closely examined the map, was a series of islands broken apart by lagoons, creeks, and rivers. Late in the evening, he walked from the ferry docks, close to the dock on the shoreline where the water taxi landed, to the path, hiking to the spot near the lighthouse where he abandoned the body, beneath brush and bush. When he found the body, though, he decided the less risky course of action would be to wait until dark to dig the hole. He explored the beach around the long, tall imposing structure of the pier. When the sun set, he returned to the lighthouse. The tourist traffic around the heritage site worried him, so he carried the body from the position near the lighthouse, across the well-travelled pathway and roadway, and to the beach. Storms, waves, and shifting sands had shaped the contours of the island, moving the eighteenth-century lighthouse from a position on the shoreline to a place slightly inland. He dug deep along the abandoned sandy beach, where the water eroded the shoreline and embankments. The island, on the southern shore, facing away from the busy city on the shores of Lake Ontario, appeared abandoned. He dug through the soil and sand in the moonlight. When the hole reached the height of his head and breadth of his shoulders, he struck some boulders and even weathered bricks and blocks. He strode from the shoreline through the bushes back across the trail, hoisted the body over his shoulder, and carried the man along the trail to the lighthouse, across the asphalt pathway, and onto a path that skirted along the shoreline. He hauled the body from the trail into the bushes and then onto the moonlit shoreline where he finished digging. He gently wedged the man into the grave. He took off his baseball cap, the Chicago Blackhawks baseball cap, with the Indian warrior head logo, which he had been wearing when he first crossed paths with the man. He could not help thinking the hat somehow played a role in what had ultimately transpired. The time arrived to dispose of the hat, which occasionally evoked a visceral reaction in random passers-by. He buried the man, shoveling the dirt onto the body. Then he walked the bicycle, which had a badly bent front tire, to the main beach and the pier’s end. In the middle of the dark, quiet night, he threw the bicycle, which the man had been driving before his fatal accident, over his head from where he stood, off the end of the pier. He decided to return to the spot where he had buried the man to double-check. He regretted even burying the man. After all, what was there to hide? He was not directly responsible for his death, or was he?
He walked along the trail. A few dozen meters along the shoreline from the burial site, he came across a couple making love by a campfire. The woman asked him if he wanted to join them. As he pondered what she meant by joining them — given the antics and hijinks he had already observed on the island — in the warm orange glow of the campfire in this romantic setting, he thanked her and said he would pass.
He walked along the trail from the edge of Manitou Beach to Hanlan’s Point Beach. He slept on the beach until the sun rose. He woke to the warmth of the sun on his skin and body. Abandoning his scruples, he swam nude, something he had never done before in his life. Sleeping on a clothing-optional beach overnight, swimming nude — these were activities in which he had never previously engaged. After he read a pocketbook, What Color is Your Parachute? from his backpack, he noticed it was past noon. A sunbather asked him why he was dressed in pants and a button-down shirt at a nude beach and told him to stop leering. When he insisted he was minding his own business, reading, and became argumentative, she told him to go fuck himself. Gabriel countered she need not worry; he was leaving immediately and would never return to the island. He marched to the Centre Island ferry docks with a sense of urgency until fatigue and dehydration overtook him. After the ferry ride and a walk to the subway station beneath Union Station, he took the subway to his condominium building near Bloor Street.
In the evening, Gabriel strolled to his favorite café. He bought the newspaper and drank bitter black coffee while he checked the employment listings and the career section of the Globe and Mail and the Toronto Star. At first, the baristas did not recognize him without his turban and beard. His favorite barista, a graduate student at the nearby University of Toronto, who wore black denim shirts and trousers underneath her green apron, and who habitually conveyed the impression she nurtured a strong dislike for him, suddenly seemed surprised and then assumed an expression of recognition. Normally, she moved with finesse and grace, but now her movements and gestures were awkward and clumsy. He wondered if she had recently consumed cannabis — perhaps smoking a joint in the back alley, behind the café, alongside the recycling bins and garbage bags, during her coffee break. Like never before, she hovered close to him and laughed, giggled, and kept touching him with her hands. She cleaned and tidied his table, with its stained coffee mug, crumpled muffin wrapper, and a stack of unfolded newspapers, and swept and mopped the hardwood floor around his feet. She chatted with him — the first time she carried on a prolonged conversation with him. When Gabriel cleared the table before leaving, he noticed a squiggly heart, a telephone number, and her name, Claire, handwritten on a paper napkin. He did not notice Sujan at the back of the café, raging silently, at his indignities and dreams shattered, seething, ready to strike, eager to confront him. Unbeknownst to Gabriel, Sujan sneered at his makeover, his new look, his transformation, believing he had renounced his character and identity, which made him firmer in his outrage. His own efforts at kick-starting his career again were still thwarted. Instead, he continued to receive telephone calls from human resources personnel at rival pharmaceutical firms. Sujan seethed over the fact that prospective employers didn’t call him for interviews or inquire about his own resume; instead, having mutually agreed to vouch for each other, having agreed to provide career references and recommendations, he was constantly asked about Gabriel’s qualifications, experience, and character. After making further and deeper inquiries at their own place of employment, Sujan boiled over with rage; he became convinced Gabriel’s bungling had led to his firing since he was the source of information about the identities of the whistleblowers. Amidst these distractions, he noticed the Globe and Mail reported on the front page of the Report on Business: a leading Bay Street financier, who owned a mansion in Rosedale, was reported by family as missing. The entrepreneur, described by colleagues as an enthusiastic cyclist and yachtsman, rode his bicycle to the clubhouse of the yachting club following a lakeside barbecue. The man even played a role in the acquisition of Microcellular, the pharmaceutical company, which previously employed him, by a private equity firm. Now Gabriel felt more frightened and the probability of detection, he calculated, increased dramatically. He tried to reassure himself he played no culpable role in the man’s death. He remembered the handcrafted leather wallet, full of cards and identification, that he recklessly tossed into the bushes near the lighthouse. He decided to return to the island again to clean up the scene. He needed to remove any clues or evidence he may have left behind. Having returned to his apartment, he took his 35-millimetre camera to provide the cover of awestruck tourist and amateur photographer. Along the roadway, trail, and path to the lighthouse, foot and bicycle traffic was light. After combing for hours through the bushes near the lighthouse, The Lake Light, during which he encountered random lost tourists, he found the wallet. After nightfall, he started a small campfire on the sand at the edge of Manitou Beach. He tossed the credit cards into the campfire, burning the stamped embossed plastic. The driver’s license, which he would no longer require, and the membership card in the yacht club he also set into the flames. He examined his provincial health card. He believed healthcare was a human right and felt grateful for the universal healthcare system of Canada. He realized if he wanted to remain a permanent resident, retain his work visa, and become a naturalized citizen of this beautiful, bountiful, and cold country, he needed to stay quiet and hush up the accident. He tossed the plastic card, which the unfortunate victim no longer required, into the campfire and burned that official document, destroying another sign of his existence. Initially, he decided no purpose would be served in not keeping the cash. After a contemplative, meditative stroll along the beach in the moonlight, during which he passed young women and men, immodestly dressed, drinking beer, smoking cigarettes, he stood at the end of the pier before the lake that looked like an ocean. From the vantage point, a distance away from the stragglers, standing on a bench at the end of the high pier, he tossed the cash from the man’s wallet into the windy waves of Lake Ontario. He had enough time to catch the last ferry from the Ward Island ferry docks. He chatted with a friendly ferry attendant with a gap-tooth smile, big strong teeth, and bald head. Then he hurried up Bay Street to catch the subway train north to Yonge. Sujan followed him from the gates and pavilion of the ferry terminal. When he arrived at Union Station, the public address system announcer repeatedly warned of a train delay due to personal injury at track level. From his experience as a passenger on the Toronto Transit system, he understood that it meant that someone had fallen onto the tracks, or, more likely, thrown themselves in the path of a subway train. The crowd waiting on the platform grew larger, waiting, milling, and, when the train finally approached the station, the noise of the rocket on rail grew above the din. Sujan saw his opportunity and pushed him onto the tracks just as the train glided into Union Station.
As the crowd, paralyzed, helpless, watched in horror, Sujan retreated up one of the side exits, deftly climbing the stairwells to busy, bustling Front Street outside Union Station. He strode up Yonge Street as far as Bloor Street until a well-dressed pedestrian approached him. Sujan thought he was in trouble, about to be apprehended. The man asked Sujan if his cab was running. Staring in disbelief, and relief, Sujan stepped out onto Bloor Street and flagged a taxi for the man. The second taxicab that stopped outside the entrance to Bloor subway station, took Sujan the distance across the eastern side of the city to his family home in Scarborough.
Meanwhile, Gabriel waited for so many trains in the time he lived in Toronto he had rehearsed in his mind exactly what he would do if he fell on the tracks, a train was rapidly approaching, and there was no time or way to climb back onto the platform. Despite his claustrophobia, he decided to seek shelter in the lip — the narrow space underneath the platform between the track. He inhaled, closed his eyes, and tried to shrink his body, as he hugged the cement and pressed his body against the underside of the platform and as tons of subway train roared right next to him, and steel wheels rolled ominously close. With the train zooming past him, he remembered turning around and catching a glimpse of Sujan as he pushed him before he lost his balance and fell from the crowded subway platform. After the commotion settled down, a track maintenance worker helped him to the platform. Gabriel tried to reassure the subway patrons and commuters who came to his aid he was all right and did not need medical attention. Pushing through turnstiles, climbing successive sets of cement stairs, he hastily left Union Station before the supervisor the transit workers summoned arrived. In a contemplative mood, he strolled along Front Street, in front of the tall columns and pillars of the classic architecture on the south side and the skyscrapers on the north side of Front Street. He didn’t understand Sujan’s motive or the depth of his anger. He realized he did not know Sujan as well as he had initially thought, their acquaintanceship having begun at the Faculty of Pharmacy at Jamia Hamdard University in New Delphi, which he visited as a graduate student from Lisbon during an unpaid summer internship. As he walked distracted along Yonge Street, along the crowded shopping centre, he thought he somehow needed to make amends with Sujan. He stepped on the pavement to avoid the maintenance worker as she sprayed a chemical cleaning solution, hosing highly pressured water and the cleaning agent from a handheld nozzle attached to a powerful pump and water tank, washing away the graffiti and chalk art. He was lost in thought, absorbed with worry, and didn’t notice the black SUV, from the executive parking space in the underground garage of a high-rise office building, bearing down on him.
Photo by Jericka Cruz on Unsplash