The winter storm caught us completely off guard.

We’d taken the York Region Transit, and then the subway into Toronto the day before, and had spent the night at my brother’s house. It had been a mild winter’s day, and we’d worn our winter jackets, of course; but there had been no need for boots, mittens, or hats.

But by mid-afternoon, as we walked past the Eaton Center, the sky was already darkening and the snow was coming down thick and sticking.

My husband and I live in Turkey, but were visiting my family in Canada for Christmas. We’d hoped to stay downtown for a few more hours, soaking up all we could of the city we both loved and missed. After overhearing several exchanges about the impending storm, in the way Torontonians love to chat with vendors and customers as they buy their coffee or ask for directions, we reluctantly abandoned our leisurely walk north on Yonge Street and headed down to the subway. Getting back up to Richmond Hill might take longer than usual.

When we emerged at Finch Station half an hour later, we were met with snowy chaos. Throngs of people waiting for their northbound buses crowded the platforms and terminal building. Clearly the snow was delaying the buses. Two buses arrived at once, and we managed to get onto one of them.

At the Highway 7 terminal, however, our driver announced he was looping back south and we all needed to get off the bus. Another bus was on its way to take us further north. And so there we were, only halfway to our destination, standing in the middle of a snowstorm.

Picture a large suburban parking lot, the kind that services big box stores. In the middle of that concrete expanse, a glass wall serves as a bus terminal. It is not a building, and there are no enclosed spaces, just a few signs indicating which buses pull up at which part of the curb. Ten freezing minutes in that snowy desert quickly turned into a half hour. It had long since gotten dark.

My strapping Mediterranean husband gave me his leather jacket, which hung heavily over my shoulders. I’m not sure it made me any warmer, but taking it off certainly made him colder.

Then, a woman standing near us at the bus stop pulled a scarf out of her handbag and handed it to my husband. All good Canadians know that a hat in cold weather is invaluable, and so I immediately told him to cover his head with it.

The number of people waiting with us on that island in the middle of a suburban parking lot was dwindling. Buses had long since stopped dropping anyone off, and commuters were being picked up by husbands, parents, and friends.

The woman was still standing nearby, and we exchanged occasional shy smiles. It was far too cold to have a proper conversation, and besides, my Canadian-ness would have prevented me from imposing on her with an explanation of what we were doing there, so inappropriately dressed for the weather. We had already thanked her profusely, and every so often I had an anxious thought about how we would return the scarf to her. Would we get on the same northbound bus?

And then she was gone. I had turned my head just in time to see her climb into the passenger seat of a minivan and then drive off.

All we have to remember her by is that beautiful scarf, a black pashmina, which I continue to wear now, a decade later, refolding it carefully after each use. The image of the woman is fading in my memory. Dark curly hair, shoulder length. Italian? Persian? A lovely smile. Perhaps 45 years old?

But the memory of her spontaneous act of kindness is as clear as ever: The way she was able to give us exactly what we needed, exactly when we needed it, touched me deeply and has stayed with me.

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  • Cecile Popp

    Educator, Writer, Mother of three, Canadian expat living in Turkey

    Cecile Popp is a Canadian educator and writer living in southern Turkey. For over a decade she taught English Language Arts at Turkish high schools, most recently at Robert College in Istanbul, where she worked for seven years. Now, seeking a quieter life, she has returned to the south to write and work on other projects, most notably a memoir about her Baltic German grandparents. Her YouTube channel, From Canada to Adana, features visual essays about her life in Turkey. She lives in Adana with her husband and their three sons and teaches at the university.