“Dad, he’s here!”
I opened the door and saw him standing off to the right. He was wearing a blue jacket, unzipped, and carried a small toolbox.
“Hello!” I said. “Come on in.”
A clang followed by a hollow ringing as the small, empty propane tank rolled on its side across my front step.
“I knocked something over,” he said, pointing in the general direction of where he had stood.
“Oh, don’t worry about that,” I said, hoping I wouldn’t have to explain why I had small, empty propane tanks outside my front door. I didn't understand it myself. My dismissal seemed to satisfy him and he stepped inside. He slipped out of his light brown deck shoes and walked into my kitchen.
“Where is it?” he asked.
I pointed at the dishwasher.
“Do you have towels? Get them. For the water.”
He opened the toolbox, removed a cordless drill and quickly removed the screws that held the front plate beneath the dishwasher door. He put the plate aside and ran his fingers underneath the machine. He leaned on one knee and bent over to get a better look.
“It has been leaking for a while,” he said. “You see the floor?”
He motioned for me to look under the machine. I complied, my face filled with mock horror as I straightened up.
“There is nothing you can do about these floors when they get like that,” he said. I wondered if he thought that was somehow helpful.
“Your wife, she call me,” he said. “I tell her, I’m the only one in the phone book who repairs these machines. Those other companies, they say they repair, but they look and say ‘you need to throw this out.’ They don’t know, so they just say you can do nothing, yes?”
I nodded my head as though I knew all about those other companies. “Ah!” I said.
“I charge $50 just for visit, but I am the only one who will not rob you.”
I learned later that he had scolded my wife in similar fashion when she called but, as he crouched in my kitchen, he apparently still felt the need to justify his practices.
“I take off coat,” he said, as he hung his jacket on the back of my kitchen chair. He smiled.
His cell phone rang and he answered in a language I didn’t understand. Arabic? He pulled the chair from the table and sat down, talking on his phone. As he finished his call I wandered into the next room.
“Do you have flashlight?” he yelled to me. I thought he said “fresh light” and panicked, wondering how I would deliver better light than I had already provided.
“Flashlight,” he repeated when it was clear I hadn’t understood him.
“Oh yes, I’ve got one,” I said. I was greatly relieved but, as I went upstairs to find it, I was also concerned I was now providing him tools.
From the stairs I heard him talking to my son.
“What is your name?”
“Alex? How old are you, Alex?”
“Alex? Why you nine, Alex? Why you nine?”
“Alex? What grade at school, Alex?”
“Alex? Why you Grade four, Alex? Why you not Grade five?”
I walked downstairs. Alex was licking his lips, his face filled with intense puzzlement. Clearly, we had not prepared him for such a series of unanswerable questions.
“You be my helper, Alex,” he said.
“OK?” said Alex.
Alex looked at me and I nodded that it was all right.
“You hold the flashlight, point it here,” he said.
The repairman worked away on my dishwasher, removing parts, leaving them on the floor, opening and closing the door, starting and stopping the wash cycle, never waiting quite long enough for the machine to reset.
“I am the only one in town who does dishwashers,” he said, again.
“So, you cover the whole region?“ I asked.
“Yes, sometimes I take jobs outside of town, but only if I know on the phone what is wrong. One customer, I tell him I can’t come to him because he is outside of town and the problem? It could be anything. He say, ‘Oh, you are choosy!’”
His voice was full of accusation when he said choosy, but I thought this was probably his word not the customer’s.
“But I tell him, I am not choosy, I can’t come because I don’t have a big truck with all parts. Even if I do, if I have to get parts because I don’t have them, I make no money, yes?”
“Well, you’ve got to make money,” I offered.
“Even the big companies, they don’t have all the parts on their truck, they have to order parts, so it is the same for them, yes?”
“I can see that,” I said, although I wondered, still, why he was sharing this with me.
“Alex? Where is my helper, Alex?”
Alex raised the flashlight from his side and pointed it at the dishwasher. He looked at me. He was licking his lips again.
“Alex, you like school, Alex?”
“Mmm…sorta,” said Alex.
“You like school when holidays, Alex?"
Alex didn't know how to answer.
"I know you, Alex…” He smiled.
“Do you have more calls to make today?” I asked.
“No, I am going to Mississauga this afternoon to see my niece who is here from Jordan. I don’t want to work all the time,” he said, another huge smile on his face. “On weekends, I will sometimes work, sometimes not. It depends, yes?” he said.
I nodded. Yes.
“Alex? Where is my helper, Alex?”
Alex shone the flashlight into the darkness.
“It is fixed,” he said. “No more water.”
He handed me his business card and told me how much I owed him. As I reached for my cheque book his cell phone rang again.
“Yes, hello? Yes…mmm hmm…how old is the machine?”
I heard the caller say he wasn’t sure, it was in the house when they bought it, ten years he guessed.
“I charge $50 to visit. What is your address?” He pulled another business card from his pocket and readied his pen.
The caller wanted to know if he could give him some idea on the phone if it would be worth fixing.
“It depends. I will know when I see it.”
The caller said he lived on Peachtree Court.
“OK, I be there in 30 minutes.”
I wondered if he had any idea how to find Peachtree Court.
He shook my hand, closed up his toolbox and walked to my front door. He slipped on his shoes and walked out, leaving the door open behind him.
“Close it,” he said, as he walked away.