I Have This Terrible Habit…

Of talking to strangers.

While attending night school to obtain my Canadian CPA, a fellow East Indian approached me, “Can you do my tax return?”

All I knew of the man was that he was a janitor whom I’d bump into in the washroom.

Instead of ignoring him, I impetuously replied “Yes.”

Mr. J—he NEVER allowed anyone to call him anything other than that—was one of the most miserable people you could meet, always carping.

Each year he would call me when his paperwork was ready and invite me to his home. I would have to sit in front of him and complete his and Mrs. J’s returns, while he sat across the dining room table, his arms folded, glaring at me throughout.

To compensate for her husband’s curmudgeonness, his wife cooked the tastiest Indian food I had devoured as a child. Nothing was stinted in the feast they always spread for me.

I charged nothing as it was obvious, judging by the décor, they lived from hand-to-mouth.

One year, I needed money to fund my business. When asked the perennial question “How are you?”, I flippantly retorted, “Fine, but do you have a hundred thousand dollars under your bed you could loan me?”

His answer? “Come back tomorrow.”

Next day, there on the dining room table was an envelope with my name on it. Inside, a bank draft for $100,000.

No question was asked as to when the sum would be repaid, what interest it would earn, not even a request for a promissory note.

One Christmas—the snow blizzard in Calgary was so severe—I hailed a cab to take me three blocks.

Although disappointed at the short trip, the elderly taxi driver, a Jamaican, was full of excitement for his upcoming family reunion.

He asked,“What will you be doing?”

I replied, “Nothing.”


“I don’t celebrate Christmas. I accept all presents, not to hurt anyone’s feelings, but give away nothing. And I don’t believe in tips.”

The cabbie continued to cajole me into practicing a more generous seasonal spirit.

I refused.

On arriving, the fare was clocked at $5. I gave him a $20 tip.

The man remained speechless, probably for the rest of the day.

A recent study concluded “talking to strangers can actually strengthen our mental health and, by connecting, enrich our lives.”

Try it sometime.

Throw away your urge to complete 10,000 steps daily, wearing earphones. Instead, commune with a stranger at least once a day.

You may be surprised at the outcome.

My newest book ‘The Vanished Gardens of Cordova’ is available on Amazon and Kindle.
Click here to learn more and purchase.

Written by Emil Rem

An eccentric accountant becomes a writer of eccentric characters, in exotic locales, with each chapter taking us on a trip into the fascinating twisted world of Emil Rem. Born to a close knit middle class Muslim East Indian family in Dar-es-Salam in the 50’s, he is then moved to Maidenhead England at the age of five. The next twenty years are spent shuttling between England and East Africa, wearing a St. Christopher’s cross one minute and attending church, to wearing a green arm band and attending Muslim religious classes in Africa next minute. Moving to Canada, marrying a woman from the Philippines and having two boys only adds further texture to his stories.


I Have This Terrible Habit…