With cars whizzing by on a warm afternoon, Malekeh Safavi resumes her post. It’s coming up on 2 p.m. and the students at Lena Shaw Elementary will soon be making their way toward the busy intersection of 140th Street and 102nd Avenue.
Kitted out in full crossing guard regalia, Malekeh stands at the intersection, sign in hand, cap pulled on tightly and ready to make sure those students make it across in one piece.
Speaking with me during her shift, Malekeh says when she came to Canada from Iran 40 years ago she never pictured she’d spend her days doing this. Sure, she worked in the education system as an aid to handicapped children, but after she retired she didn’t think she’d have much interaction with children. Now, it’s what she looks forward to the most.
"Anytime, snow, rain, shine, whatever," says Malekeh, who prefers to use her first name. "I do it for enjoyment, for the children and their smiles, it gives me something to do."
The catalyst for Malekeh taking the job is a sad one: She took on the role to keep busy after her husband passed away.
"With my husband gone I couldn’t sit at home alone, I had to go," she recalls. "Then I saw an ad in the newspaper. They said if you like kids, come and do it. So I called and was happy."
That was nearly 10 years ago and in the time since, she’s become something of a constant in the community, found at the same intersection at the same time helping children week in and week out.
In early March, the Now published a letter to the editor about her, praising her "vivacious personality and friendly disposition."
The letter writer was bang-on, because it’s hard not to smile when in Malekeh’s presence. Her humour is apparent and demeanour radiates positivity. She tells me earlier that day she found somebody had stolen something from outside of her house, but she doesn’t seem upset. Instead, she sums up her outlook in a simple sentence.
"I don’t want to upset anybody. I keep it to myself, that’s it."
As the children begin to make their way to the intersection from the nearby school, it becomes clear Malekeh has a special rapport with them. She chats with them about their school work, remembers who had certain assignments due and asks them about their after school plans.
While she admits she has a tough time with names, Malekeh says she can recall all the faces of those she’s responsible for.
"I remember all of them," she says. "Some of them, they run to me and hug me. It’s what I love the most."
During our talk, one of the children, a boy no older than eight, presents Malekeh
with a cupcake. It was his birthday and the class had celebrated with baked goods. The boy’s mother tells Malekeh he had saved one just for her. Malekeh thanks the boy and with her selflessness clearly on autopilot, immediately offers it to me. I kindly decline and ask if it’s because she doesn’t like sweets. Malekeh says she enjoys them like everyone else.
A bit later in Malekeh’s shift, a young mother and her son approach the intersection. The boy looks at the crossing guard, smiles and jumps behind his mother, Elizabeth Chong.
Chong explains that Malekeh and her five-year-old son play hide-and-seek every day.
"He doesn’t talk much, but when he sees her he knows her and they play their game," says Chong with a smile.
In all the years she’s been on the job, Malekeh says the only thing that’s kept her away from her duty is when she had surgeries on her knees, something she hopes will allow her to keep doing this even longer.
"As long as I can walk, I will do this as long as I can," she says with her unwavering smile. "It’s the good part of life."