If there is such a place as heaven, I imagine everyone there is stuffed right now, having gorged on lentil soup, falafel, tabbouleh, kibbeh, hummus, and everything else Tony Barbari knows how to whip up in a kitchen.
My Lentil Soup Man, my Lebanese Man – my friend – died on Saturday morning of cancer, a disease he learned less than a month ago had occupied his lungs.
It was only a month ago that I last saw him, pouring a ladleful of his most delicious lentil soup into a styrofoam bowl for me to take back to the office. He seemed his usual self and I mine.
Unlike some people whose final meetings are marked by some poignant experience, this was just like any other lunch run for me and for him, it seemed. I can’t even remember if he handed me a cookie or baklava on the sly, as he so often did.
I just assumed I’d see him in a week when I returned from holiday. Why wouldn’t I? He was always working at Tonami, the restaurant he owned with his wife Amira.
He was just always there. A fixture, just like my assumption that he always would be.
But he wasn’t when I sidled up to the stall the couple also ran at the St. Catharines farmers market about a week and a half later. He was in the throes of trying to rid his body of a seemingly relentless, cruel disease and I would never see him again. I felt certain I would, though.
Even when I reported back to my co-workers and co-fans that he was being treated for cancer and they responded that the situation sounded bleak, I stayed optimistic – or hopelessly naive – that he’d pull through. It broke my heart to hear he hadn’t.
But now, I imagine he’s carrying on in heaven, if it indeed exists, much like he did here: feeding people good food and making them happy by doing so while Amira and the rest of us grieve our loss carry on without him.
The world feels a little emptier today and hungrier.
You will be missed, Tony.
For those of you who didn’t know Tony and Amira’s story, you can read it here: Eatery owner has recipe for new beginning: An immigrant’s story