When Bardia Bryan Zargham got serious about graffiti, he chose Alpha as his tag and set about painting all over Toronto.
That was about five years ago, and since then, "Alpha" and "Alfa" have appeared from back alleys to boxcars, bringing underground fame to the 18-year-old artist and frustration from those who wished he would stop.
"One time I asked him, 'Why did you pick that name?' " his father, Saeed Zargham, said yesterday, "and he said, 'Because Alpha is the beginning of everything.' "
On Tuesday night, Alpha marked the end of everything for young Mr. Zargham. At about 9:45 p.m., right after he tagged a parked freight car with baby-blue spray paint, he was struck dead by a train near Dupont and Christie streets.
Thus began the grieving by his father, who stood on the same tracks yesterday, admiring his son's art despite his disapproval of the boy's methods, and squinting through a haze of tears and questions.
If he was standing right here, didn't he hear the train coming?
And if he heard it, why couldn't he jump clear?
Toronto police offered no answers yesterday, beyond a morning news release that says Mr. Zargham had two friends with him, that the train that killed him was eastbound and that he died in an ambulance en route to St. Michael's Hospital.
Later in the day, Staff Sergeant Heinz Kuck, head of the Toronto Police graffiti-eradication program, said Alpha or Alfa was "a very well-known tag" within the city's graffiti subculture, which places a high value on ubiquity and the danger an artist must take on to achieve it.
"The more tags you put out and the more risks, the more notoriety you get," Staff Sgt. Kuck said.
He described the young man's death as "a wake-up call for the community," in that property owners need to erase graffiti quickly to remove this incentive, while parents and teachers need to be more "tapped in" to children's lives so their talents might be better directed.
The elder Mr. Zargham, 45, was well aware of his son's illegal pursuits but soon learned that his entreaties were no match for the boy's hunger for fame.
"As a father, I was always against it because I knew he was using his artistic talents in the wrong way," he said at his luxury apartment after returning from the scene of his son's death.
He offered to send him to a school of fine art or for graphic arts training, but "he said, 'No, Dad, those are for not-real artists.'
"In his mind, a real artist was somebody who would put himself in danger and not be caught."
Working at night, often with friends, young Mr. Zargham tagged rooftops and billboards, trains and truck trailers, returning home with paint under his fingernails and an empty wallet from buying spray cans.
Even when a building owner would grant permission for him to paint -- or "throw up," in graffiti vernacular -- on an exterior wall, "he would spend his own money, buy the paint and do it for free," his father said.
Away from his illicit nocturnal excursions, the young man known to friends as Bryan worked part time at a restaurant and attended Central Technical School, on Bathurst Street, where he was working toward his high-school diploma.
His parents divorced several years ago, and he lived with his mother in the Sheppard Avenue-Don Mills Road area.
A classmate, who befriended young Mr. Zargham as a fellow skateboarder five years ago, said he was not a stellar student
But he said his freind was energetic, well-mannered and enjoyed typical teenage activities, including parties.
When the classmate saw a TV news report about a train accident involving a graffiti artist on Tuesday night, he was shocked because he knew all about "Alpha" and lives near the accident scene.
"I called his cellphone, but no one picked up," said the boy, who spoke on condition that his name not be used.
Yesterday, that same cellphone rang and went unanswered where it was placed on a coffee table that was covered with photos at the elder Mr. Zargham's apartment on York Mills Road.
The father also had his son's digital camera, in which pictures of all his recent works were stored -- all but the ones he completed on Tuesday night, just before the train came.
Despite his sadness, made all the heavier by his futile efforts to persuade his son to stop, Mr. Zargham is taking comfort from the passion he showed for his work, fatal as it was.
That passion, the father said, sprang from a simple desire to be known and for his work to be seen, not to harm anyone.
"From the outside, when you look at it . . . it's not worth it. But for him, he put his life on the line for this.
"I lost a son, an 18-year-old son, but I'm proud of him."