After working each day to build houses he couldn't afford, Alvaro Vargas Fonseca would lay his body down in a small, rented room in Toronto.
Today, Mr. Fonseca's corpse lies at a west-end funeral home, in a lonely state of limbo, where it will stay until someone pays $8,000 to send it home to Costa Rica.
Mr. Fonseca, 38, was among the estimated 20,000 illegal immigrants working in greater Toronto's construction industry when a heart attack felled him on a Mississauga job site on Feb. 25.
With no loved ones in Canada to claim him, it fell to his landlady, Cristina Carballo, to have his body taken to a funeral home while she conferred by telephone with his distraught relatives in the Central American country.
Trouble is, neither Ms. Carballo nor Mr. Fonseca's family can afford the $8,000 cost to send his remains home.
The situation is particularly distressing to Ms. Carballo, who now finds herself on a financial hook for a second time for trying to do right by Mr. Fonseca.
The first time was in July of 2006, when she borrowed $2,000 in cash and put up $6,000 against the value of her modest Toronto home to bail Mr. Fonseca out of immigration detention, where he was awaiting deportation. She had never met him, but had learned of his plight though her brother, an acquaintance.
Upon Mr. Fonseca's release, Ms. Carballo rented him a room in her basement for $400 a month, while he worked as a framer and chipped away at the paperwork to obtain legal status.
Since Mr. Fonseca's death 10 days ago, she has asked Citizenship and Immigration Canada to return the $2,000 in bail money so that she can apply it to the cost of shipping his remains, but was told she must first provide a death certificate - then wait, possibly months - for her request to wind through the bureaucracy.
"I just want to help," said Ms. Carballo, 45, who came legally to Canada from El Salvador 20 years ago and now runs her own beauty salon. A single mother of three, she sympathized with Mr. Fonseca, who was sending money home to his three children.
His co-workers at a Brampton-based contracting firm have set up a fund in hopes of covering the body transport costs, to which Local 183 of the Labourers' International Union of North America has made a "substantial donation," Michael O'Brien, a union official, said yesterday.
Roger Nair, a customer and friend of Ms. Carballo, has also come to her aid. Mr. Nair, who runs a film production company and, by coincidence, is working on a project about the hidden lives of refugees in Toronto, has arranged for a lawyer to make inquiries with the immigration department, free of charge, on her behalf.
A Citizenship and Immigration department spokesman, citing privacy rules, declined to comment on Mr. Fonseca's case.
Beyond the specifics of government policy, Mr. Nair finds sad irony in what he sees as a lack of official concern for the fate of the dead man's remains, or for Ms. Carballo, whose only motive was to help another human being.
"The Canadian government would have stepped up to the plate to deport this guy in two seconds, and sent him back and paid for his flight," Mr. Nair said. "Now the guy is dead, so what are we doing? Are we just going to leave him to rot?"
Ms. Carballo, who could have walked away but chose not to, is "actually getting penalized for helping someone."
As for Canada, Mr. Nair struggled with disquieting thoughts about a country that so often fancies itself a paragon of decency in a cold world.
"I take it that we have become so uncompassionate about people around us," he said. "We don't see that everybody's got a life, and they have a family, and we can't see beyond our noses.
"We're a well-to-do country. I don't think it's right."