(Note: The names used in this story are fictitious to protect the privacy of the individuals)
When Arthur and Wendy announced that they are selling their house and moving away, it was a surprise to us. We have been neighbors for over twenty-five years. We saw our children grow up from toddlers to adulthood, get married, and start their families. We wondered who will be the new owners of the house.
We expected that we would meet the new family on the day they closed the deed or very soon afterward. It didn’t happen. No one moved in. Instead, a small truck was parked outside the house for days. We heard the sound of hammers and other noises like some work was being done inside. Before the move we knew that extensive repair and fix up work was done on the house by the selling realtor. Why more repairs now?
“We have to wait and see,” Bharati said.
She had planned to bake a loaf of banana bread to give it to the family as a welcome gesture. A few weeks ago, Bharati went for her usual walk in the neighborhood. She noticed three handsome children playing in the backyard of our neighbor’s house.
“When are you guys moving in?” She asked them.
“Maybe next month,” One of them replied.
It is what it is, we said.
We learned from the neighborhood gossip that the people had paid for the house in cash. We also learned that they have a gold jewelry business.
“They must be more than well to do,” I said.
Last Thursday, it was very warm, close to 800 F. We fixed up the furniture that was wrapped up for the winter and decided to spend a few hours outside on the deck. I noticed three men with a measuring tape in the backyard next door. One of them was measuring the distances, and the other was writing something down. As far as I could tell, they were not talking in English.
“Looks like our new neighbors are going to build a deck,” I said.
Bharati raised her head from the book she was reading and looked towards the house.
“Yes. Sure, it looks that way. For all these years, Arthur and Wendy never thought of building a deck.”
“But, they built a mini theater in their basement instead.”
“True. It’s obvious the new owners like outdoors.”
A while later, we moved inside. We heard a knock on the front door. We wondered why they didn’t ring the bell. Bharati walked to see who it was. I heard her say, loudly
“Hey, how are you?”
I thought her garden club buddy was at the door. I usually don’t bother to go and listen in because they talk about planting and stuff which I am not interested in. When she kept talking, I was curious to see what’s going on.
When I reached the front door, I saw one of the men who were in our neighbor’s back yard was outside with a paper and pen in his hands. The man was short and a bit husky. He wore a blue half sleeve polka dot shirt and grey trousers. He appeared very friendly
“He’s our new neighbor,” Bharati said.
“Welcome to our neighborhood,” I said enthusiastically. I forgot the CDC warning of safe distancing. I extended my hand and touched his.
“Oh, I am not moving in, my brother is. I am here to ask your kind permission to approve our application to build a deck in the back. It is required by the Home Owner’s Association.”
Your kind permission? What a polite way to put it. I liked him already.
“Oh. What’s your name?”
“Nice to meet you, Lateef. I’ll be glad to sign.”
Lateef was easy to talk with. He informed us that they were from Egypt and that he lived not far from our neighborhood. He briefed us on some of the work they were doing inside the hose. Bharati complimented on the good looking and smart kids his brother has. He smiled and thanked us.
When he left, Bharati reminded me that I was not supposed to shake hands with strangers. I quickly washed my hands with soap and water.
“Nice neighbors, we are going to have, don’t you think?” I said.
The next morning, we were having our breakfast. There was a knock on the door. Bharati went to open the door and started talking animatedly. I walked over to see what’s going on. Just as I approached the door, I saw Lateef and another gentleman walk away. Lateef raised his hand and said, “Hi Ash.”
I responded likewise.
“Look what he did,” Bharati said when we were inside.
“He brought his handyman and fixed the molding around our front door that had fallen off.”
“Didn’t you tell him that we have hired a painter to fix all the rotting wood outside?’
“I did. But he said he noticed the fallen piece the previous day and thought of doing something about it.”
“Oh my. What a nice gesture from someone we hardly know.”
“I think they are good people.”
“He didn’t have to do it. Go out of his way. It’s rare to find people like these.”
My impression of the goodness of people was a bit shattered the next day from reading a story in the March 21, 2020 edition of the Washington Post. It ran in the Metro section and was titled “Gun and ammunition sales rise amid pandemic fears.” The story mentioned a Kat O’Conner who runs a gun business in Baltimore. According to the article, she was getting calls every five minutes from people interested in stocking up guns and ammunition. The following paragraph is a quote from the article.
“Many gun buyers seem worried that the exponential spread of Covid-19 will lead to a season of hard-to-find essentials — of illness-related disruptions in the grocery supply chain — with angry have-nots out to steal from the haves.”
Again, the article went on to say that although some thought Americans will weather the crisis peacefully in the opinion of the gun buyers, it was better to be ready than sorry.
I reread the story and couldn’t fathom the logic behind gun and ammunition buying. Granted, some people are hoarding toilet papers, hand sanitizers, and food. I had never heard of people hoarding guns and ammunition. It was happening in other states, as well. When millions of people are losing their jobs, and the Government is passing an emergency aid package to give money to people, why would someone spend their discretionary cash in the gun purchase? If they have extra money, why not donate food to a homeless shelter or money to a charitable organization or volunteer to help someone. Why buy guns? Are they going to spend the handout from the Government to purchase ammunition?
I did not know what to think of these people. On the one hand, there was Lateef who did something for us out of his good heart when he didn’t have to. Someone else would not have paid attention to a small piece of molding coming off. But he brought his handyman to fix it. He cared for his neighbor. On the other hand, there are people who want to be ready to shoot someone in need if they think they will lose what they have.
The two stories may not have a direct correlation. But in my mind, irrespective of the situation, some people show empathy to their neighbors. On the other hand, some go to the extreme to protect themselves. Why is it so? You decide.