Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Hell in a Hand Basket

The neighborhood was going to hell in a hand basket, and Mrs. Thompson blamed Walter for planning everything so poorly that she had ended up here to begin with. When they had first moved to the little apartment, there were just middle class (but respectable) white people around. Now, all kinds of people wandered around the neighborhood, acting like they owned the place and nothing was out of sorts. Skinny hippies with their long hair and ugly clothes; disco-crazy young women with no morals; and worst of all, white people who had married black people pushing their mixed babies around as if nothing was wrong. Unfortunately, no one in the management office did anything about her complaints.

The neighborhood was going to hell in a hand basket and she did not approve.

But of all the people that walked around the neighborhood, moved in and eventually moved out, no one bothered her more than her upstairs neighbors. She knew they were up to no good the moment she laid eyes on them. Sure, they were deceptively quiet and even their children didn't make much noise, but they were no good and she let anyone who stopped by know it. Including them. They knew they couldn't get away with anything because she was watching the heathens' every move. She was eventually proven right when they took all those hostages. Maybe not them personally, but their fellow Eye-rainians did it and she made a point to remind everyone that they were all the same. The always mournful looking wife who would come and go at all hours of the day and night with strange people with her baby tucked firmly in her arms; the dark man that was probably the husband and was gone to Lord knows where for months at a time and The Girl. There was something wrong with that child. She did not play and make noise like her own grandchildren, she hardly ever smiled and worst of all, she hid behind curtains (or her mother's dress) watching people go by as if they were the aliens.

They were an altogether suspicious family, and she did not approve.

One summer day, Mrs. Thompson was sitting on her lawn chair at the foot of the steps reading her Bible. She could feel The Girl watching her from behind the screen door and felt more and more irritated that her quiet time was being disturbed by a nosy child. She closed her Bible, walked up the steps and stood in front of her neighbors' door.

"Do you love Jesus, young lady?"

Silence, even though she was looking the child in the eye.

"Do you know Jesus?"

Silence, again, except for the slight sound of movement and then, little feet running up the stairs.

Well, that was the problem. The child did not speak English, did not know Jesus and spent her days spying on innocent adults who were minding their own business. It didn't seem the mother had time or interest in teaching the child any manners. She probably didn't speak English either. And of course they didn't love Jesus, the woman walked around in baggy, shapeless clothes and scarf wrapped tight around her head, practically screaming that she hated Jesus. Maybe Mrs. Thompson would try to be neighborly and take them to Church one Sunday. If they saw how friendly and nice everyone was, they might accept The Lord into their lives. They would probably even thank her. It would be a very good deed. She smiled at the thought of being so charitable, and wondered when would be a good time to invite them to join her.

A couple of months passed, and during those days she managed to smile each time she saw one of them. She even called out, "GOOD MORNING!" a couple of times as the young mother rushed down the stairs, little brown baby in arms.

Her plan to be neighborly to the Eye-rainians was right on schedule until she saw The Girl running home one afternoon--if you could call it that. As Mrs. Thompson stood outside watering her potted plants, she saw the strange child trying to run with a giant backpack strapped to her back. It seemed she had a limp for some reason, all together looking like the Hunchback of Notre Dame trying to escape something. As she looked up to see what the crazy child was trying to get away from, she saw three older boys running--much faster--and catching up with her, yelling something. Before she could react, The Girl had grabbed her legs and was crying, "I DON'T HAVE ANY HOSTAGES!!!"

And with that she realized everything that had happened. These boys had chased The Girl home, taunting her with words that were probably too big and ugly for her to understand--even if she did speak English. She was suddenly filled with an incredible rage. Rage at these stupid boys, bullying a smaller child; rage at the adults who had seen what was happening and didn't do anything to stop it along the way; but most of all rage at herself for being just like them.

She turned toward them and sprayed them with the hose. "Shame on you! Get away from her! Go tell your mothers to wash your mouths out with soap and teach you some manners! If I see you near this child again, I'll give you all a whoopin' you'll tell your grandkids about. GET LOST!"

She stood there trembling, looking down on The Girl who was probably the same age as her own grandson. She wanted to make this shrinking child feel safe, but could see that she was just as afraid of her savior as she was of the bullies that had chased her home. Perhaps the child did not understand English, but she understood the looks that she had received for so many months.

"Come, Child. Let's take you upstairs to your mother. Next time one of those boys bothers you, come and get me. I'll teach them a lesson they won't forget."

"Yes ma'am.", said the voice connected to the small hand that was leading her upstairs to her neighbors' house.


Aunt Becky said...

What a great story!

Jayne said...

Oh, this story just broke my heart. Chez and I were just remembering the "Bomb Iran" song that people sang... it's just so sad. I'm glad that I live in New York where we're used to a multi-cultural community (and pride ourselves on it), but I know that back home I still encounter people who are shocked to find out that I'm friends with "A-rabs." I admit I'm going to enjoy telling people that my daughter's name is Arabic.

great story, darlin'.